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January 18, 2018 | Fiction

The Suitcase

Helen Hofling

The Suitcase photo

I was planning a long trip, one that required more clothing than any of my suitcases would accommodate, so I ordered a new suitcase on the internet—the largest I could find.

Soon after, an enormous box appeared in my apartment building’s stairwell. It looked like it had been through a major disaster. I could see through the holes in the cardboard, recognizing the tan luggage that I’d ordered.

In my apartment, I removed the suitcase from the box. It was very damaged, full of dents and dings, and gargantuan, twice the size any reasonable person would carry. I could have fit my whole body inside the suitcase, easily. I could fit my body and another person’s body, I thought, wringing my hands with anxiety. I could become a murderer and fit several of my victims inside. I didn’t need to inspect it further to know the suitcase would have to be sent back, though few things in this world ring terror in my heart like the navigation of online returns. 

I called the company’s customer service line and explained the situation. A very nice man apologized for the inconvenience and told me he would email me a free shipping label because of the damage. He even offered to ship a new box because the one it came in was in no shape to re-use.

Days later, I’d received nothing. The suitcase sat in my hallway, baffling my small cat. Each time I walked from room to room I had to veer around it.

I called the company back. This time I was on hold for a very long time. I liked the groovy hold music, Maybe I’ll tell the representative so, I thought, if they ever answer. Would this remark endear me and further my cause, or would it alienate them, giving the impression that I am one of the crazy people that they surely deal with on a regular basis? When a woman finally answered, I decided not to bring it up. Instead, I explained my situation—that it was my second call, and that I was waiting on a box and a shipping label.

“Who did you speak with? I see no record of an earlier conversation.”

“I don’t know his name, does this mean there’s no box on the way?”

“We don’t mail boxes.”

“So whoever I was talking to just made that up?”

“I have no way of knowing who you were talking to, or any motives they had for what they may or may not have said, because we have no record, and we don’t mail boxes.”

She thought I was lying. But to me it was now clear that it was the earlier customer service representative who had been lying. He’d been telling me what I wanted to hear just to get me off the phone; he’d done nothing to help me. I didn’t know which representative I hated more: the liar or the one accusing me of lies.

“So what do I do? There’s a giant damaged suitcase in my hallway.”

“If you would like to apply for waved return shipping, you need to send photos of the damage to management.”

“Ok, how do I do that?”

“I’ll initiate management proceedings. You should hear from management by phone or email within the next two days.”

“And what do I do about the box?”

‘We don’t mail boxes.” She hung up.

 

I waited a week, and again I heard nothing. I took photos of the suitcase from every angle and emailed them to the company’s customer service email account. I didn’t receive a response. I called again, and was put on indefinite hold. A flurry of follow-up emails I sent went unanswered.

Slowly, I learned to live with the suitcase. Though my apartment is modestly sized, I learned to chart my way around the hulking obstruction. My body reoriented to the modified space. As time passed the suitcase began to blend into the background of my home.

 

One evening I got home after work and I heard a soft crying. I threw open the closet door, concerned that I’d shut in my cat as I had once before, entrapping her for twelve hours or more. The closet was empty; I found her curled on top of the refrigerator, silently peering down. The crying grew louder. I traced it to the hallway and for the first time, I opened the suitcase. Inside I found a child, holding an egg. The child was young. I do not have children of my own and am not good at gauging ages. It had pin-straight blonde hair, and a blue knee-length smock.

“What do you have there?” I asked the child.

“It’s a century egg,” the child blubbered.

“But it doesn’t smell at all!”

“When you make them right, they don’t smell.” The child dried its tears and wiped its nose on a blue sleeve.

“Oh. Did you make it?”

“No, but they make them where I come from.”

“The department store?”

“No, the shipping warehouse. Nothing comes from the department store. They’re just retailers.”

“Well what about the manufacturer?”

“Listen,” the child said, seriously. “Don’t ask me about the manufacturer. That information is beyond reach. I don’t know anyone who knows anything about the manufacturer. Yes, the manufacturer exists, but you can act like it doesn’t, there’s no need to factor it into your decisions, you see? It’s enough just to know that they’re out there. But again, this knowledge should have no affect on your actions, they are not aware of your situation and will not use their influence to sway your return.”

“Then they have influence?”

“Have you been listening at all? Of course they have influence, but I don’t know anything about it. You will have to go through standard procedure, and wait for a response.”

The child smashed the egg on the floor for emphasis. Shards of shell and bits of amber jelly flew to every corner, and a rotting smell filled the room. I took several photos for documentation. 
 

image: Helen Hofling, paper collage, 2017


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