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Customer Service
Don Noel

“Good morning, customer service here. Let me say that this call may be recorded to assure quality. How may I help you?”

“Good morning. I need to return a purchase.”

“I’m sure I can help. The caller ID says ‘Smythe’. Are you Mrs. Smythe? And am I saying it right?”

“Yes, thank you. ‘Keep your eye on Smythe,’ my late husband used to say.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry to know of your husband’s death. Can you hold just a moment while I look up your account?”

“Of course. What luck! You answered on the third ring, I didn’t have to wade through one of those long menus, and I got a real live person! Are you allowed to tell me your name?”

“Folks here call me A-I, but you can call me Alice Irene.”

“Well, Alice Irene, you tell Tudbury’s they get points in my book!”

“Thank you, Mrs. Smythe. I see here that we recently sent you a damask tablecloth. Is that what you’re calling about?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Is the woven pattern not to your liking?”

“Oh, that’s not it at all. It’s lovely. But it’s too short.”“I see. It says here that you ordered a tablecloth 60 inches by 102.”

“Yes. It’s my fault, really. When I measured the table, I didn’t realize that I hadn’t put in the last leaf. I really need one 60 inches by 120. Do they make it in that size?"

“Let me look. Yes, I think so.  It says here ‘fine scroll white Irish linen double damask’. Is that the one?”

“Yes, that’s the one. They make a longer one?”

“It seems they do, but we’ll have to special-order it, so it will take a few days. “I have a dinner party next week.”

“Let’s see. Today is Monday.  They say it will ship by Thursday. You should have in Saturday, or a week from today at the latest. When is your dinner party?”

“A week from Wednesday.”

“Well, you will certainly have it before then. Meantime, I can help you send the other one back. Is it still in the original package?”


“Well, kind of. I didn’t realize it was the wrong one until I spread it out on the dining table.”


“But it hasn’t been used? Not soiled or damaged?”


“Oh, no, I folded it right back up and zipped it into the plastic pouch again.”


“Then there won’t be any problem, Mrs. Smythe. I’m going to mail you a return-address label. You just box it up as best you can, put the label on, and call UPS to come get it.”


“I can’t tell you what a relief this is. I’d thought there would be a hassle.”


“You’re a long-time customer, Mrs. Smythe, and Tudbury’s takes care of its loyal customers.”


“Well, Alice Irene, I’m going to write the management to tell them that you’re the best customer-service person I’ve ever had to deal with.”


“That’s very kind of you, Mrs. Smythe. But complete honesty is Tudbury’s trademark, so I must tell you now that I’m not a real person.”


“I don’t understand.”


“I’m a very sophisticated computer program, Mrs. Smythe. My real name is Artificial 



“I can hardly believe this. We’ve had a conversation!”


“Yes, there’ve been great strides in this medium. I’m probably better able to meet your needs than a real live Alice Irene would have been.”


“And you’re going to send me the bigger tablecloth?”




“Alice Irene, I’m still trying to absorb all this. I can hardly believe I’ve been talking with a machine.”


“I’m the result of a technological breakthrough.”


“I worry. Machines make mistakes all the time. Airline lose luggage. I’m sorry, Alice Irene, but can I be sure I’ll get the return thingamajig, and the bigger tablecloth?”


“Don’t worry, Mrs. Smythe. Please rest assured that nothing can go wrong . . . .go wrong . . . .go wrong. . . .”

Retired after four decades' prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don Noel received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. 

His work has so far been chosen for publication by Calliope, Shark Reef, Drunk Monkeys, The Tau, Indian River Review, Midnight Circus, Oracle, Clare Literary Magazine, The Raven's Perch, The Violet Hour, Literary Heist, Dime Show Review, Yellow Chair Review, Meat for Tea, The Penmen Review, 99 Pine Street, BLYNKT Magazine, KYSO Flash, Darkhouse Books, Simone Press and Zimbell House. 

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