“I bought this carrier for my son’s bicycle,” Jack Johnson, a middle-aged balding man, said, putting a yellow blue bubbled package on the counter. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow. Perspiration dripped from the tip of his nose.
“The air-conditioning is working about fifty percent,” Bob explained looking up at the box that hung from the ceiling. “It’s these bloody hot Augusts we’ve been having. What ever happened to the wind chill factor, eh?”
Jack laughed politely then got back to the reason for his appearance in the hardware store that morning.
“When I opened the package, I noticed that there was a screw missing.”
“I guess a lot of us have a screw missing.” Bob roared with laughter, knocking his knuckles on the counter.
“That was a good one, eh?” Bob chuckled.
Jack Johnson was not laughing. Bob noticed this and cleared his throat. He looked at the package for several moments. The packaging was a mess. God, he was going to have to rewrap it. He looked up at his customer.
Jack Johnson wiped his neck with the handkerchief. That was big enough to be a pillow case.
“You could go camping with that thing?” Bob chuckled. Pleased with his little joke. Jack Johnson just stared at Bob. He was not amused. Or not conscious. Exhausted by the heat.
“I guess you want to replace the package,” Bob suggested with a sigh.
“I just need the screw,” Jack explained. His eyes had a distant look about them. As if he were dreaming. Imagining some better world where he might be. A cooler world.
“If you could just give me the screw,” Jack said, “I’ll be out of your hair.”
Bob laughed and ran his fingers through his thinning hair.
Jack Johnson had a stunned expression on his face. Bob stared at him for a moment. He wasn’t joking. Bob shook his head.
“Sorry, can’t do that.”
Jack looked at Bob quixotically. “Excuse me?”
Bob licked his lips. The air conditioner above him, the one that hung from the ceiling, groaned.
“It’s like this,” Bob began to explain. “We don’t sell the screws. We sell the packages with all this other shit in it, but we don’t sell the screws individually. I know it sounds crazy. You’d think we would, but… hey that’s the way of the world. It looks like you’ll have to exchange the package for another one that has the screw. Somebody screwed up at the manufacturer. Things like this shouldn’t happen. For the sake of one screw, we have to send the whole package back to the company and get credit. There goes your profit margin. It’s a real mess. But…” Bob paused for a moment thinking of all the work ahead of home over one lousy screw. “That as they say is the way of the world.”
Jack Johnson sighed. His son had been looking forward to having the carrier attached to his bike. Jack reached into his pocket for his wallet, and fished a paper out of it.
“I’ve got the receipt.”
Bob smiled and shook his head.
“That shouldn’t be necessary. You look like an honest enough fellow.” Bob looked at Jack closely. “You alright?”
Jack smiled weakly, wiping the sweat from his brow. “I’ve felt better.”
“When’d you get the carrier?” Bob asked.
“Last week.” Jack nodded. “My son’s birthday.”
“Let me see the receipt to check on the date,” Bob asked.
Jack passed the receipt over.
Bob looked at the receipt and then at Jack. The smile had left the merchant’s face.
“You didn’t buy this at our store.”
A bewildered expression came over Jack’s face.
“Of course I did. Says so right at the top of the receipt.”
Bob handed the receipt back to Jack. Jack pointed to the heading.
“They’re franchises,” Bob explained. “You have to take the article back to the exact store that you bought it from.”
“I have to…”
“We don’t support the warranty of the other stores in the chain.”
“You don’t what?”
“You’ll have to take it back to the store of origin.”
“That’s on the other side of town!”
Bob smiled sympathetically.
Blood rushed to Jack’s face.
“It’s only a 10 cent screw for Christ’s sake. You said so yourself.”
“The paper work would cost us five dollars.” Bob shook his head. “It’s a shame really. If we only sold the screw it would solve all of our problems. But, I’m afraid that…”
“Jesus, I’ll pay the fucking five dollars.”
Bob shook his head slowly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jack asked. Sweat rolled down his forehead. His eyes began to blur.
“No can do,” Bob responded. He handed the package back to Jack.
Jack looked at the package and then at Bob.
“You fuck!” he cried and stepped back. “I…” his voice broke off into a stammer. For a moment Jack thought he was going to pass out. He looked at the package as it fell out of his hands onto the counter. Bob looked at Jack. Jack looked back, pleadingly, then staggered from the counter and out of the store. The whiteness of the day flashed across his eyes. He placed his hand over his heart. His chest was pounding.
“Shit! Not again,” he muttered to himself in a moment of revelation. “I’ve got to see a doctor.”
Inside the hardware store, Bob looked at the package in his hands.
“What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?” he said. All he could think of was paper work. Fuck that. He looked around, spotted a garbage can and dropped it in.