Jane discovered the fine art of complaining when she wrote to the soup company about the lack of noodles all of a sudden – wanting to know why, especially since the price had gone up and the cans gotten smaller. The soup company shipped out a full case of the stuff. The cans still small and the noodles barely there but Jane sold it to her friends and bought raffle tickets with her earnings. She won a turkey and a Christmas basket filled with chutneys and cheeses and special meats in little tins. Crackers and biscuits and fruit. All wrapped in red cellophane with a green bow. She keeps the basket on the coffee table, though without the fruit and cheese once they started smelling up the house. Now and then she takes the bow off and irons it so it looks as fresh as new after 20 years.
For the longest time she received all kinds of good stuff.
Cases of pop when she found a flat one and wrote away about it. The biggest bag of flour after there was a bug in the small one she bought. Tinned peaches, corn, pears. Cereal. Oftentimes she didn’t even buy what she wanted. Just wrote away and said she thought the toothpaste tasted bad or the tuna fish was off.
Lately though, nobody was feeling very guilty about their substandard products and you’d be lucky to get an apology, let alone something to shut you up. And you had to bring back what you had, so the store could see proof that you had a legitimate complaint. And if the chicken was off they might give you another package and if you opened that one to make sure it was okay they’d get all pissy with you and say sure you can’t be doing that. And Jane would say if it’s bad no one will want it and if it’s good I’ll take it. What’s your problem anyway?
She liked the raffles and contests best. Anything that cost $2 or three for $5 she’d buy. Once there was a trip to Cuba for her and a friend, which was a bit of a pain since she was hoping for second prize – a twenty-minute shopping spree at the grocery store of her choice – and for going that far a person needed a passport, which Jane didn’t have at the time. The rules were you couldn’t sell the prize so she went. It wasn’t too bad. She stayed in the hotel and took pictures of the different people – they were all shapes and sizes and colours – and the meals which she thoroughly enjoyed – her room – and even the pool, but only from her balcony. There was no way she was going near that thing so unnatural looking and probably warm too.
She brought Raymond with her. He was fifteen at the time and raring to go. It was all she could do to keep him in the hotel with her and he sulked a lot, especially looking out the window at all those pretty girls with hardly a stitch on.
He wasn’t easy to live with. Too much like his father – always chasing skirts as they say. She caught him once – up in her own bedroom with some young chippie – half naked and going at it like there was no tomorrow. When she asked him why he didn’t at least have the decency to use his own room for his dirty business he had the nerve to tell her it wasn’t fit to sleep in let alone bring company. Said the stupid velvet quilt freaked him out and the wallpaper with all those clowns all over. And the lamps with their pink shades. It wasn’t a fit room for a fella.
It was soon after that he ended up in trouble. Stunned thing decided to rob a house and sell the stuff. Picked the nicest place in town and took everything he could carry. DVD player and one of those skinny TV sets you put on the wall. And all the silverware that someone’s granny must have had for a thousand years it was that battered.
He put up a note at the grocery store and the bingo hall saying what he had and the price he wanted for it. Too bad the people he robbed had an old aunt visiting who liked to play bingo. When they saw the ‘for sale’ note they just phoned him up and told him to bring it back or they were getting the cops. Of course he said go ahead, and they did.
He was in the young offenders’ place for three months but the only thing he got there was determined to go do it again. He said it wasn’t any different than buying raffle tickets as far as he could see, except that he didn’t have to pay anything. Jane pointed out that being locked up was paying though she was happy enough to have the digital camera he stole, which is what she took all the Cuba pictures with.
She’d still have it too but she couldn’t stand to keep it on the strap. It reminded her of when Raymond’s father used to try to choke her sometimes with his necktie, and it fell into the water when she was leaning over the bridge to take a picture of some whales – which weren’t whales after all – just some rocks with waves crashing off them far in the distance.
Catherine Hogan Safer
$19.95, paperback, 150 pp.
Creative Book Publishing, September 2015