John crawled through icy mud, under a heavy net. The freezing gloop sucked his limbs down deeper, and drained all the warmth from his body. The Sergeant bellowed insults as them from the sidelines, and John cursed him under his breath. He had never been so cold, or so tired in his life. He thought longingly of home and central heating, and three meals a day.
Finally through the mud pit, John forced himself to his gunk laden feet and began to squelch his way across soggy grass to the climbing wall. Max sloped along at his side, and both recruits dared to pause at the base of the wall for a moment to catch their breath.
“Remind me why we picked this shit,” Max huffed, his mucky hands sliding on the rope.
“Because we couldn’t get jobs after school and it was customer service or the military,” John wheezed in response. “For some reason we thought this would be more fun.”
“Fuck that,” Max said, as the Sergeant noticed their lack of movement and directed his bellowing tirade at them. One slimy hand over the other, the two recruits started hauling their sorry asses up the wall.
“This is horseshit,” Max coughed, pulling himself over the top. “We should’ve picked customer service.”
“Amen to that.”
Susan stared at the old woman across the counter and thought of her brother, John. She had laughed at him when he said military service would be more fun, but she was starting to wonder if he’d been onto something. Surely no about of physical labour could be as soul destroying as standing behind this counter everyday and being a verbal punching bag for every old biddy and testosterone-fueled jock who couldn’t get satisfaction anywhere else.
“I’m telling you, when I hold it upside down, it just doesn’t write. That’s unacceptable for a pen,” the woman said.
“This is a gel pen,” Susan explained for the fifth time. “It only works when it’s the right way up. If you want a pen that works upside down too, you need one of these, or a pencil.”
“That’s ridiculous. You can’t sell me a pen then tell me it doesn’t write. What good is it then?”
“It does write, just when it’s the right way up,” Susan said in a voice of forced calm.
“Yes, write way up. See. Not working.” The woman held the pen upside down again to prove her point. Susan wondered if it was really necessary to explain how gravity affected liquids to the woman, decided she wouldn’t understand anyway, and settled for what she hoped was a polite smile.
“I’ll tell you what, how about I give you a pencil for free, as a goodwill gesture? I promise the pencil will write in any direction.” She placed a pencil on the counter and slid it over to the woman, who picked it up and examined it from every angle, then drew a scribble on the test notepad.
“This is grey. I can’t write in grey.”
“It’s pencil coloured.”
The woman looked at her through narrowed eyes. Susan used all her willpower to keep smiling.
“Is it free?”
“Yes, it’s free.”
The woman dropped the pencil into her bag. “Now, what about my pen. It’s still broken.”
Susan inhaled a long, slow breath. “It’s not broken,” she said through gritted teeth.
The woman glared at her. “You know, I don’t like your attitude. I think I ought to speak to your manager.”
Susan’s smile was more like a grimace, and she barely moved her mouth as she spoke. “Of course.” As she turned away her fists clenched. Yep, she thought. Should’ve chosen military.
FlashFictionMonth day 24
Prompt: When people finish school, if they don’t have a job they are required to work either in customer service, or the military.
Which would you pick?