The assignment was to write two contrasting pieces, showing different voices, of 1,000 words apiece. We were encouraged to expand on things we wrote in class. I took the two pieces that are relevant to longer pieces I'm working on and expanded them. This is the single assessment piece for the "Voice" module of our course.
I'll post a link to the commentary when it's finished. Now, I think I'm probably going to bed, at least for a little while.
Credit goes to nw1, who suggested that I write a piece about complaint letters for that time-travel piece I'm working on.
My first day, I found a note from my predecessor. It was written in green ink on a Hello Kitty Post-It note. "Get out before you lose your mind," it said. The author had drawn a smiling stick figure with an arrow through its head.
Tuesdays after bank holidays are the worst. Customers have time to work themselves into a frenzy over the weekend. Some of them must dwell on their complaints the way my grandmother used to worry over a pressure cooker full of boiling jam.
That morning, there were thirteen calls already in my queue when I sat down, so many I immediately got up and made myself a cup of tea.
"Your message says the office opens at 9:00," said the first call. I judged the speaker to be about forty, from the west country.
"We get to everyone as quickly as we can, madam. Everyone's experience is important to us."
The person on the other end of the conversation snorted. "Well, then, can you tell me why, when I've been saving for your Holy Land package tour for years, I did not meet Our Lord?"
Great. It would be like this all day. The Easter weekend is one of our busiest tours.
"Madam," I replied in my patient voice. "Our guarantee is that you will visit the Holy Land at the time of Christ. We do not and can not promise actual interaction with the Messiah. His movements are difficult to predict."
"But I didn't even see Him from a distance! I could barely see the stone rolling away from His tomb!"
I took a deep breath. "As I'm sure you are aware, madam, Jesus was not actually present in the tomb when the stone was rolled away. This is the accepted history. Perhaps you would like to re-book for a crucifixion package, or I could..." I paused for a few seconds and ruffled the pages of the novel I’d been reading on the bus. "Ah! I can get you a place at the Sermon on the Mount, four rows back, an excellent vantage point."
I heard the muffled sound of the phone being covered by the speaker's hand, a conversation I couldn't make out. "Do we have to book it today? And what about my dissatisfying Easter tour?"
"If you'll read the contract you signed, you'll see that we explicitly do not guarantee an interaction with, or even a sighting of, Jesus Christ. And yes, I'm sure that place won't be around tomorrow. I can only offer you a compensatory discount because you've rung early and phrased your complaint in a peaceful and agreeable way."
I took a sip of my lukewarm tea as I talked the woman through the Sermon on the Mount package. The great thing about selling time shares was there was always a space in the fourth row. I started making hash marks on a post-it; maybe I'd win the Loaves and Fishes bonus prize this year.
Time shares are getting more and more popular these days, and why not? It’s not like you can spend a few hundred quid and go on a safari any more, orbital holidays are too dear and the waiting list is horrendous, and of course the Great British countryside is less and less pastoral since the perfection of the teleportation device. When I first started at Eleventh Hour, there was still quite a bit of controversy about the realities of time travel. As an agency, our official policy is to ignore the science and concentrate on the experience. Most of us don’t understand the science, anyway.
I must have taken fifty calls from disgruntled tourists before lunch that day. That’s fifty calls in three hours, give or take the odd tea break. Only five people hung up on me. Two said they were going to call the Time Enforcement Agency to complain. TEA guarantees our contract; I knew these people would get nowhere. It was far more satisfying to sell them on the SOM, of course. I had twenty hash marks on my Post-it note by the time I went down to the sandwich cart to grab lunch.
Of course, Carl was downstairs crowing about the number of SOM tours he’d sold. Fifteen! I smiled to myself. Carl was our number one salesperson last quarter, but he’s young and cocky. I’ve been at my desk for five years, and I know the L and F is as much about luck as anything. I also know it’s statistically likely the person who has sold the most SOMs before lunch will win the award. I kept my twenty little hash marks to myself and ate my sandwich in silence. Even three more after lunch would bring me to more than I’d ever sold; five would be a miracle. An early Easter usually means lower front sales: it was barely April and our tour figures had been predictably low. You’d think that would make unhappy clients less likely to buy an SOM, even at a discount, but bad weather makes people impulsive. I was counting on it as I listened to my coworkers complain about the rain when I got back upstairs. Half of them were probably slacking off, buying toys over the net, or just looking at pictures of sunny places.
At three o’clock, the shift supervisor came round to see how we were all doing. He stopped briefly at each cubicle, checked the phone logs, and tracked the number of compensatory packages sold, tapping madly onto his antiquated tablet computer as he worked.
“Good work, Jones!” he said, when he got to me. “That’s very good work! Twenty-four! A personal best!” He leaned close to my computer screen; I could smell his lunch when he spoke. “You’re well on your way to winning that prize this year, Melinda. You’re within two sales of the top performer.” Of course, he wouldn’t tell me if I was two up or two down: knowing I was winning might make me lazy and knowing I was second might make me resigned.
“Thanks, Rick.” Now get your curry breath out of my face, you half-wit.
In the last two hours of the day, I managed to sell two more SOMs. That made twenty-six. I started to think about where I might want to go if I won the prize. If you win, Eleventh Hour sends you on a history tour, anywhere you like. I let two calls drop, daydreaming about it. I took one more to make up for it and lo and behold, sold another SOM. Twenty-seven.
When the bell rang, Rick stopped by again to check everything. After he’d checked the top three performers twice, he announced I’d won. He told everybody what a hard worker I was and how I’d been trying for this for five solid years. Carl scowled from the other side of the office. Rick was oblivious. “So where do you want to go, Melinda?”
“London, 1996. I want to see my mother.”
