Meanwhile in Florida
By Amy King
Restarting in a moment
“That’s nice. Except for the part where I didn’t ask you to restart. I asked you to print my spreadsheet.” Charlie’s left eye squints in disapproval as he watches the six white balls pull themselves around in a spinning circle on the screen.
They dance around themselves, mocking his attempts to accomplish anything before the doors open and the inevitable sea of witches and wizards flood the waiting room of the Department of Reversals and Repairs of Palm Springs (DRRPS). Or, as Charlie likes to call it, “Derps”.
It’s a sign. Coffee.
Charlie grabs his mug and trudges toward the break room and straight to the coffeepot. He hears a light slish of liquid swirling the bottom of the metal pot.
He unscrews the lid (the one meant to keep the liquids inside warm—all two teaspoons of it) and rinses out the dregs. He grabs the filter, dumps the grounds in the garbage, replaces it with a new filter bag of fresh grounds, fills the machine with water, places the pot back on its holder, and punches the brew button.
Charlie wraps his fingertips around the lip of his mug and drags it across the counter as he retreats to his updating computer.
“Um, Mr. Hunt?” Charlie’s 19-year-old desk neighbor, Marvin Dell, shyly calls out to him from the copier. He sighs, knowing from the sound of that question, what’s in store.
“Did paper jam in the copier?” Charlie watches as pink tinges Marvin’s cheeks as he nods yes to the question. “Did you try to clear the jam by removing the ink cartridge?” Again, Marvin nods his head. “Marvin, is that why you have black toner all over your clothes and hands?” Charlie grabs some cleaning wipes. Marvin is in week three of employment at DRRPS. Charlie stowed several containers in the copy room starting week two.
“Thank you, Mr. Hunt.” Marvin mumbles as he wipes up as much toner as he can.
Charlie nods his welcome as he walks to the machine, locates the jammed paper, replaces the cartridge, and reboots the copier. “All good, Marvin. But, I suggest that in the future, you only fix paper jams while under supervision. Deal?”
Marvin’s lowered head nods, “Yes, sir.”
“Great. Now, let’s go get some coffee. Oh, first I need to go check on my computer. I’ll meet you over there when I’m done.” Charlie shoos him away from his embarrassment.
Working on updates. 50% complete.
Don’t turn off your computer, this will take a while.
“Oh, right. Of course.” Sarcasm colors each syllable as Charlie and his mug make an about-face, once again in search of artificial alertness. As he approaches, he watches Marvin pour himself a cup of coffee then top of Ms. Swift’s.
He’s a good kid, but man, what a klutz.
The two of them smile as they walk past Charlie as he swings the pot to his mug. Slish.
For the love of Baba! Can a man just get a cup of coffee?
He indulges his moping for another moment then resigns himself to tea before returning to his desk. His computer, thankfully finishes with its update as the first clients shuffle in. His fingers fly across the keyboard as they open, once again, his file and print it.
Charlie hustles to the copier and back, launches himself into his desk chair, and calls his first ticket number before his colleagues could begin their processing.
Now serving: A06
From his peripheral Charlie notices a tall figure make its way toward his desk as he writes the date on the day’s log sheet. “Hello, could you please explain the nature of your magic reversal….” Charlie’s speech slows to a curious halt once his full attention focuses on the person in front of him.
Well, he can only assume it’s a person. For at this moment, all that can be seen are a pair of penny loafers peeking out from a six-foot curtain of salt and pepper hair.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess this is a follicle claim, today…” an age-spotted hand parts the waterfall of hair, just wide enough to allow the other hand, holding crumpled paperwork, to rest on top of Charlie’s desk. “Um…Mr. Boone?”
Okay, so there is a man somewhere behind all that.
As the hand retreats behind what Mr. Boone’s paperwork describes as “aggressively thriving eyebrows”, Charlie clears his throat in an attempt to remove the humor from his voice as he begins Mr. Boone’s processing.
“Sir, can you please describe the situation and spell that brings you in today?” Charlie’s voice successfully remains an even tone as, once again, Mr. Boone parts his cascading eyebrows to reveal a scarlet-covered face looking back at him.
“I have a date tonight.” Mr. Boone huffs —as if that’s explanation enough for his predicament.
“Could you expand a little further on that, sir?” Charlie makes no attempt to hide the confusion in his voice.
An embarrassed sigh tugs the words from Mr. Boone, “It’s my first date since the divorce. My buddies said I wouldn’t get a second date if I went with a non-existent hairline.” The scarlet deepens with each word until his face is crimson. “So, I looked up a basic spell for accelerated hair growth. But, when I went to recite the incantation, I received a text from Judy—my date—and I got flustered and I think I might have repeated the final line twice.” This last sentence is barely audible through his shamed mumbles.
Charlie reassures the older gentleman with a smile of understanding. “Ah. Well, no worries Mr. Boone, we’ll get you squared away and out of here in plenty of time for your date with Judy.” Panic flashes across the man’s face. So, Charlie adds, “And, no offense to your buddies, but if you got the first date without a hairline, I don’t think that would be what deters her from saying yes to a second one.”
Finally, Mr. Boone relaxes, relieved for the first time all morning. He gathers his brows as the Reversals Agent approaches, nods in gratitude to Charlie, and enters the room for processing.
“Hey Char, can I ask you a favor?” Only one voice can instantly grab at Charlie’s shoulders and hold them up to his ears—Gordon Berns.
“Sure, Gordon. What’s up?” Charlie drags his right foot as he spins his chair to face his supervisor.
“Karl needs to leave early for his kid’s field hockey game. To help us do that, would you be willing to skip your first break? That way we can get everyone’s lunch breaks started earlier?
