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Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

Language Warning

“Can’t you just take it?”

“Unfortunately, I can’t sir.  Not without a receipt.”  

The kid at the counter stares back at me.   Only half of his irises are showing from under his eyelids.  I think I read somewhere that that means a person is secretly insane, but he’s probably just stoned.    

The register beeps and fluorescent lights start chipping away at my restraint.  What’s more, the store is still playing Christmas music even though it's fucking January. 

“It was a gift,” I tell him.  “I don’t have the receipt.”  My tone is composed, but I’m gripping the edge of the counter through my sheepskin gloves.  No one can see, but my knuckles are bone white.  

“I’m sorry,” the kid says, “But it's past the window for returns without receipts.”

My eyes land on his nametag.  Doug.  I couldn’t think of something more painfully normal if I tried.  “How is it already past the window?  It hasn’t even been two weeks since Christmas!”  I realize my voice is getting louder, so I dial it back for the last couple of words.

“Store policy is ten days,” Doug tells me.

“Ten days, are you kidding me?  Most stores will take gift returns after a month!”

“I can’t speak to the return policies for other stores.”  Doug’s eyes quickly look over my shoulder.  There’s probably a line building up behind me, and he’s the only one at the counter.

  I hate to deploy my ultimate weapon so early, but I’m on a tight schedule.  “Can I speak to your manager?”

“My supervisor is on break,” Doug says, “But if you’d like to come back in, like, fifteen minutes-”

My eyes go wide, and I get a vision of my hands wrapped around this kid’s neck.  Doug stops talking.  He knows something’s up.

Easy, easy, I tell myself.  Remember what Dr. Amata said.  ‘Master your emotions, master your life.’

I let out a sigh through my nose.  “I don’t have fifteen minutes, Doug.  I’m on my lunch.”

“We have a toll-free number you can call,” he offers.  “Someone there might be able to help you.”

“For Christ’s sake.  Sure, whatever, give me the number.”

Doug searches for a sticky note and then jots down a 1-800 number with a shaky hand.  I can see the little beads of perspiration forming right under his hairline.  Blood in the water.  He hands me the note without another word.  His mouth is probably too dry to speak.  And just like that, I am one step closer to getting my way. 

With one fluid, graceful movement, my phone is in my hand.  The backlight glows up at me, and the lock screen background appears: a picture of my wife.  I swipe her away.  With a thumb animated by pure rage, I tap in the number Doug gave me.  With my other hand, I hit the button on my bluetooth earpiece.  

Thank you for calling!  For quality assurance purposes, this phone call may be recorded.”  I roll my eyes and make sure Doug sees.  “If you know your party’s extension, say or dial it now.  Otherwise, please stay on the line.”

“Excuse me, sir?” says a voice from behind me. 

I whirl around.  At first I don’t see her because she’s so damn short.  It’s one of those little old ladies sporting that same puff-ball perm hairdo they all get once their hair goes too thin.  She’s looking up at me from behind a pair of tortoiseshell eyeglasses.  

“Would you mind stepping aside while you’re on the phone so the rest of us can go?” she asks me. 

I hold up a finger, but not the one I really wanted.  “I’m just gonna be another minute.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that.  If you know your party’s extension, say or dial it now.  Otherwise, please stay on the line.”  

“Not you!” I snap at the robot.

We all wait in excruciating, awkward silence while the hold music plays on repeat in my left ear.  I loosen my tie before it suffocates me.  After about a minute and a half, the music finally stops.  My eyes light up.  

“We’re sorry, but all of our representatives are currently assisting other customers.  Please continue to hold, and we will be with you shortly.”  The music starts back up.  

I’m about to go medieval on Doug when another employee steps through a door behind the counter, a cute little twenty-something with her hair in a ponytail.  Doug mutters something to her and then glances at me.  This must be the supervisor.

Fifteen minutes my ass, Doug.  

“Sir, I can help you down here,” the girl says and then ushers me to the other end of the counter, away from the growing line of audience-seekers.  I can feel their glares on me but pretend not to notice.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asks.

I take off my sunglasses (Ray-Bans, by the way) and hang them on my jacket collar.  I looked at her name tag when she first came out, but I already forgot what it said.  

