The Customer Negotiate

The name of the company


My apartment flooded last year. Mud curled up in the chairs and slept. Wires sparked and diminished, lapsed back into walls like the universe coming into creation and unsure of itself. I never saw devastation so careful. My friends came with blankets and cell phone cameras. –For the insurance companies, they said, click, click.

–My word isn’t good enough for them? I asked. –Take video. Every wire in here is live like the galaxies at night. Blue dirt, cave walls. Finally this is a place I want to live in, you know?

And yes, I know eSave discreetly funds the NRA, Republicans for Life, and Monsanto. No, I don’t begrudge a mom with four kids who earns eight dollars an hour buying paper towels in bulk via eSave’s dazzling white and gold interface, garnished with pictures of celebrities and their unbelievable deeds. While I drank Americanos every morning! On the way to my job, childless, coiffed and in new boots! Your purchase helps Guatemalan farmers. Shine on. A boy in college had a tattoo in a Celtic font – Think globally. Act like a dick. I didn’t date boys with tattoos. The Internet was the best thing that ever happened to me. Nevertheless I felt weird all the time because I thought I was pregnant. I feared pregnancy those days more than I feared anything, anything else.

The issue or concern you were dealing with

I ordered the Tan Faux Leather Three Buckle Handbag (The Clarissa) and the Low Heel Black Strappy Shiny Alligator Print Shoe (The Alexis) via eSave on October 1.

The Clarissa bag arrived with my full name emblazoned on the surface, along with the date, time and circumstances of my death. I did not provide this information.

The Alexis shoes, when I put them on, spun my ankles, feet, legs and body in directions I did not plan to turn. I walked up the hidden staircase of a warehouse building. I found myself lost on a turnpike heading out of town. My foot slipped from the brake, and while I crumpled in prayers of gratitude, the woman whose fender I bent did not. Although I repeatedly knocked the shoes against telephone poles, they sent me late to the wrong office. Enclosed is a citation I received from the cops for weaving between narrowly parked cars as if intoxicated, my skirt catching on a license plate.

Was your experience in person or over the phone?*

In person

Over the phone*

–The phone is a miracle, isn’t it? said my mother. –Where are those people outsourced to? The Yukon? The Cloud?

My father harrumphed –India. It’s all in India.

–I tried a new thing tonight. Tomato basil meatloaf! said my mother, proud, nervous. There were potatoes with garlic. A caged dog sat in the corner. We couldn’t go outside due to toxic rain.

–Excuse me, said my father. He clomped upstairs. After the clomps silenced we heard a gunshot, or a car backfire, if we got our wish.

Please answer all questions that apply:

Were you able to contact the company directly?



How many calls did you have to make to get to the person you needed to speak to?

The first voice put me on hold. I had to pee, but I didn’t want to take the phone into the bathroom with me. There’s no good spot to set a phone down in a bathroom. Ten minutes in, I crossed my thighs and stared at the blinking screen the way one stares at enemy gates before an approach. My hand slipped between my legs (I was in public, you understand). The painting on the opposite wall featured a jester in dark green. His face was made of triangles. Within the first half hour I’d brought myself to a sweet, tentative orgasm and considered getting another coffee.

By call number two my stomach housed a demon water baby, twirling and laughing. Are you ready to call the hospital yet? Now? Now? Now? My surroundings had evaporated. If I shut my eyes I was in a dark, beautiful vacuum, the unsullied surface of a planet we’ll never fuck up; thinking about the vacuum makes it disappear, though, so it was gone. If I really shut my eyes to the point of vision damage, I was in the green inside of a computer, teeming with silver circuitry. –Are you here? I asked the waiting space. –Is anyone here to help me?

How many prompts on the telephone did you receive before you got to the correct department?

One: an Artificial Narrow Intelligence (“weak AI”) programmed to perform one task extraordinarily well; the chess-playing computer, or the voice of Siri within a phone giving directions.

Two: a human, Homo Sapiens, of average intelligence responding to commands for self-preservation; the customer service representative (CSR), capable of reason but lacking initiative to use it, since acting in the service of authority keeps her alive.

Three: a human, Homo Sapiens, capable of abstract thought, nuance and argument; the supervisor, who lived in this world herself once, microwaved dinner at ten PM and commiserated with nurses about her senile father, a long time ago.

Did you hear recordings that suggested your call might be monitored for training purposes?



My father assumes all our conversations are being recorded. He sings a high note to himself throughout the day. I adopt a different tactic. I mouth a silent torture for the person I’m talking to – may seagulls pluck out your eyelashes and spew shit into your throat, may your toes burn off one by one – so I can taste the words without the calories. When I speak, I’m restrained, polite.

–What were the words written on the Clarissa bag? the CSR asked.

–Shot In Front Of Your Lover. January Twelfth, Midnight.

