WE GLADLY ACCEPT ANY AND ALL RETURNS • by J. Everett Feinberg

He was the first customer of the day. I pulled out my earbud and stuck my phone in my back pocket. Then I checked my tablet to confirm his name.

“Hello… Robert?”

The man looked up from his seat. He was black, and he was old. Maybe seventies. He had a bunch of stuff in a double layer of shopping bags, and a manila envelope in his hand. His face was slack, and kind of distant.

I took his look as a yes. “Hello, sir. My name’s Kaylee. We’ll be at Station Five, over here.”

I guided Robert to his seat opposite my place at the computer. Robert walked up beside the chair, carrying his stuff, but he didn’t sit.

“What can I do for you today?”

Steadily, but softly, Robert spoke. “Well,” he said. “My daughter, she passed away. Last Monday. I need to cancel her account. I have her death certificate.” Robert held up the manila envelope.

That hit me hard. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said, hoping it sounded as true as it felt, hoping I wasn’t making it worse, wondering if a kind word could maybe help make it better, but then knowing that nothing could help make it better. Then I asked, “What was the phone number for the account?”

Robert had to take out his phone to find the number. Probably, he went into his Contacts, and then he scrolled until he saw his daughter’s name, and then he clicked the link for his daughter’s contact information. Robert read to me a phone number that he would never call again. I typed it into my computer, which pulled up the account of Macy Williams.

“I’ll just need to take a quick look at that death certificate, sir,” I said, knowing that I had not said that very well — I should have found a way to ask that better.

Robert didn’t say anything. He just took the death certificate out of the manila envelope and put it on the table. I confirmed the information.

“Do you want to transfer these services to some other location, sir?”

Robert shook his head. “Just cancel.” And after a pause he said, “We’re clearing out her apartment this week.”

I didn’t know what to say. I canceled Macy’s account.

“Okay, sir,” I said, pointing to the stuff he had in his plastic bags. “You can go ahead and put that modem into the bin there next to you.” I was referring to the Return Bin, a gray plastic tub for people’s old electronics.

Robert took Macy’s old modem out of the bags and placed it into the bin. I couldn’t tell if he did it with reverence or distaste; if he was lingering, or if he was hurrying.

“Will you take this too?” he asked me. He was holding up an ethernet cable from his bags. His face still had that distant look.

“Of course, sir. Go ahead and put that in the bin as well.” He did.

“What about this?” he asked, holding up a cell phone. It had a flower-patterned protective case, and there was a shatter in the top right and cracks all across the screen.

“Yes, sir. We’ll take that as well.”

Robert put the phone into the bin. Then he reached back into his bags, and took out something small. He held out his hand and unrolled his fingers. In his palm was a dried-up umbilical cord.

“Will you take this too?” he asked.

I stared at the umbilical cord for a long moment. “Yes, sir,” I said. I felt very heavy then. “You can put that into the bin.”

He did. Then Robert reached into his bags with both hands and removed something small and gray and heavy. It was an urn. Robert removed the lid of the urn; then he leaned it forward to show me its contents. It was ashes.

“Will you take this too?” he asked.

I noticed tears rolling down my cheeks. I couldn’t look away from Robert. Robert looked back at me, waiting.

“Yes, sir,” I said, very slowly. “You can leave that here with me.”

Robert nodded a little nod — then he poured the ashes. A cloud of gray dust billowed out from the bin.

Robert showed me that the urn was empty. I nodded. He put the empty urn into the bin, on top of the ashes. Then he put in the lid. He stood and looked at me.

“Will that be all, sir?” I asked, very quietly. He nodded.

“And are we satisfied with our TV and internet package today?” I don’t know how I managed to ask him that. I felt heavy, and slow, and hollow deep down, and my face was drying sticky.

Robert nodded.

“Great,” I said. My face was like Robert’s now.

I walked Robert to the door. “I hope you come back and see us very soon,” I said. I was empty, numb. Robert didn’t say anything.

“And be sure to fill out our customer satisfaction survey.”

Robert stopped in front of the door and looked at me. My throat caught. I tried, desperately, to speak.

“I—” I swallowed hard, pushing the lump down into my gut. Then I shrugged. “The reviews help.”

Robert stared at me — as the cars passed, as the families strolled by outside. Then, slowly, he drew a long forefinger up to my name tag. “Kaylee,” he said. Then he nodded. “Okay.”

And then he turned and went out the door.


J. Everett Feinberg is a writer and poet based in Denver, Colorado. He enjoys staying home and avoiding adventures whenever possible. You can find him on Twitter @JEverettFein.


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Every Day Fiction