Hostility Compromise

  • Reading time: five-and-three-quarters minutes
  • Word count: 1099
  • Published: 10 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013


“Hartman here tells me you’re being—belligerent?”

“Hostile.”

“Hostile.”

“Ceiling boy here definitely called me hostile.”

“How exactly was he being hostile?”

Hartman pulled the manager aside and talked with her for a few minutes, pointing and waving. She nodded occasionally, like she didn’t take him seriously. Eventually they walked back.

“Hartman says—”

“His nametag says Carlson.”

“Corporate policy mandates that we print employees’ first names on their nametags. He protested, but we couldn’t make an exception. But he has us all call him Hartman.”

“Carlson Hartman?”

Hartman nodded.

“Yeesh. Two last names.”

“Just means I’m distinguished.”

“Or that your parents were bad with names.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s the one who damaged the Christmas tree on display here, Kay.”

“Looks ok to me.”

“That’s kind of what I told him.”

“Wha’d you tell him?”

“That I didn’t damage it.”

“But he did, Kay. It’s a whole foot shorter than it should be.”

“I think I would’ve noticed if the tree suddenly got a foot shorter, Hartface.”

“You’re one of those people who goes around stealing sections of fake Christmas trees until they’ve got enough to build one for themselves at home.” He looked at Kay. “It was on the news last year.”

“Who ground your brain into dust and forced you to snort it?”

“Sir. Please.”

“Look at the tag for the tree,” Hartman pointed. “Says it’s a five-footer. But look at it now, it’s just—”

“Four.”

Hartman nodded.

“So someone put the wrong tree there.” Quickbreak took a step back. “Or the wrong tag.”

“Maybe you damaged part of the tree and panicked and hid that part.”

“Hartman. Could you step off for a moment.”

“God praise the Lord.”

“Now I’ve known Hartman to tell ridiculous stories—”

“I’m getting that vibe.”

“But there’s normally some truth to them.”

“Jesus.”

“Maybe not this time.”

“You think? I mean, partially disassembling display trees?”

“But aside from being horribly unpersonable he’s my best employee. I can’t afford to lose him.”

“…”

“Which means sometimes I have to make him happy. So I’m asking you to buy the tree.”

“Make him happy? I’m your customer, what about me?”

“You can return the tree to another store within seventy-two hours.”

“All to make your wannabe sergeant happy.”

“And not piss you off entirely. Yes.”

Hartman announced his return with a slow clap.

“Stuff it, ceiling boy. I’m not buying the tree.”

Hartman threw a shoe at Quickbreak.

“And I’m the one who’s being hostile?”

“He damaged the tree. He’s got to buy it and take—”

“Sir, please put the tree in your—”

“Like hell I’m buying the—”

“That’s the rule. You broke it, you—”

“Sir, would you please ever so kindly put the damn tree in your cart and—”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so—”

Hartman threw his other shoe at Quickbreak. It missed and hit another customer in the eye. “We’re not being hostile!”

“There is a difference between hostile and forceful, sir.”

“Sure. But you can be hostilely forceful.”

“…”

“Slackjaw speaking gibberish.”

“And you’ve been the sanest one among us, ceiling boy.”

“We keep him in the ceiling to observe the—”

“Don’t you have camera—”

“They’re not as good as me. I can intercede, not just—”

“Observe. Observe me, Hartman. Observe how I’m not insulting this man.”

“And observe how I’m not throwing anything at anyone.”

Hartman shut up.

“Observe me asking this gentleman to please kindly put the tree in his cart and buy it.”

“Observe me telling this nice lady not to hike off but rather, simply, I’m not buying the tree.”

“Is this the part where you two kiss?”

“Shut up, Hartman.”

“Could be.”

Hartman chuckled. “She’s going to kick you out for that one. She’s married.”

“I’m not going to kick him out if buys the tree he damaged.”

“I didn’t damage it.”

Hartman threw a ’biner at Quickbreak.

“And we’re back to the hostilities.”

The three stared at each other for half a minute. But for the din of everyone else in the store and the fact that there were no pins nearby, you could have heard a pin drop.

“I’ve bought set after set of Christmas decorations from you guys. No fewer than four times this month. But at the word of some guy I’ve never seen here you’re ready to throw me out?”

Kay squinted. “Four times this month?”

“At least. Bought a tree’s worth of decorations every time. I was going to buy a tree on top of more decor—”

“Four times.”

“Yes?”

“Are you unsure?”

“No?”

“I’ve been here every day this month pulling eighteen-hour shifts.”

“And?”

“I don’t remember seeing you at all.”

“I’m easily forgotten.”

“Hartman?”

“I haven’t seen him before today either, Kay.”

“Sure he hasn’t. How much has—”

“He’s worked the same shifts I’ve worked.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

But for their still sitting secure in their sockets—“I did it again”—Quickbreak’s eyes popped out of his head.

“Did what.”

“Had a mental block.”

“A mental block.”

“One that made me mistake Target for Kmart.”

“…”

“That’s like mistaking a Hummer for a Humvee.”

“Haven’t been in a Target in at least six months.”

“Is that why you got so confused you bumped into all those people earlier?”

“He bumped into a bunch of customers?”

“Yeah. A guy in the greeting cards—”

“Yeah but I helped him back up. He told me to fuck off.”

“—a woman by the digital cameras—”

“His exact words. Hey, she was in my way.”

“—a couple near the Christmas lights—”

“They were literally glowing. Disgusting.”

“I agree. Love-fueled bioluminescence isn’t suitable for public display.”

“Thanks, Hartface.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store, sir.”

“We’re not going to talk about ‘love-fueled bioluminescence’?”

“No.”

“I don’t have to buy the tree?”

“No.”

Quickbreak wanted to hug her.

Hartman waited to decide what he wanted to do.

“I don’t want your money anymore. The store doesn’t want your money anymore. We want your I.D. It’s going to be another six months and then some before you’re allowed to come here again. Come with me.” She looked back at Hartman, who had just started his shimmy back up to the ceiling. “Would you please”—she held her hand toward Quickbreak—“hand me your I.D.”

“Let me just dig it out, here.” Quickbreak was already several feet away from her, and walking as fast as he could.

Kay ran after him, and Quickbreak bolted out the front door into parking-lot cross-traffic.


“Make It Right” is the seventh section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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