–I’m sorry, could you repeat that? Shot in front of your…

–Lover. My lover. On January twelfth, which is about a month from now. I’ve purchased a life insurance policy but I heard they’ll take any excuse not to pay out.

–Ma’am, I need to confirm your address.

–You do not have my permission to record. I know Edward Snowden personally. We drank PBRs together on my fire escape before my apartment flooded and he was forced out of the country. If you must record, don’t bring me to trial.

–Ma’am, I’m doing my job.

–I’m scared.

Were you able to navigate the company’s website to your satisfaction?



Here’s how eSave works. You hop on to purchase a specific item, a drinking glass or novelty pillow. Immediately, a glowing sidebar appears. This normally wouldn’t seduce you, but the glowing sidebar is like your mom, oddly prescient about the needs you’ve forgotten. Toilet paper? Rain jacket? You’re familiar with saved-preferences algorithms, but you’ve never bought toilet paper online and you figure maybe people who like Zanzibar Luxury Body Pillows also like post-consumer eco-friendly TP and who doesn’t at this price. Everyone needs TP. What does Zanzibar export? Citrus, saffron?

The screen slides to reveal the missing ingredient in the meal you planned to make last night. You’ve never seen it so cheap. That can’t be ethical. Soon eSave is showing you item after item you haven’t picked up because after work you just want to eat and then sleep. We live in a culture of dreams, baby, you whisper to the cat at your feet. Voila his preferred brand of cat food. Speak and it shall be yours.

If your cat ran outside during the flood, flashlighted sojourns down narrow streets turning up neither tail nor claw, let your Alexis shoes guide you to the river. You watched the boats when you were young. Swim to your cat’s carcass with a feeling of bitter triumph.

Think as you paddle that swimming’s a lost art. Wonder as you surface, laden, if there are crafty uses for bones.

What were the issues that frustrated you the most?

–I don’t have a lover, I said to the supervisor, shaking. –Do you understand? This bag was meant for someone else. Check your warehouse, please, please.

–Ma’am, I understand your mortality frightens you, but we have a 98% delivery success rate. Are you familiar with the stages of grief?

But this wasn’t a fate I wanted for someone else. Maybe someone terrible.

–I’m at bargaining, okay? Let’s bargain.

–The refund policy on our website, which you read and understood, states that we don’t give money back after the first thirty days. What about the shoes? What’s the problem with the shoes?

–They take me places I don’t want to go.

–Most of our customers consider the Alexis shoes’ automatic global orienting an added perk at no extra cost.

–Yeah, I can see that.

–Did you read any of the eSave terms and conditions you agreed to?

The supervisor was going to die too. When? How? She couldn’t divulge personal information. – Who will my lover be? I asked. In my throat the hum of the river. –Where has my lover gone?

Was contact information easy to connect to, or was it buried to deter customers?

Buried to deter? Your strategists are wasted, eSave. It turns out we mortals don’t care how many times we have to click, as long as we find what we’re looking for.

–There is an Oracle search engine, said my friend. –But that’s something else. You’re thinking of Oracle! with an exclamation point. I Oracle!ed my name, January 12, and the year. Nothing. I live another twenty years, at least, before I’m quoted in an article about razing the riverfront breweries for condos. I own a brewery by then. I couldn’t even find my obit. My friend said that’s a good sign.

–Wait…wait, wait.

The man who mugs me and shoots me will shoot many women. I’m not even the first that night. Our names, the victims’, are buried in his story. 20,764 hits. What motivated him, how did he work, how did he elude capture – pressed clothes, winning smile?

My friend brightened. –Just call the cops now and say you’re a Cod Markwell victim! Print out his photo!

–Cod? What the fuck? His name is Cod?…That’s not who I am.

He worked in my building.

–That’s not who I am. They won’t believe me.

Additional questions:

  1. What generally holds you back from making a complaint, seeking a refund or going after a company that was unethical?

–No one has time for this shit, I said on the second call. –We all need a second life running in parallel with our lives to get done all the things we have to do.

–I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.

–Human being.

–I’m sorry, I still didn’t catch that.

–Date, time and manner of death.

–You want to confirm the date, time and manner of your death. Is that correct?

–Can you stay with me? This rental’s so capacious.

–We appear to be having trouble.

–Never mind. I just want to return the stupid shoes for a pair with no global positioning.

–Since we’re still having trouble, I’ll transfer you to a live operator.

–Wait wait wait wait. Don’t leave. All those women will die if you leave.

–You appear to be crying. Is that correct?

Eyes closed, I squatted on the dirty floor in front of the dirty TV. I hadn’t cleaned the apartment once in the year I’d lived there. Never had I intoned for a savior I don’t believe in. Upstairs my neighbors argued in a language I couldn’t understand.

–Is that correct?

  1. B) If you purchase something and then have second thoughts, do you tend to keep it because you can’t be bothered to return it?

