Thursday, 4 December 2014

Lifted from the Day Job

Working with the general public (especially in a clothes shop where opinions are sought, and life stories told) is fuel for writing - with names and identifying characteristics changed, of course! This week, an almost-request shocked me so much it HAS to go into a book (!) somewhere, sometime - and it'll do just fine to amp up the tension in the scene I'm about to work on...

We'd just opened the shop and I answered the phone to a distressed lady, who explained that she'd lost, though wasn't sure where, a very special ring the day before, and wondered if it had been handed in. The ring had been designed by her husband for a particular wedding anniversary and it meant so very much to her... I looked around the tills and the desk drawers, and checked the Lost Property box - and found nothing. Having been working the night before, I told her that I'd not heard of anything that had been handed in.

This set her off on another round of explaining how important the ring was, how upset she was (and rightly so: we all have possessions that mean a lot to us), and which particular fitting room she'd been in. Double-checking, I scoured all of the cubicles, looking under the stools and in the corners, but with no success.

I said I'd take her name and number just in case, later in the day when tidying and cleaning, we came across it...and then she said, "Do you clean every night?" I replied that we do, but that my colleague hadn't mentioned finding anything (I'd been working on the other floor and so hadn't been there when the fitting rooms were vacuumed, but, trust me, my colleague-in-question is a thorough cleaner...!). And then it came...

"What if it went up the vacuum?"

You can hear the unsaid question just as loudly as I could, can't you?!

Now, I must be clear and fair: the lady did NOT ask me to go through the vacuum bag.

But I sensed that she was about to... (Or is this just the writer in me, filling in the blanks in the most imaginative, most conflict-ridden way?!)

I don't know about you, but searching by hand through a filthy vacuum bag in the hope of finding something you cannot be sure was lost in that very place borders on the unreasonable... Or maybe it doesn't, if you're that person; maybe you'd be happy to trawl through it, maybe the dirt and dust of hundreds of customers passing through one shop during all the days since we last changed the bag would be nothing if you could just grasp the certainty that the item was there...or not? And if this is true, maybe it should be you, not me, doing the going-through?

But how can I, the sales assistant who knows the customer is always right, suggest that?

And this sense of unreasonableness countered by it being inappropriate to refuse is EXACTLY what my writer's mind loves...and is going to put in my scene!

Back to real life now: I managed to steer the conversation away from the vacuum, assuring the customer that we'd notice something like a ring on the floor before the vacuum got to it (which is true - especially as we're always picking size cubes off the floor so they don't clog up the vacuum...!). I took the lady's name and number...

...and, during shift-change later in the day, was glad to discover that the ring had indeed been found by a colleague, and that the message had simply missed me. Phew! Once I'd collected it from the manager's desk and ascertained it was the same as the description the lady had given me, I was able to call her back and, a few hours later, reunite her with her ring. She was so pleased it had been picked up and not pocketed, she brought my colleague a bottle of wine and box of chocolates as a thank you - which was lovely of her.

So, all's well that ends well - and that gives me inspiration to increase the tension in my scene, with the not-nice character making life hard, horrible and mucky for the main character...

~ ttfn ~