“…extremely satisfied.”

I wasn’t listening to what she was saying. Just sitting in front of the service desk, savoring the warm glow of the impending weekend, which wouldn’t start with a massive hole in my wallet. The squealing that made me jump every time I braked had somehow been diagnosed, located and removed for less than the cost of a night out bowling with burgers and fries for me, Margie and the kids.

“I’m sorry,” I mutter, “I missed that…”

“I hope you don’t mind taking a survey form with a business reply envelope which asks you to rate my customer service and, if you are happy, then please say extremely satisfied because if you only say very satisfied my manager will wonder what I didn’t do right and he might not be happy. Of course it is entirely up to you whether you complete the form or not but if you do…”

She is gabbling now, words tripping over themselves. It is near closing time and perhaps she is worried about annoying me and watching my satisfaction start to evaporate.

I look her over. Cute in a chubby way, big wavy hair, blouse a size too small, reminiscent of an early sixties backing vocalist. My eyes work down. I feel I have permission to examine closely as if “extremely satisfied” is not an award you grant without a thorough examination of all the relevant facts.

“Er… Yes…” I don’t get any further before she picks up my keys.

“Let me take you to your car, Mr. Harris.” I watch those big lips widen.

Her skirt is an inch or two above what might be strictly necessary to do the job and I doubt whether her heels would have stood a trip into the workshop. But perhaps she never has to go there, only hobble across to the entrance where the cars are lined up, cleaned, polished and ready to go, and then back to her desk to extremely satisfy the next customer.

“Thanks, Donna,” I say, reading from her name badge, trying to sound casual and relaxed, as if we shared a common interest in the finer points of automotive engineering.

Driving back, I wonder exactly where the line might be between very and extremely satisfied and for a few moments I imagine what she might be like as a lover. I didn’t notice a ring. I can’t remember when I was last extremely satisfied. Maybe years. Then I wonder why we push ourselves to this. Set up to fail. Sometimes I think satisfaction is a circle and there is a tipping point just beyond extreme satisfaction when we slip straight into despair.

Back home Marge asks about my day.

“So so,” I reply, “that ass Johnson was on my back again about the Dexter contract. Still, the car’s okay at least…”

“I don’t know why you worried, honey. A tiny rattle. I bet all they did was tighten a screw and then some bimbo at service asked you to empty your wallet.”

I picture Donna packing up, clearing her desk. I bet she can’t afford any of the swanky autos they have on the forecourt. She’ll climb into her subcompact; at home she’ll make some joke to her mother about the boss, slip out of that ridiculous skirt into casual pants and search for the remote. Or perhaps right now she is repainting her nails, heart racing in anticipation as the boyfriend pulls up in a convertible. I wonder if it matters; if I should only shower praise on the needy and not reward those who have a night of satisfaction in store way out of my league.

I head upstairs.  Changing out of my suit, I decide I should take the trouble to fill out the form. It costs nothing and poor Donna won’t get bad-mouthed by her manager. Satisfaction feeds on satisfaction.  Why shouldn’t I feel good about it? Reminded about the Dexter business, I need something to raise my spirits.

But I can’t find either envelope or questionnaire. Thinking about it, I don’t remember seeing them. If they had been on the front seat I would have picked them up with my cell phone. I must have left them on Donna’s desk. Annoyance creeps over me, that sense of dissatisfaction you get when you have decided on a course of action and something thwarts your efforts.

Marge calls up from the hall, “The children are with my mom tonight — fancy going out for dinner?”

I should respond, but for a minute my mind is elsewhere. I’m staring out of the window at some boys I know, barely teenagers, revving their bikes, practicing controlled skids on the damp tarmac, in front of a group of girls. Proud, but edgy, high on adrenalin, eager to prove themselves but scared of failing. For them it is simply that: doing it well or failing. The girls look at them but they don’t look back, it is not about satisfying an audience. Now that it no longer matters, I realize that I can’t decide how satisfied I was with the service I received at the garage and whether my level of satisfaction had anything to do with what was provided. It dawns on me somehow that it shouldn’t be about me at all, but then if you ask the wrong question, you get something worse than the wrong answer. I struggle to process this train of thought and calibrate how far I was culpable and how far I was pushed. I wonder whether I am extremely tired or just very tired.

“Great idea,” I finally reply, “You deserve a break ..”

As we climb into the car I notice the envelope — it had slid down beside the passenger seat. It is my choice what to do with it. I leave it where it is and focus on what Marge is saying about the kids.

Nick Bevan devotes most of his writing energies to reports, committee papers and carefully crafted work e-mails, but published poems in several little magazines in an earlier phase of his life and had his first story in Every Day Fiction last year.

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