How does one fifteen-minute break save you enough time?…
“Sure, Gordon.” Charlie coasts back around to his desk and right through the logging of Mr. Boone’s case.
Name: Warren Boone
Time: 8:30 AM
Service form: F22 – Reversal of facial hair growth
Resolved today: Yes or No
In the span of two hours, Charlie processes a claim for a woman who accidently muted her mother-in-law, unjams the copier, processes another claim for a teenager who broke his dad’s wand, refills the copier, unjams the copier, and shows the middle-aged Gerry how to “locate the internet” on his computer.
Soon you can get some coffee.
Now serving: A20
Charlie grabs his log once more to fill in the time, when he hears a shcrutch-scha-scha-schrutch.
“Hello, Mrs. Greggor.”, Charlie would recognize that walker-shuffle in a parade of grandmas. It’s Friday, which means it’s time for Franny Greggor’s weekly visit to the DRRPS.
“Young man, how many times must I tell you to call me Franny?” One miniscule twitch of her eyebrow pulls the correction out of Charlie
“Apologies, Franny. You’re here a little later than usual.”
Typically, Franny arrives fifteen minutes after opening and gets escorted by Marcus—a local community bus driver for the elderly—to front row. If the seat closest to the clerks’ desks is taken, she adorns a saccharine grin, activates the twinkle in her left eye, then asks the resident of the seat to please vacate so “a poor, old woman could have a place to rest.”
Often, the simple old-lady act suffices. Occasionally, a person does refuse. Charlie chuckles at the memory of the first time he saw her reaction to being told no.
On that day, Franny Greggor’s glinting foggy eyes snapped to a cold gray squint, and with a determined flick of her left hand, the young man that refused to relocate, found himself sitting in the back corner. Facing the corner.
Franny’s voice pulls him into the present. “Well, you see my dear, I had a visitor today and she volunteered to bring me instead of dear Mr. Marcus.”
Charlie forgot that he’d seen a young woman escorting Franny this morning.
“Ida Shore, she’s a wonderful young woman. Her family’s lived next door to me since she was shorter than a peanut.”
Charlie follows her knobby finger pointing to the waiting area, he makes eye contact with the young woman. Dark chocolate eyes laugh at him, commanding his full attention.
“Dear, do you have the proper form for me?”, Franny’s voice pulls Charlie back to the elderly woman in front of him.
“Of course, Franny. Here’s your Form R13 for wand location services.” With a crooked grin Charlie continues, “But, before you leave me to my boring routine, you must tell me what your beloved General Macho is getting up to this week on “Living Our Days”.”
Franny refuses to be teased about her favorite daytime drama. “Don’t even pretend to think I approve of anything that General Malto does to the poor citizens of Rome.”
“Apologies. I should never have insinuated that you were ever charmed by the likes of that snake.” Charlie knows how much Franny appreciates the opportunity to talk about her past times now that her husband’s gone.
That’s why he never acknowledges that she “accidently” loses her wand every week, or that he keeps a stack of pre-filled Form R13s so that she doesn’t have to fill out the paperwork anymore.
Just as the other Fridays of week’s past, the same tech carries Franny’s purse, inquires after her son, and walks her to the same room closest to Charlie’s desk.
Name: Franny Greggor
Time: 10:41 AM
Service form: R13 – Retrieval of one lost wand
Resolved today: Yes or No
Now serving: A21
“Uh…” Charlie’s nervous babble kicks in as the woman he’d been staring at earlier takes the seat across from him. “Mrs. Greggor mentioned that you’re visiting and that you brought her in today for her appointment. Did you also have a reversals or repairs request, too.”
“No.” Humor flashes in her eyes as she stretches her feet out toward his desk and makes herself comfortable, as if they were sitting in her living room.
Without her further elaboration, Charlie stumbles over his tongue and lands clumsily on, ‘Oh, you don’t? Okay. Well, if you don’t have a need for fixing or reversing of accidental magics, I’m not sure I can help you. And if I can’t help you then I can’t sit with you because I have to help people while I’m on the clock.
Please stop talking.
Charlie pleads with himself to pull it together. Thankfully, Ida saves them both from more of his word-spewing. “Perfect. You said you must help people while on the clock. And I have a need for assistance. So, as long as you help me with this particular problem, we won’t be breaking protocol.”
The matter-of-factness of Ida’s tone puts Charlie at ease. Almost to the point that he doesn’t question her next request. “Now, I need your phone in order for you to help me with this problem.”
“My what?” Charlie can sense the return of the babble but manages to tamp it down before his mouth can get away from him.
“I need your phone. But if my having access to your phone makes you nervous, you can just give me your number.” Her tone matter of fact and leaves no room to question. So, Charlie, unable to come up with a reason not to, gives Ida his number.
“Can I ask what you need my assistance with?” He clears the nervous lump from his throat.
“That was it.” She looks up from her phone and winks as Charlie’s phone buzzes in his hand, indicating a message received. He opens his texts to see one from a new number. It reads, “Save me to your phone.”
Charlie pops his head up to discover Ida no longer sitting across from his desk. She meets Franny near the door the older woman had gone in earlier, and escorts her out the front door. She never looks back.
Name: Ida Shore
Time: 11 AM
Service form: N/A – Requested employee’s phone number
Resolved today: Yes or No
Bzzz. Bzzz. The phone’s screen lights up with another message.
From Ida: Open your top drawer carefully.
Charlie narrows his eyes at the message but does as instructed. Afraid of what could be inside, he hooks his forefinger around the handle and—inch by inch—works the drawer open. A familiar aroma swirls around his nose and erases the skeptical pinch between his eyebrows. Coffee, just the way he likes it.
From Ida: This one’s on me.