The last guest is out the door. The dishwasher is gurgling on its final load. The leaves for the dining room table are headed to the bedroom closet. Your holiday stress is melting faster than the slush in the entry-way.
Only one task remains on the Christmas to-do list.
You bet; it is time to revisit all the stores you swore never to step foot in for another year.
Black Friday may open the holiday season, but Return Day closes it and you will not be freed from your holiday obligations until you have shuffled through the return line, clutching the zebra-print sweater you received from Aunt Edna.
It is what you do every year because it is what she gives you every year.
And every year you plod in procession with other holiday refugees, slowly inching ever closer toward a surly young clerk whose face is half-hidden behind a mop of carbon-black hair.
Do not be fooled. This clerk is not who you think she is.
Look past the cobalt-blue eye liner, past the foundation applied with a putty knife, past the tear-drop tattoo on her cheek. Despite her appearances, she is a professional. She is The Closer.
She is the one who is charged with retaining the hard-won profits of the Christmas season. She is also the one who is demanding to know why you are returning what you clutch in your hand.
“It’s a zebra-print sweater,” you say as if that were explanation enough.
“Is it defective?” she asks incredulously (as if a defect was the only acceptable reason for returning a zebra-print sweater).
“No, other than the concept,” you say, “it’s fine.”
Then comes the gotcha. “Do you have a receipt?”
“No,” you say confidently.
You know you are within your rights. The store has a no-receipt-required-upon-returns policy but you also know they have a companion policy mandating that anyone who returns an item without a receipt be sneered at by clerks well-schooled in the art of sneering.
But you are well-schooled in the art of enduring such things.
She pivots in another direction. “Is this item a gift?”
You admit it is.
She says nothing but her sneer says, “you ungrateful sot.”
Again you endure.
Eventually the sweater passes from you to her. She accepts it like an abandoned puppy, folding it lovingly and placing it carefully on a cart stacked high with other rejected gifts: loud sweaters, as-seen-on-TV gadgets, fuzzy robes, soaps-on-a-rope and neckties.
“Without a receipt,” she says, “I can only give you store credit.”
This is an acceptable compromise; the store retains its profit and you are armed with credit to spend on after-Christmas mark downs.
As the clerk's fingers clack across the keyboard and your credit slip zips off the printer, another clerk wheels the cart away.
He bumps it through a set of swinging doors out into the retail area and makes his way toward a string of hastily painted signs.
“DEALS!! DEALS!! DEALS!!” the signs declare.
And there waiting beneath the signs stands your Aunt Edna.
You see her but she does not see you. How could she? She is as focused as a famished cheetah on the marked-down zebra-print sweater rolling her way.
This week's challenge: Okay, it's Christmas Eve, it is obvious what the challenge should be but Len (being the kinda guy he is) leaped in and grabbed the whole holiday thing. So that leaves me in a lurch, doesn't it?
Soooooo, not being able to go too far afield on the theme of holidays, today's challenge is to: write on the theme of things you got to do.
Yup, that is what holidays are all about, doing stuff you don't want to do, like not bopping your Uncle Maurice on the head with the gravy ladle when he starts howling about The Fiscal Cliff, or being nice to your sister even though she stabbed you in the back six and a half years ago. It's about shopping at crowded malls. It's about your living room getting trashed. It's about......oh heck, you know what it is about, so write it.
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Last week’s writing challenge: write on the theme of country (music) - drew the following responses:
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