The Complaints Department by Dan Nielsen31 May 2017, Posted by Short Fiction in
THE COMPLAINTS DEPARTMENT
Edgar Manx managed the Complaints Department at Goldblatt’s. He had an office with a window and a secretary.
“Miss Evans, take a letter.” Kathy Evans scowled and made an irritated sound. She pushed the roller chair away from her desk, stood, straightened her skirt, and walked three short paces across the office. There was a Dictaphone on Edgar’s desk. She pressed Record.
“I’m going to lunch.” Kathy glanced out the window. She would not leave the building. Employees ate for free at the seventh-floor café and delicatessen.
“Bring me back the roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, please.” Edgar opened a desk drawer. It contained a stapler. He closed it.
Kathy was already out the door. Edgar began.
“This regards the bin cookie situation in the Bargain Basement. It’s damp down there. The cookies grow mold. We received eleven complaints this past month alone. The bins are old. The lids are not airtight. This is unacceptable. Something must be done.”
The phone rang. It was Kathy’s job to answer it. She wasn’t there. Edgar picked up.
“Complaints. Edgar Manx speaking. How may I help you?”
“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”
“One moment, please.”
Edgar transferred the call to the tobacco counter.
The phone rang again.
“Complaints. Edgar Manx speaking. How may I help you?”
“My refrigerator stopped running.”
“Did you purchase it recently? Do you have a receipt?” Edgar stared at the door.
“I meant, is your refrigerator running?”
“Yes, as far as I know, it is.”
“Then you should make it stop running.”
Edgar opened the drawer again. It still contained a stapler. He left it open. “Ma’am, are you registering a complaint regarding a refrigerator purchased here recently?”
“It was running and it stopped running! It was running! In the kitchen! I mean really running! Like a person! And then it stopped running!”
“Did it maybe unplug itself while it was running like a person in the kitchen?” Edgar thought about the roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy. He looked at the stapler.
“I’m not an idiot!” Billy Miller was twelve years old and home from school with a cold.
“Sorry.” Edgar closed the drawer. Hard. On his thumb. He may have done this on purpose. He took a deep breath. “Are you sure you purchased it here?” He took another deep breath. “What brand is it?” Edgar opened the drawer just enough to free his thumb. It was already turning black under the nail. “We only handle top quality Westinghouse appliances that come with a limited one-year warranty on parts and labor.”
“Hold on a second.” Billy put down the phone. “Okay, I’m back. It’s a Westinghouse alright.”
Edgar smiled through the pain. “Then you should look to see if Bugs Bunny is asleep inside.”
Billy Miller hung up the phone.
“They ran out of the roast beef.” Kathy Evans carried a shopping bag with the Goldblatt’s logo and motto: Where Fashion and Quality Cost Less. “I got you a Reuben with coleslaw and chips instead. I hope that’s okay.” She removed an aluminum container with a cardboard top and handed it to Edgar. “Oh, my god! What happened to your thumb?”
“It’s nothing.” Edgar opened the container. He hated corned beef. He hated Thousand Island dressing. He hated swiss cheese and sauerkraut. He hated rye bread and coleslaw. But he liked potato chips. Potato chips would be his lunch. He closed the container. He opened the drawer further. He looked at the stapler. He hated the stapler. He closed the drawer. “What are you having, Miss Evans, if I may ask?”
“I’m having the roast beef.” Kathy was seated at her desk now. Her back to Edgar. She took a big bite. A line of gravy gravitated from her lips to her chin. She wiped it with a napkin. She chewed and swallowed. “It’s the last one they had.” She took a smaller bite. She spoke around it. “I hope you don’t mind.” She chewed and swallowed. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Kathy reached into the shopping bag and removed a small white paper sack. She swiveled in her chair. “I brought you something.”
“What is it?” Edgar stood and leaned forward to look.
“It’s a surprise!” Kathy tossed it. “Catch!”
The bag fell short. Edgar moved around his desk and stooped to pick it up. Inside were vanilla sandwich cookies from the Bargain Basement, green with mold.
“Thank you, Kathy.” Edgar stood and looked out the window.
“Edgar, I thought we agreed that you’d call me Miss Evans when we’re in the office.”
Edgar opened the window. “Sorry, Miss Evans.”
“Is it okay if I leave early?”
“Is it okay if I leave now?”
Edgar opened the drawer, removed the stapler, and threw it out the window. It landed in the dumpster. The dumpster was filled with kitchen waste. The smell wafted through the window. Edgar closed it.
When Billy Miller was eight he rode his bike to the Goldblatt’s Grand Opening Celebration. Warren Spahn, Joe Adcock, and Eddy Mathews from the Milwaukee Braves were the Guests of Honor.
A helicopter hovered over the parking lot dropping thousands of ping pong balls containing certificates for valuable prizes. The ping pong balls flew onto Durand Avenue. People rushed into the busy street. Cars crashed. Injuries occurred. Ambulances arrived.
Billy managed to escape with one ping pong ball. He found a secluded spot and stomped it with his foot. Inside was a coupon: Twenty percent off on the sofa of your choice!
The mean man on the phone called him “ma’am.” It made Billy mad. That night, Billy Miller started a fire in the dumpster behind Goldblatt’s. It quickly spread up the side of the building and onto the roof. Billy felt much better. Tomorrow he’d go to school.
About the author:
Dan Nielsen plays solo ping pong, which is like Tai Chi, but fun. His flash manuscript Flavored Water was a semi-finalist in the Rose Metal Press 2017 SHORT SHORT CHAPBOOK CONTEST. Recent work in: Bird’s Thumb, Minor Literature[s], Cheap Pop, Random Sample, Spelk, and The Dirty Pool. Dan has a website: Preponderous and you can follow him on Twitter @DanNielsenFIVES