There Will Be No Puppy
by Patrick Doerksen
I had the best of intentions: I was going to get my girlfriend a puppy. One of those gen-mods, I mean, the kind that stay puppies. I knew it was what she wanted because she’d already been talking names: Dean, Sylvester, Garnett... Yeah, that’s the sort of thing she did.
I bought time, said things like, “There are eleven billion people in the world, Olivia, and what if all of them demanded a puppy?” I told her there were other ways to deal with work stress, wink-wink nudge-nudge. I was waiting, meanwhile, for the money.
All tech canvassers working on commission dream of it: the one guy who’s just lost his wife and who, seeing what the product can do, goes all in, buys all the gear — and pays your rent for the next seven months. Maybe it was a tad delusional, as I hadn’t even reached quota the last three days and Boss had started calling me in for little pump-up sessions: “I leave you with one thing, Jensen. Every time at the door: Assume the close.”
In my opinion, though, everyone’s allowed to dream, provided it’s a little dream. And anyway, that night it really was no delusion. The neighbourhood was borderline-ritzy: two cars in the driveway, simlights ablaze in the windows, and my guess was most of the families had procreation licences for like two or three, the bastards. It should have been a gold mine. But then Harriet showed up, and that other thing happened.
* * *
It was October and getting dark at 6:00 pm. I was standing beneath some streetlamp trying to discern my map when my own burp made me aware of her. A quiet, nonthreatening chicken salad burp, but the universe took every opportunity to embarrass me. So: spectator! She had these perfectly plucked eyebrows and lips like candy, and her gaze was intent. After a moment of trying to refocus on my map it became too much.
“You staring at me?” I asked.
“I’m supposed to, apparently.”
“Ah, you’re New Girl.”
New Girl blinked, unimpressed, a non-reply that made it clear she thought herself too good to say, And you must be Sherlock Holmes.
Just then someone flicked their porch light on to investigate us from the window. I motioned for us to continue down the street. “Better late than never,” I said. “You picked a hell of a night to start training, though. I’m halfway through these houses and nowhere near quota. Most aren’t even opening the door.”
“Yeah?” she said.
“Should be like low-hanging fruit, but I’ve never encountered these hostility levels. Maybe they’ve been hit by IntraMec or World Widget already.”
“Yeah?” she said again, and this time I thought I caught a note of sarcasm in her voice and realized what was happening. Here was this unfathomably self-possessed, ironic, sneering, pretty — okay, gorgeous — girl and I, who’d missed quota the last three days, was supposed to train her. Boss was aiming to shame me.
“Okay,” I said, trying to summon a bit of spark. “Let’s hit your first door. I’m Jansen, by the way.”
She held the pause for an uncomfortable duration, as if to say, Look, I’m in control here; even the tempo is mine.
“Harriet,” she said at last.
* * *
As a tech canvasser, your main weapon is your snap judgment. People helplessly externalize themselves, and the twenty feet between the curb and the threshold can tell you all you need to know about them. National flags, luxury cars in the driveway, plain lawns, all these are points in your favour.
“No solicitors” signs, lawn Buddhas, vegetable beds, potted plants in the windows are points against you. Enough points against you and there’s no point in knocking. Save your time. Fifty percent of success as a canvasser is knowing when to give up.
“Remember that,” I told Harriet, after spelling it out for her. It was my hope that a pretence of self-confidence might become the real thing.
Our first door was promising enough: it had a long entranceway walled by cedar panels. The wind had picked up somewhat, and I was thankful for the shelter.
“Now, the knock,” I said. Harriet did this thing, like a quick lordhavemercy prayer in eye-flicks. “It’s your first impression, so make it count. A rap rap a-rap tap is friendly, succinct, with a little energy and bounce. When I first started, I had a plain, three-point knock: tap tap tap. What was I trying to be, Poe’s raven, right?”
I demonstrated. Two seconds later the light shifted behind the translucent bow windows and I prepared myself. Straight back. Binder ready-to-hand. An approachable though forced smile. “Another thing,” I said quickly. “The seconds before they open the door are also crucial. Don’t look in the window. Even if there’s an orgy going on. It’s that illusion of privacy—”
A man in a wife-beater t-shirt opened the door, his face slightly creased with displeasure, as though we had interrupted foreplay or something.
“Good evening, sir,” I said, and did not wait for his response. “My co-worker and I are in the neighbourhood representing SoftTECH. Your neighbours just took advantage of a promotional our company is currently offering, namely a free trial run of the new CamXsystem Plus.
“Maybe you’re wondering what that ‘Plus’ is doing there? Well, as I’m sure you know, many people have had concerns about increased energy bills after instalment. We have created an efficient model that uses a silent, fan-free modem and only a quarter of the power. With that in mind—”
“Oh, no, no, I’m not interested,” he said, waving me away.
“No problem,” I said hastily. “In the interests of improving our consumer responsiveness, can I ask you a quick question?”
He sighed, as though he were annoyed at himself for being so full of patience. “Sure.”
“What would you say is your chief hold-up with taking advantage of a free trial?”
“Health risks. All over the news. Tune in, man.”
“With the CamXsystem, sir?”
He nodded perfunctorily and shut the door.
I did not miss Harriet’s smirk as we walked down the driveway.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Patrick Doerksen