Close friends said to keep the bag. It was well-made, stylish, and fit a reasonably sized hardback novel along with all my medication in outer pockets. The date, time and “shot in front of your lover” business were probably just a gimmick on the part of the designer. –Did it ever say death? they asked. –You’re catastrophizing.

Googling “Shot in front of your lover” revealed a Greek indie movie that did pretty well at Sundance and a couple of Westerns. And – wait – a California designer. Plaid shirt, dark hipster beard, aggressive gaze. “People who buy the mass market stuff deserve to be woken up,” Norman Kels said. But he’d never peddle his wares on eSave.

Googling “Alexis shoes” found Sunbright, a firm specializing in wearable tech for the elderly. Manually program the location into Sunbright shoes and never get lost again! Or buy shoes with pre-programmed locations. The heels had taken me to ditches, vacant parking lots, Rite Aid, and a dumpling-packaging factory, where the workers gave me vacant looks. Each time I’d been reluctantly on my way to somewhere else. Usually work. I looked up “sweat response” and “amygdala response” to see if they were get-away-from heels, protective gear. The mind often freezes in a dangerous situation. You stand still when, if you were thinking rationally, you might take action.

  1. What would make returning an item easier?

–Why are the bag and the shoes bought together seventy-five percent of the time? Do you tell everyone they’re going to be shot?

A litany of Ma’am you need to calm down ascended on speakerphone to the sky.

–My mother is sitting here beside me on the couch. She bought me gloves because she was in the department store and thought I might need winter gloves. Every time something good happens she sends me a card with a sparrow on the front. On the inside, in her delicate cursive, she writes bursting with joy. She survived my father’s suicide by gun, by gun, with grace and aplomb. Know what kind of a mother she is. Know that when a water main broke and flooded my apartment I was surrounded by love, never for one minute alone, and now I’m…

–Enough about the apartment, said Mom. –You had insurance.

–Ma’am. The voice rang with sudden authority, like a bell in the sea. –Have you considered staying away from potential lovers at all times?

–So victim-blaming. Anyone’s a potential lover. (Though I’d never looked at the world like that.)

–Wait, was it by your lover or in front of? Mom was confused.

–In front of. Though that doesn’t preclude by.

–Ma’am, said the supervisor, our advice would be to stay in the apartment, batten down the hatches, especially on that day. If you survive, you survive. Who knows.

–Does the name Cod Markwell mean anything to you?

–No, ma’am.

–Does my name mean anything to you?

–You’re a valued customer. We’ve all got problems.

She spoke so very gently.

–Wear the shoes? Right?

–That’s up to you. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?


–Thank you for choosing eSave.

The Zanzibar Pillow, the Mountain Air Candles, all the things I owned by then, surrounded me. I don’t know how I lived without their comfort so long.

  1. D) Have you ever experienced a company that promotes different prices for the same item in their store and on their website?



The Alexis shoes walked me into a Bloomingdale’s the week before Christmas. The day I lost my job, actually. Spilling myself, overstuffed with cocoa, through the crowds, I saw the same pair for three dollars more than what I paid online. The shoe department smelled like perfume and garbage barrels. Paper covered the floor. I took a picture of the price tag and went on my way rejoicing.

  1. E) Have you ever asked a company to price match?



But eSave won’t tell me what else to buy.

Out of five stars, how would you rate your customer service experience with this company?

The night of January 12 I watched a horror movie. Heels on my feet, poised and ready to run, was not a comfortable position for movie-watching. I eased back and caressed the silver urn that held my cat’s ashes. Three pregnancy tests in a row were negative and twenty dollars pissed away. I didn’t have a lover, I wasn’t having sex. My fear resembled an inland farmer’s terror of floods, a senile grandparent’s fear of pets. Things could happen without relationship to cause. You could summon conception by not wanting it to be. So the prophecies foretold. I wore my stretchy pajamas and ate vanilla cookies that tasted like medicine I’d choked down as a child.

In the movie three obnoxious college boys stayed at a hostel in Europe. The first boy was beheaded by an Icelander. The second boy was seduced by a naked girl, but I wasn’t sure how he died, because someone knocked on my locked door. No one is home, I whispered to the cat. No one is home, no one is home, there was a deadbolt and the knocker tried the doorknob. Was that my lover? The third boy screamed and struggled, strapped to a chair. I wanted so much more from my life. The shoes twitched, stilled. –Come in, I said out loud. –It’s open.

Thump, thump on the wood grain. Fine. I took off the shoes and held them in one hand, like a girl who’s danced too long at a party. I stood at the door and waited for instructions. At the first bling of my phone, I jumped, and he heard me, didn’t he? You forgot, eSave – or did you remember? Is this your whole model? – that fear dormant sits flat like baking soda before the vinegar makes it bubble and rise, before it turns to joy.


Amy Bergen lives and works in Portland, Maine. She's working on a book
about scientist Nikola Tesla for younger readers and has a short fiction
collection coming out next year from Magic Helicopter Press.

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