“We’re sorry, but all of our representatives are currently assisting other customers.  Please continue-”  

I kill the phone call and look into her eyes.  Pretty.  I can tell she’s admiring me, too.  In another life there might have been something between us, but this place chose war.

“I’m just trying to return a gift.  That’s all.”

“Unfortunately, sir, our return window for purchases without receipts-”

“I know the policy.  It’s all I’ve heard about for the last twenty minutes from your friend Doug over there.”

Doug looks over at the mention of his name.  Our eyes meet, and he immediately goes back to helping puff-ball.

“There wasn’t a return receipt with the gift?” the girls asks me.

My head snaps back to her like I’m a goddamn velociraptor.  “If there was, don’t you think I’d have it with me?”

“If there was no receipt then how do you know it came from this store?”

I stop dead in my tracks.  This one has a little fight in her.  My heart starts racing, and I feel a pang of something.  Fear?  No, impossible.  

Focus!

The receipt in question was most likely left to the mercy of my washing machine and has now been reduced to a giant spitball in the pocket of my Levi 501’s as they hang up to dry (because you can’t put raw denim in the dryer).  Either that or it’s folded up in the card that came with the gift, buried in a landfill somewhere.    

I start wracking my brain for a retort, but she speaks first.  “Look, the best I can offer you without a receipt of some kind is store credit.”

I jump right back into character.  “Store credit?  What the fuck would I want that for?  I’m trying to return something to you, not buy something from you!”

“Unfortunately, that’s the best we can do for you.”  She doesn’t balk.  A formidable adversary, one I was ill prepared for.  

“‘Unfortunately,’” I repeat back to her.  “You guys really love that word, don’t you?  When I get home, I swear this place is gonna get the worst review you’ve ever seen.”  A hollow threat, to be perfectly honest.  My Yelp account was banned five months ago for “inciting violence.”  Bullshit, I say.  Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Before she can respond, I take my “gift” and storm out of there.  Outside in the parking lot the wind is cold enough to kill a seal.  I hurry to my car (never mind the make, just know that it's the sports edition), throw open the door, and toss the box into my passenger seat.  I climb in and sit there for a second, staring at it like it’s a stray dog.  It’s one of those stupid mood therapy lamps. Supposed to help with feelings of irritability.  I scoff and throw my car into reverse.  What the fuck am I even supposed to do with that, mom?       

November 26, 2022 02:05

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7 comments

Daniel Allen
16:13 Dec 02, 2022

That last line... simply inspired. Your real strength here came from your character's voice. We've all met that person. If we're being totally honest, most of us have probably been that person (probably a milder version), but the way you brought them out through your words was vivid, consistent, and engaging. Great job!

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22:59 Dec 03, 2022

I was pretty surprised (and a little appalled) with how easily I fell into the character's voice, but it's as you said: most of us have probably been that person at one time or another. Thanks so much for your kind words and feedback!

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15:00 Dec 02, 2022

Just when I think I can't take another goddamn christmas story, someone surprises me with something so unique and over the top, I can't help but not want to return it for a full refund. Perfect title too. Especially the last word. The voice captures that perfectly.

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23:00 Dec 03, 2022

Glad I could help you get back into the holiday spirit, and thank you so much for your words of encouragement!

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Tommy Goround
13:06 Dec 02, 2022

Hahahahahahahaha Nailed it. It wasn't 100 percent at the top but you brought it down. (I don't see a way to make the top more user friendly. It is good opener...but...not as good as the end. This story requires patience so the pain can build and then...hahhaajhaha

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23:02 Dec 03, 2022

Happy to hear the the buildup was worth the wait, and thanks so much for sticking around til the end!

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Betsy Ellis
21:20 Jan 20, 2023

I try to choose one story to read and review daily in hopes that others will return the favor; I did submit for the last contest. I am also an adult and can handle the sensitive content that others possibly cannot. Anyway, the voice on your character was great. I really felt all of this. Enough description to guide me into seeing the event unfold. The character's dialogue coupled with his inner monologue which seems fixed on violence really made me feel as if I were there. I've worked with people who cannot handle the stress of waiti...

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