“Hello, young man. I’d like to return this.” Faded department store sunlight touches on her faded gray hair.
“Ah.” Fluorescents beam off his dark, thick coif. “What seems to be the trouble, ma’am?”
She hesitates. “Well, it’s been acting up a bit you see.” Timidly, she leans closer against the high, blocky counter. “I’ve noticed for a while, of course, but the problems seem to be growing worse.”
“I see; yes. Well, we often have issues like that with our older models-”
*Ahem* “Have you the purchase receipt?”
She pauses, mid-argument…. “Let me look.” Her veined hands rise to counter height and set a white faux leather purse atop it. Making a great show of a thorough search, she rifles in its shallow depths. After a few seconds, she glances up.
He provides no comment, merely dons an ingratiatingly patient customer sales person expression.
“I can’t seem to find the bugger…” She mumbles as she digs. “Hung onto it for so long.” Rifles more. Sighs. “The husband must’ve thrown it out last time he cleaned…”
“…Don’t suppose you’d accept an exchange? I know I purchased at full price.” Her hands now grip the top of the purse, almost pleading.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” he says, nearly looking sorry, “But store policy is that we only accept returns with the original receipt. We do, however, offer in-store credit.”
Her face lights up. “Oh! Let’s do that, then.”
*Ahem* “First, I need to inform you of our policies and procedures, etc -”
“Oh, nevermind about that. Let me see what you sell.” She leans forward against the counter. “How much do I have?”
“Well… about $X.”
Her wrinkled face draws back in surprise. “$X?! And, what exactly does that cover? Your ad, here, says $XXX for-”
“Yes.” His ageless features move to form another patient smile. “As I said, it’s in exchange for the original purchase price, which, due to inflation…”
“But… But, I can’t get a decent body for that price!” Now, her eyes are swimming with concern. Breathing in and out, she withdraws the purse and looks at the ground with a roving dejection.
“Well, ma’am, that hardly matters.” He steeples his hands before him. “Our policies also only allow for store exchanges in certain departments.”
She stops, stares back up at him, and furrows her gray brows in deep thought. “Oh! Of course there’s always a catch.” She fidgets; self-consciously sucks in a bit. “Which departments?”
“Ha.” Good natured salesman look returns. “None of those, ma’am. Here, see, is the list.” He pushes a typed, illustrated pamphlet beneath her bone-thin hands.
She studies it, squinting a bit without her reading glasses. “But-”
“Ah, I see the confusion. No, these are not for you, ma’am.” He smiles through her shock. “However, as strict as many find our store policies to be, we do allow the credits to be transferable to family.”
“Yes, and our records indicate that you have a daughter who has recently married.”
“Yes, but this paper doesn’t list something she can use. It only says Neonatal– oh.” She stops as his meaning becomes clear. “But, if I made the exchange now then I’d never get to meet my ..er, ‘exchange..'”
“Not to worry. Anticipating this, we also allow for layaway.”
“Layaway? On this?”
“But of course. That, and your account already has a positive balance from a return made just last year.” Taps screen. “Your husband, I believe.” *Cough* “Er, many condolences to you and your family.”
His polite gesture does little to soften the lingering memories of her husband’s recent passing. Still, he did make an effort. “Thank you.”
He pulls his hands back to straighten his uniform, to touch his impeccable hair, to tug at an ear. “So, do I take it you wish to make the exchange?”
She looks up. She takes a few moments to return to the present, to focus on the businesslike sales clerk before her.
Glancing down to her hands, she studies the picture of a happy woman holding a new baby as her happy husband laughs. “Yes,” she whispers.
“Excellent!” All business as always, he produces a typed form and sets it on top of the pamphlet.
She squints at the new paper before her. From the corner of her eye, she sees him set a pen to its left. Agreement to revoke all privileges to corporeal existence in advance… she reads in one paragraph. …Future exchange guarantee is in another.
She raises her head to catch one last helpful smile, then picks up the pen and signs on the X.