from The Winesburg Appendix by Michael Martone


Nikki Temone, PBX Operator, The Gerber Haus Motel

I also am the night auditor, and the machine I use to audit is as antiquated as the switchboard behind the front desk. The NCR 442 is nothing but a glorified cash register. Every night—it doesn’t matter—the house is always out of balance. At four in the morning, I will still be looking through the long long long long tapes for the stupid mistake a clerk made during the day. More often than not, an absent-minded inversion of the tail numbers of the balance pick up. I am always “off” by a number divisible by nine. You can always tell. It’s magic that way. I work through the night. I log all the wake-up calls. I have a clock that lets me set alarms every 15 minutes. The buzzing goes off, well, like clockwork, and I run to the PBX. I socket home the wire and toggle the switch to ring the room. “Good morning,” I say in my quiet voice, “it’s four a.m. and this is your wake-up call.” If no one answers, I have to go to the room and make sure everyone’s awake. The policy of the property. Most times, people have already left. Or the shower’s running when I peek in to ask “Are you up?” But here’s the thing. Suicides always leave wake-up calls. They want to be found. They don’t want to be found found. Not found in time. But found soon after time. I think about this while I am running the room and tax with the NCR 442 in trial mode. I am the night auditor, and I listen to all that nothing through the night.
Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has taught at several universities including Johns Hopkins, Iowa State, Harvard, Alabama, and Syracuse. He participated in the last major memo war fought with actual paper memoranda before the advent of electronic email. Staples were deployed. The paper generated in that war stacks several inches deep, thick enough to stop a bullet. Martone learned that the “cc:” is the most strategic field of the memo’s template, and he is sad to realize that fewer and fewer readers know what the “cc:” stands for let alone have ever held a piece of the delicate and duplicating artifact in their ink stained and smudge smudged fingers. It, like everything else, is history.