HomeSouthern VoiceCustomer Service

Customer Service

by Ellen J. Perry

On a Saturday night at the end of October, I drove to the Weaverville Wal-Mart with my dog Rascal and stood in line at the Customer Service desk for what seemed like forever. I just stood there in my old tore-up boots like a damn idiot, holding the red ring box and my receipt, wishing the people in front of me with their toasters and cookie pans and God knows what else would speed things up. It was a couple days before Halloween and kids were running all over the store, scaring each other with masks from horror movies and eyeing what was left of the candy.

I’m in a horror movie, I thought, standing still. Nobody moved in the line. We were backed up almost to the cash registers and cigarettes. Up ahead there was some problem with clothes, the lady got the wrong size, something. I remembered I needed new jeans. They don’t last forever in my line of work.

I took on that second landscaping job so I could buy Christy an engagement ring, but it didn’t bring in enough money for me to get a real diamond, so in late August I was over there at Wal-Mart buying dog food when I remembered they sold jewelry. Those rings sure sparkled, never mind they were cubic zirconia or whatever. Christy wouldn’t care. My big plan was to surprise her at the Mountain State Fair, make a big deal out of it and have a story to tell.

I even went over to see her dad out near Barnardsville and asked him for his blessing. That’s what Christy called it, she wanted his “blessing” for whenever she got married. I made a little speech and Randy just sort of looked at me, him and Christy’s step-mom Darlene, and said, “Well, I guess if y’all know what you’re doing, ok.” Darlene laughed and said, “Well, that don’t sound like much of a blessing. Mike, it’s sweet of you to come over here. You and Christy are cute together.”

Randy just turned back to the ballgame and stayed mostly quiet. He did finally say something about not having the money for a big wedding. I said, “It don’t matter.” Darlene said, “The church people will help out if y’all do it at the church.”  I knew she meant Sweet Creek Baptist, but I didn’t hardly go anymore. We talked some about how it was supposed to be a bad winter, and then I went back to my place. It was a small house with a fireplace and great for me and Rascal. I figured Christy would want something bigger. But one step at a time.

First things first, I had to plan the proposal. Our first date two years ago had been at the fair. We’d gone to high school together but didn’t know each other then since I was big into athletics and Christy was in the chorus. First time I saw her, she was in one of those school plays where she sang and even danced some. I watched her in the spotlight, thought she was cute. I went to Western on a baseball scholarship but my shoulder gave out, and I never was much of a student anyway so I came on back home. She went to A-B Tech and got a Medical Assisting degree. Her job was at a doctor’s office and she seemed happiest singing in the church choir, which is where we met back up again, but like I said I don’t hardly go now.

We were getting close to 30 so I figured it was time. We’d have a couple of kids, maybe a boy I could toss a baseball to every now and then, maybe a girl who would play the piano and sing like Christy.

“Want to ride the Ferris wheel?” I asked her, and she nodded. We were eating fried oreos and having a great night. This was it. What you’re supposed to do. Get engaged, get married, have kids, take them to the fair, and on and on it goes, like the merry-go-round or maybe more like the Tilt-a-Whirl.

My hand shook when I felt for the red box in my jacket pocket. We sat completely still at the top of the Ferris wheel, on top of the world – in our prime and at the edge of something. I cleared my throat.

“Christy, we came here two years ago, and ever since I’ve been crazy about you. I went and saw your dad the other day, and he said ok.” Out came the ring. “Will you marry me?”

I was lost in my head when the Customer Service lady said, “Can I help you?” I had just about forgotten where I was and what I was doing. I handed her the ring box and receipt. She opened up the blood red box, looked at the ring and said, “Oh, I’ve got one sort of like this one!” She pointed to it on her left hand and I nodded. The lady started punching buttons on the cash register and asked, without looking up, “Is there anything wrong with the ring?”

I said, “No.”

But there was a whole lot else wrong, I thought. A whole hell of a lot else. Christy had said “no,” said she wasn’t ready, didn’t think it was right. Said she was sorry, but she wanted to find somebody more committed to the Lord and to mission work, which is what she felt called to do. I had no idea. No clue about any of it.

“Going to be a bad winter,” the man behind me said as I turned around to go, empty-handed. “Might better get you some firewood.”

I needed some, sure enough, but I couldn’t stay in Wal-Mart a second longer. Walking fast past the kids and their candy and costumes, I made it to the truck and sat there with Rascal for a long time. Going to be a bad winter but I felt pretty good. We’d go hiking after the thaw in the spring, and I’d find my way again.

Ellen J. Perry grew up in Weaverville, North Carolina, where she continues to live near her family and friends. She loves teaching students from all walks of life and working with the talented faculty in the A-B Tech English Department. Her academic interests include 17th- and 18th-century British life and literature, Restoration drama and Southern and Appalachian culture. 

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  • Annie / October 4, 2015

    I have read some of Ellen’s other work and as always her affinity for the south is reflected in her writing. I found it refreshing that Mike was written as neither saint nor villain.

    • Ellen / October 8, 2015

      Thanks for the feedback, Annie! This story was fun to write.