#308: 11:49

April 16th, 2014

There are a series of smaller freestanding counters behind the big counter at a Kinko’s or a FedEx or a FedEx/Kinko’s Office or whatever they call themselves this week.

Some of the little counters have particular devices on it for different work. A printer that can do photos. A guillotine paper cutter with the long arm that swings down. Rolls and rolls of butcher paper.

And a computer at this one. A computer and a phone and a hefty woman speaking slowly into the phone.

At the main counter, there was a young Middle Eastern couple practically vibrating with nerves. The woman’s call meandered on.

“Yeah, uh huh. Yeah, we can do that. Yeah.”

The couple stood at an attention Beefeaters would envy. Knees straight, shoulders back, eyes locked dead ahead watching the woman on the phone.

“Yeah. Uh huh,” she said to the receiver as the call slowly trickled off.

She hung up the receiver. She shot a little look of detest at the couple. Then she looked down at a small collection of pennies on the small, freestanding counter where she had been talking on the phone.

She extended a pointer finger and placed it on the first penny. She pulled it toward her until the penny fell off the edge into her waiting other hand. One by one, she cleared the pennies off the table.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

She tipped the five coins into the drawer of the cash register, then looked up again.

The couple watched as she ambled toward the front counter, looking them in the eye and then going to help the man leaning over the counter near the edge.

“Can I help you?” she said.

“Yeah, I need like a card or a receipt or something to use the computers and the station’s broken,” the leaning man said, gesturing over at the self-service kiosk.

“You need a receipt?” she asked, cocking her head and raising an eyebrow.

“I just need to use the work station,” he said.

The Middle Eastern woman with the cute knitted cap whispered to her husband, “There’s only about 10 more minutes.” He was wearing a camouflaged jacket and a worried expression. She gripped a stack of government paperwork and a packing slip.

“You got a credit card or a debit card?” the hefty woman asked the leaning man.

“Yeah, I got a debit card,” the leaning man said.

“You can use that,” she replied.

The Middle Eastern man whispered to his wife, “We just need it postmarked.”

“I can use that?” the leaning man asked the hefty woman.

“Yeah, you just put it in the machine,” she said.

The man started walking across the sales floor to get to the work station computers. By the time he got there, the hefty woman had nearly made it the five feet to the couple clutching government paperwork and a packing slip.

At 11:49 p.m.

On April 15.

“Can I help you?” the hefty woman said, a bored sigh in her voice.

“We need this shipped,” the woman in the cute hat yipped.

“Will it be postmarked today?” her husband jumped in.

“Postmarked?” the hefty woman said, picking up the packing slip as gingerly and with as confused an expression as if they had brought her a dead fish. “Yeah, it’ll be postmarked.”

The couple exhaled as one.

“I mean, it might not be postmarked until tomorrow,” the hefty woman said, turning the packing slip in her fingers, still confused by what mysteries it held.

The husband puffed in anger as the wife shrank, defeated. It momentarily looked as if the air inflating her had rushed to him.

There was a brief, whispered conference. A what do we do.

As they held their discourse, the hefty FedEx employee continued her slow, baffled examination of the FedEx packing slip. She noticed something. Her face took on a disappointed, sort of bored look. It was the look of someone who was just done.

“Is this a P.O. box?” she said.

She tossed the slip back onto the couple’s clutched tax forms.

“We can’t deliver to a P.O. box,” she said as the clock struck 11:51.

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