The Receipt

This is an excerpt from a piece I’ve been working on. Feedback is most welcome and I hope you enjoy reading.

Words by Phillip Cogger


This glimpse of a life took place halfway through a conversation between Mrs Annabelle Jackson of no obvious profession and Mr Winkler from the Association of Unusual Actions. The following discussion traversed two reasonably priced telephones.

“You may or may not be able to tell a man by his shopping receipt,” said Winkler down the receiver of an unclean, lavender phone. He held the phone away for exactly two seconds to inspect the receiver for remnants of a messy lunch. He heard each second pass on the watch that bound his wrist, spying the traffic from his yellow-walled office.
“Can I ask why you’re calling?” replied Mrs Annabelle Jackson, her hair in curlers and the evidence of a Waldorf salad on her bottom lip. “Hang on. I have a good mind to put the phone down.”
“This may seem a strange call Mrs Jackson. But I have nothing against your husband. Nor do I shun the free and democratic world we all expect to inhabit when we push the sheets back of a morning. None of that is the question.”
“You are a strange and baffling man Mr Winkler. And what is the question?”
“The question is the list.”
“Oh that again. Run it for me one more time.”
“Cookie dough; 12 triple A batteries; National Geographic (x 1 copy); 1 set of Prestige kitchen knives; 5 boxes of long-stemmed matches; 2 erotic novellas (purchased just before a weekend double-bonus lottery ticket); 2 organic chicken breasts with slight discolouration (probably down to temperature fluctuations during carriage).”
“I want to put the phone down.”
“Then why don’t you Mrs Jackson?”
Mrs Jackson looked at her husband’s certificate of excellence from the Institute of Pristine Acquisitions. She breathed deeply and settled herself into her pea green sofa. For a split second she had a sense of belonging to something beyond her surroundings. “Let’s start again,” she said. “You tell me what you know about my husband, and I’ll sit and think about what you’re saying. Then I’ll decide where this conversation is going.”
“Very powerful of you Mrs Jackson.”
“I suppose you could say it is.”
“But who really has the power in these situations Mrs Jackson?”
“Is that a question?”
“Let it breathe.”
“Tell me what you know?”
“Mr Terry Felix Jackson moved with above average caution up and down the aisles of the Fresco Metro adjacent to Frippinden Hill council estate in Locksbridge. He had clearly decided that over-packing wouldn’t be the same problem for him as it usually is for others I have witnessed in similar scenarios.”
“Mr Winkler. Terry has always been a careful man.”
“I’m just delivering the facts Mrs Jackson.”
“The time was a month ago in March when the light has a way of not knowing quite what it wants to do.”
“You may be right.”
“It was the 25 March exactly when your husband acquired what is currently being processed as a code 64.”
“An abundance of suspicious contents.”
“Do you dislike my husband?”
“I am neither here nor there on the matter.”
“So why are you calling?”
“Because your husband’s method of domestic replenishment seemed highly irregular.”
“Please clarify.”
“He bought some strange shopping.”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t. But subsection fifteen of the customer operations act of 2010 clearly states that any customer who is carrying suspicious items in relative abundance in a manner deemed to be antisocial must be brought to the attention of the authorities.”
Annabelle Jackson drifted off to a time her husband wouldn’t stop kissing her while she tried to cook.
“Mrs Jackson are you there?”
“Pardon Mrs Jackson?”
“Do you believe in the Sabbath Mr Winkler?”
“I think it is a day like any other.”
“Do you know what the world is missing Mr Winkler?”
“What is the world missing Mrs Jackson?”
“Solace Mr Winkler.”

The next day

Mr Winkler is helping Mrs Jackson into the passenger seat of his recently renovated car, a vehicle for which he is known and at times, envied. They head into a purple sunset. Winkler listens intently to Mrs Jackson just as his profession requires, enough to get the bare bones of the life she has lived and the way she has lived it. He appreciates that she has never been in a situation like this before.

Mr Jackson is still being held until the Association of Unusual Actions can decide how to proceed next. Mrs Jackson is being watched in private accommodation for her own safety.


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