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The Coffee Queue

The Coffee Queue

Who'd have thought it would be so hard to get that old mattress collected.

2

Flash fiction


author-small

Marco Ocram (United Kingdom)


The Coffee Queue

You grab a table, I said. I’ll get the drinks.

I join the end of the long queue, where two ladies are standing almost face to face. The talkative lady to the left is tall, thin, hawkish, intense, olive-skinned, bedecked in shapeless beige; her coarse dyed blonde hair shows an inch of brown at the roots. Her attentive companion is Asian- short, vastly plump, and kindly-looking. Matching ribbons suspend IDs on their contrasting chests. They must be colleagues from some nearby office.

I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but…

Tall beige lady: They’re supposed to offer a same day collection, but when I rang them they said they couldn’t pick it up for a week. So I told them that’s no good because I was moving out, and I needed them to collect it today. So she said that there wasn’t anything she could do about it because they were fully booked and next week was the absolute earliest. So I said what am I supposed to do with an old mattress for a week? I can’t take it with me. And she said I could take it to the tip, and there’d be no charge, but I told her I didn’t have a car or a van or anything to take it in, and if I had one I wouldn’t have rung them to collect it. So then I said how about if I leave the mattress on the pavement and they can collect it whenever, but she said if I did that I’d be prosecuted for fly-tipping. So I said how can I be prosecuted for fly-tipping if I’ve left it there for the official collection service?

Companion: Mmmmm

Tall beige lady: So I told her it was absolutely unacceptable that they couldn’t collect on the same day, and she said that the only other option was that she could put me through to the complaints line. So I said is putting me through to the complaints line going to get it collected today, because if it is then fine, put me through. But she said no it wouldn’t make any difference to when they could collect it but I could make a complaint. And I said what’s the point of that? I’m already complaining to you. And she said she wasn’t able to deal with complaints because complaints had to be dealt with by the complaints handlers, because that was policy.

Companion: Yes, that’s probably their policy.

Tall beige lady: So I said just to be clear, are you telling me that you can’t collect today, and you can’t deal with my complaint, and if I want to complain you have to put me through to complaints and they still won’t be able to collect today? Yes she said, so do you want to be put through to complaints. So I said there’s no point in me going there because that’s not going to solve my problem, and I told her I wanted to know what she was going to do to solve my problem.

Companion: Problem. I see.

Tall beige lady. Anyway she says sorry madam but all I can offer you is collection next week because all our drivers are fully booked until then. And I said are any of them booked to do collections near me, because if they are why can’t they pick it up when they’re going past? They’re always going past. I see the lorries going past the end of my street every day, and they’re never full, so why can’t you just get one of them to throw it on top of whatever else they’ve got when the go past? I can even get it taken to the end of the street so they literally wouldn’t have to do anything but stop and pick it up. No diversion, no extra travel, nothing. In fact it would be cheaper than making a special journey next week to collect it.

Companion. That’s right.

Tall being lady. So she said sorry madam but we just can’t operate that way, all collections have to be booked in and scheduled, and signed for. And if we just picked up your mattress we’d have to do that for everyone and we wouldn’t be able to organise anything, and we’d never be able to run a same day collection service. But you’re not running one anyway, I said, you’re not even running a same week service. Anyway, I said, I’d already paid when I tried to book the same-day collection online, so how was I meant to get my money back? And she said I didn’t qualify to get my money back because I could only get my money back if they didn’t turn up to collect it within twenty four hours of the time they said they would collect it, and they hadn’t said they would collect it yet. Well that was just ridiculous so I told her it was and then she said that I was being abusive and that she’d have to report me to her supervisor. So I told her to go on then, report me.

Companion: Report you, yes.

Tall beige lady: So then I was left listening to the music for about half an hour- and I was paying for the call don’t forget- until the supervisor came on the line, and then I had to go through it all again. And I told her it was ridiculous and that if they advertised a same day service they should be collecting on the same day. And she said that the same day service wasn’t guaranteed and it was only same day if they had drivers free. So I said well how’s that meant to work? So if you haven’t got drivers free for a month are you meant to wait a month? And she said I was being unreasonable now, so I said no you’re the ones being unreasonable. I’m meant to be moving out today, and I can’t leave the mattress behind, and I can’t take it with me, and the people who are supposed to take away old mattresses are you and you won’t do it. So where does that leave me?

Companion: What did she say?

Tall beige lady: Well she said that they could only make exceptions in cases of hardship. So I said well what’s hardship? I feel like you’re putting me in hardship, because you’re saying you won’t collect the mattress for a week, and if I leave it outside for you to collect I’ll be done for fly-tipping and you won’t refund me the money I’ve paid for you to collect it today. And that sounds like hardship to me. So then she says that they can’t decide hardship cases over the phone and they have to send an inspector round to assess my needs. So I said I can tell you what my needs are- I need an old mattress collecting. I don’t need an inspector, and if an inspector comes round all I’m going to do is to tell him I need an old mattress shifting and that’s exactly what I’m telling you now.

Companion: Do you want a muffin?


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose is tricky. As writers, we face the daunting task of making sure we are not being predictable. Can you find a way to give the content and characters more of a unique edge? Perhaps say something boldly, something fresh or show an unorthodox approach to a topic?
Atmosphere and description
  • A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Great stories, nowadays, start with a powerful opening line and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
Hi, I believe this can turn out to be a very good story. I just think you should be more specific when it comes to your characters. Give them more depth. Other than that the story was awesome! Happy writing!

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. Think about the conflict and tension in your story. How effectively has it been introduced?
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • A writer’s ability to create mood and atmosphere through evocative description is vital to the reader’s experience. It’s a real skill to craft out how the characters react to the setting and atmosphere and perhaps your story could go further in its description. The reader wants to experience the same sensory and poignant journey as the characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your strong opening was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
A work of experimentation from a clearly accomplished author. This is a wonderfully inventive piece that will appeal to a reader's higher intellect. I found, however, that from a commercial viewpoint, it was taxing and quite inaccessible. The premise is to create a juxtaposition between one speaker and the other, this is accomplished well. It is a satire of Western mannerisms and successful at provoking thought. The density and repetitiousness of Tall Beige Lady is amusing but, I found, aggravating also. This may have been the point. Overall, a welcome and successful attempt at original and thought-provoking prose.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
I have to say, I'm an eaves-dropper my self and found your piece amusing. It is practically part of our job description to listen in on other peoples conversations and then make up stories. Of course, your piece could be verbatim :) Not much to complain about here. Nice bit of writing. Plausible, funny and feels like a situaion we have all been in. I liked the somewhat disinterested replies of the companion. 'Do you want a muffin'...good one. It is an interesting hook to tell a story in this way. It had pace and high drama in my opinion and kept me engaged throughout. BTW the ''Tall Beige Lady" became 'Tall being Lady'' at one point. Just a small typo. Entertaining bit of Flash.