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Safekeeping

Safekeeping

Elizabeth Bernstein

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“We’re much more than a storage company,” I said.

This is how they make us answer the phone. Not, “Hello, we’re much more than a storage company.” Just the last part. I’ve been here for three days now, and not once have I been greeted with anything but confusion. Usually, they just say, “Hello?” as if I haven’t spoken at all. Often, they hang up. Sometimes I get silence. I tried to tell this to Brian, the manager who trained me, but he said that I have to learn to be professional in my presentation if I want to represent the company. I don’t, but that afternoon it was a hill I didn’t want to climb. My mom was picking me up at 5:15 and I couldn’t bear to tell her I had been fired again. So I tucked the laminated checklist (answer phones by the second ring; water waiting room ficus; dust magazine rack) under the fraying desk blotter and just told Brian, “Okay.”

This time when I answered the phone, the caller started to snicker. “What else are you?” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“If you’re more than a storage company, what else are you?” He sounded like a middle-aged man.

“We are a storage company,” I said. “We also offer personal service and 24-hour security.”

“Those are aspects of a storage company,” he said. “Not additions. So really, you’re just a storage company.”

“That’s correct,” I said. “How can I help you?”

“You’re quick to abandon your claim.”

I didn’t answer. Brian looked up at me from where he was stocking the air fresheners so I put on a “listening face.” I didn’t need him to know there was any tension.

“Hello?” said the man, like I was an idiot.

“Yes sir,” I said. “Are you looking for a storage solution?”

“Yes, I am. I would hope so. Otherwise I’d be mighty stupid calling a storage facility.”

I thought of my mother pulling up at 5:15, her doughy hands draped heavily on the steering wheel, her chest rising and falling in short little breaths of preemptive disappointment.

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“You can put me through to your manager, for starters,” he said. “I have equipment that is very valuable, worth thousands of dollars, and I don’t feel confident that your facility can ensure their security, based on my interaction with you so far. So I suggest you put your manager on the phone right away before I get even more frustrated and take my business elsewhere.”

I looked up at Brian, who was now dumping the coffee grounds from the urn in the waiting room into the trash. He brushed the dark specks on the counter into his palm and then wiped his hand over the trash can. He picked up a blue shammy and peered around the whiteners for more dust.

“If you want to store your equipment here,” I whispered into the phone, “do it. We’re more than a storage company because I personally pee on one item in every storage locker at the end of every shift. I will pee on your belongings.” It was a lie, but it wasn’t a lie to me.

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My tone softened. “Do you want to talk to my manager now?”

There was nothing but silence on the other end of the phone. “Yes,” the man said, but his voice was different. The air was gone from it. “Put him on.”

I lowered the phone and called Brian’s name, and gestured him over. “I think it’s a crank call, but I’m not sure,” I said with a helpless wince. “Will you talk to him for me?” He took the phone with irritation.

“We’re much more than a storage company,” he said aggressively into the receiver. The room hung in silence for a moment as we both didn’t move.

“We’re much more than a storage company,” he said again.

He handed me back the phone.

“Crank call,” he said. “They hung up. We get those sometimes. People with nothing better to do.”

“Thanks for handling it,” I said to him. I took the dust shammy from his hand and smiled with my eyes. “Let me do that for you.”

All rights reserved to Elizabeth Bernstein.

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