Gloves and Garnets
Lady dropped a black glove on the stairs on her way out. She won't be back for hours, and anyway, it doesn't matter. Bell snatched it before she was all the way into her posh taxi. Bell's my errand boy, and he's an idiot, but he knows how to snatch things. Folks don't see him. They don't see anybody, really, big city like this.
“Great,” I said. “That's two left gloves tonight. Better come up with some right ones; folks' hands gonna get cold.”
“Yes boss,” he says. “Probably some right-handed guy trying to unlock his door right now, except I'm sitting here listening to you go on about cold right hands instead of out looking for it.”
I motioned him back out into the night. “Folks coming home from dinners out about now. You be there. Market don't run without nothing to sell.”
As a matter of fact, I did have a right glove. Almost exactly matched this one too, if you didn't mind a little more wear on one cuff than the other, one glove a little less shiny, that sort of thing. Winter was just around the corner though; couldn't keep them for myself when there were deals to be made and stuff to be traded.
I sat out on the steps, in the cold, smoking. If you’re born to this, it doesn’t seem strange, folks just not seeing you. That’s why we have a market, for folks that don’t get seen. As streets in Lewisham go, this one’s quieter than most: it’s a through route for buses, and the kebab shop closes just past midnight. Coffee shop shuts at dusk, idiots. Italian deli closes whenever it feels like it.
“You gonna give me one of those?” Ferguson sat down beside me like we were brothers.
“Dunno. Could use a toffee.”
Ferguson passed me a toffee, and I passed him a cigarette. “Got a light?”
I lit his fag and put the pack on the steps between us: I’d known Ferguson a long time, after all.
“Talked to a lady today.”
“Pretty average.” Ferguson laughed at his own joke. “She had some stuff blow off her table, then she see me. I give her a card.”
“She find her stuff?”
“Nope. Bell did, though.”
I laughed at that one. “Bell’s a good kid.”
“Kid. He got a long way to go. Tried to sell her some bacon.”
“She tell you that?”
“Watched it happen. She look at him like he come from Mars.”
“Is she trouble?”
“Nah. She like me. She think I’m crazy, but she like me.”
“Mm. Everybody likes you, Ferguson.”
“Everybody want to get along, they like me.” Ferguson shrugged. “Want another toffee?”
“Go on and take one. You would anyway.”
“Got some beer. You want a beer?”
“Later, maybe. We’ll see what Bell brings home tonight.”
“You send him to the grocery; stock boys throwing stuff out.”
“Yeah; he knows. He’ll get there before dawn.”
“Folks got to eat.” Ferguson looked at me expectantly.
“He brought me a glove,” I said.
“Just the one?”
“Yeah. I told him, better bring me a bunch. Getting cold out here.”
“Winter coming on.” Ferguson lit the cigarette. “Don’t nobody like winter.”
I shrugged. “I don’t mind it. People hurry in winter. They drop stuff. Found a purse full of coin the other day. Useless shit, but somebody’ll miss it.”
“You give that to Marion. She know what to do with that.”
“Gonna trade it for some books.”
Ferguson shook his head. “Good luck with that. Little brown headed girl quit the bookshop.”
“Shit. Have to go to Wonder’s.”
“Wonder don’t like us.”
“Yeah, but she’ll sell me a book if I have coin.”
“You give the rest to Marion. Just one book, now. You don’t need to be reading all the time. You got a market to run.”
I frowned. “Who made you the boss of me?”
Ferguson grinned. “Don’t make me speak the line. We be here all night.”
“Night’s half over,” I said. “Bet you can’t make it back to the beginning of who made you the boss of me by dawn.”
“Sound like a challenge.” Ferguson took a deep breath.
“No, no, man; I’m fucking with you. Shit, I can say the line if you want, but I’ll get half the names wrong.”
“You kiss your mama with that mouth?”
“Give us another toffee.” I took the gloves out of my pocket. “You cold?”
“Not yet. You wear ‘em.”
“Got to sell them tomorrow; might as well break them in.”
“Thought you said Bell only brought you one.”
“Yeah; this one’s left over from last winter. Nobody wants one glove.”
“Nobody with no sense, anyhow. You got some meat for tomorrow?”
“Bell will get some tonight. All I got right now’s some packaged salami and a couple kilos of sausage.”
“Good start. What time you open up?”
“Noon, when folks start stirring.”
Ferguson eyed the decorative rosette on the wall of the building we were sitting by. “I got some orange paint,” he said.
“Orange? Can’t you just do it blue again?”
“Tired of blue. You got me a ladder in there?”
“Sure. You need some help?”
“You can hand me stuff. I paint the wall by myself.”
That was Ferguson’s hobby, painting the rosettes on the walls bright colours. He said it was almost like folks saw him when they saw all those colours. I thought they saw little vandals, but you can’t tell Ferguson anything. I climbed down into the storeroom in front of my place and brought up a big ladder, then steadied it while Ferguson climbed up with a can of bright orange paint and carefully overpainted the newly-whitewashed rosettes all along the building wall. We spent the next hour making sure they were all bright orange. Ferguson loved to sit on the stoop and laugh at the landlord, mornings after he’d been at the painting.
Bell came back at dawn with a big haul, including three broken umbrellas, two working umbrellas, a jar of perfectly good mayonnaise, two sacks full of groceries slightly past their sell-by dates, a length of satin cord, four right gloves and one more left one, and, a find he saved for last, presumably to impress me, a garnet must have fallen out of somebody's earring. Too small for a ring, he said, unless Mister was poor. We laughed about that: some poor girl crying over a lost garnet the size of a caraway seed.
“That'll get us some bacon tomorrow, won't it?” Bell would trade just about anything for bacon.
“Yes, and half a dozen eggs, plus some fuel for the gas fire,” I said. “Winter's coming, people need gloves.”
“And garnets,” Bell said.