March 4, 2013

WRITING: Tag team effort stifles shopper

Just wanted to share a short story that I co-authored with another member of the Writers' Bloc. The assignment was to write half of a short, comedic story, then pass it to another writer randomly assigned to finish it. Can you tell where one writer left off and another began? I really enjoyed this exercise, and you'll see one comment from another reader at the bottom. Enjoy! And don't forget to let us know what you think.

Counter Encounter

Even before she opened her mouth, I knew I wouldn't like her. You could tell that she fancied herself an Elizabeth Taylor look-alike, with that mop of black frizzed-out hair creating a fluffy halo around her perfectly painted face. She had so much guck on her lashes, it was amazing she could keep her eyes open. And – of course – a fake mole on her left cheek.
I listened to the way she dealt with the three people in front of me at the counter. Her tone of voice was so condescending it would have annoyed a canonized saint. I was tempted to go to another service area, but I might end up at the end of another long line only to be told to come back here, since this was the department where the jacket was purchased. So I stood my ground and waited until she officiously disposed of the people ahead of me.
The woman just ahead of me was refused a refund because she was one day past the deadline for returns. This seemed to be a triumph to the aging vamp behind the counter, who, she announced, was the head clerk in Men’s Wear.
I spoke very politely when it was my turn. I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible with my money safely credited back to my Visa account. I told her I was returning the jacket because it was a bad fit. And it didn't hang properly at the back.
She wasn't going to let me off the hook so easily. This lady obviously got her kicks in life by arguing with others. She asked me to show her the problem. Still determined to keep things civil, I pulled the jacket out of its bag and put it on. Then I turned around to give her a view of how it hung in the back. I felt stupid doing it, and when I turned around I was face to face with the others in line. My resolve to keep cool began to crack.
Turning to face her again, I pointed out that the side seams were not the same, which was probably why it didn't hang straight. For a few seconds she stared at me, somewhat perplexed.  Then she regained her stance of authority and asked me to hand over the jacket, which I did. She held it up, examined the lining, breathed an exasperating sigh and looked me dead in the eye.
“It looks to me like this jacket has been worn a lot,” she said.
My mouth fell open. I could feel my face getting red, along with that prickly sensation that happens when my neck flushes. Bitch.
“I've never worn it except to try it on,” I reassured her, feeling as if there were eyes boring into the back of my head. The people in line couldn't see my face. Did I sound like a liar? What were they thinking, and why did I care?
"But it says on the bill that you bought this jacket a week ago. Are you sure you never wore it? Maybe you forgot?"

I felt my lips tighten in annoyance.
“No, it’s been a busy week. Not that this is any of your business. I assure you I have not worn the jacket.”
Her facial expression didn't change. She kept silent, turning the jacket over and inspecting it minutely, as if she expected to find a mustard stain, toast crumb or other damning evidence. I could hear murmurs behind me, and the shuffling of impatient feet.
“C'mon lady! You know you’re not supposed to return stuff that’s already been worn!” came a disembodied voice from behind. I turned quickly, but whoever had spoken chose not to be obvious. The voice had been female, but that was no clue.
Lizzie Look-Alike kept inspecting the jacket. Now she had turned it inside out, and was looking at the lining, inside the pockets, and up the sleeves.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” I finally exploded, “I told you, it has not been worn. Can you please just refund my credit card and let someone else have a turn?”
Lizzie stopped what she was doing, dropped the jacket onto the counter, and looked me straight in the eye. “What’s your rush?” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “It’s my experience that innocent people don’t push it.” She wasn't smiling.
Again, I was taken aback. “I – I – I beg your pardon?” I stammered. Guilty or not, I was beginning to feel like a cad, a heel, a thief. I had heard of buying something and wearing it once before returning it, but had never been accused of it.
“Well? How am I to know if you’re lying?” she challenged. 
“Is this going to take much longer?” A man’s voice rang out. I blushed again. This time my armpits broke out in a sweat.
“What do you mean, how would you know if I was lying? Why would you presume that I was lying?” I was genuinely confused.
“People lie, y’know. It’s my job to figure out who’s lying and who’s not.” She put both her hands on her hips, in a stance that indicated she had plenty of time for this debate.
“I’m sure they do, and I’m sure you’re very good at what you do,” I said, switching my tone of voice to appease her. I wanted to laugh and scream at the same time. Perhaps she was one of those special-needs people trained to do something so they could be a productive member of society. Perhaps I shouldn't judge. Perhaps it would be wrong, even, to refute her. Perhaps she had low self-esteem, and simply needed some affirmation.
“I am good at what I do,” was her immediate come-back, “And I say you’re lying, lady”.
I gasped.
“Is this line going anywhere anytime soon?” Another voice from behind us called out, impatient and sarcastic.
“I’m not lying,” I insisted, speaking in a soft voice. I glanced at my watch. My meeting began in less than half an hour.
“I say you are,” said my nemesis.
“Well perhaps we should get the manager,” I suggested. This had gone on long enough.
“He’s not here right now. He’s gone to lunch,” she replied. She had folded the jacket up, put it back into the bag, and was handing it to me over the counter. The woman behind me stepped forward, ready to take her turn. I felt dismissed.
I spoke slowly. “I am here to return this jacket,” I said, refusing to take the bag from her hands, “And you must believe me when I say I have not worn this jacket at all.”
“No,” she said, “I don’t must believe you. I don’t must anything. You aren't my boss and you can’t tell me what to do. Now please take your jacket and leave. If you want to come back when the manager’s here, I will be happy to involve him then.”
Was she completely insane? Why didn't someone step forward and come to my rescue?
“I’m not taking the jacket back, it doesn't fit,” I insisted, realizing that I was going to be late for my meeting.
“That’s your decision, lady.” Suddenly the bag was gone, out of sight, tucked under the counter. 
“Next, please,” she said, looking past me as if I didn't exist.
“But you haven’t refunded my credit card yet!” I blurted out.
“Excuse me, do we have to go through this again?” She looked at me as if I was crazy, not her. The line of people behind me began to get really restless, and the murmurs got louder.  “Hey! What’s the hold up?” I heard someone bark.
I ran. I bolted and ran, like a guilty person. And that’s how I ended up in my car, ten minutes later, empty handed. No jacket. No credit. And no proof of anything.
I drove back to the office in a daze. As I parked the car, it occurred to me that Dizzy Lizzie the con artist would probably be seen wearing a $450 Ralph Lauren navy suit jacket around town soon. And I would have no one to blame but myself.
Comment: "God save us from the Lizzies of this world! A thoroughly enjoyable piece with clear visuals and just the right amount of sound from the gallery in the lineup for us to get the whole movie from both the outer and the "what's going on inside" schmozzle. It reminded me of similar scenes, from the days when K-mart was around, and my mother being terrified of returning anything. Thank you!"

1 comment:

  1. I feel that the split is after the woman bursts out with 'Oh for Pete's sake! I am still somewhat reluctant to return items, but fortunately most places of buisness do not have "Lizzies'!


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