Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Turn Of The Screw

The Turn Of The Screw

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places, or actual events is purely coincidental.

I stumbled upon the Cosmic Bingo Emporium by sheer accident. Several weeks ago, I was at a local strip mall, where I was searching for a particular kind of screw to fix a cupboard shelf in my pantry. I had been to all the big outlets, like Rona, Lowe's, and Home Depot, and found only the usual screws — long, short, square end, round end, slotted, crossed, hooded — but none of these suited my needs. No matter how detailed a description I offered the sales staff, no one was able to solve my dilemma.

I was near desperation until a small advertisement in the Yellow Pages of the phone directory tipped me off to Robertson's Special Screw Mart. The ad assured me in bold italics that it was, The Right Place for the Right Screw.

Still, I decided you can never be too sure about these things, so just before venturing out into rush-hour traffic, I angled my cell phone deep into the cupboard and tried my best to take a photograph of the kind of screw that I needed. Armed with this somewhat hazy visual, I was certain that, at Robertson's, I would find the right screw.

The moment I entered the Screw Mart, I knew I was on the right track. Aisle after aisle of plastic bins contained every shape and length of screw one could imagine. Twisted right, twisted left, inside out, outside in, screws on an angle, screws with an angle, headless screws, bulbous screws, they were all there for the asking. My excitement was so intense that my blood seemed to rush up into my head and made me almost giddy.

I reeled my way along the first aisle, and I quickly realised that I was drowning in screws. Too many, too fast, kind of like sitting in the hot Arizona sun doing shots of tequila, something one should never do alone. I needed help, and fortunately, I was quickly approached by a young woman in a wonderfully coordinated, screwdriver-grey blouse over deep black slacks with red and yellow pinstripes.

"Are you looking for a screw?" she asked in a steely voice.

"Yes," I said, slightly taken aback by the redundancy of her query. After all, what else would one be looking for at a Screw Mart?

We stood face to face, hips squared, looking each other up and down like two gunfighters on a dusty street in a Western movie. She cocked her head to the left. I cocked mine to the right. Her eyes narrowed. I squinted. She zoomed in on the sticky plastic strip that I had forgotten to remove from the front of my T-shirt. I focused on a round, red nameplate, propped on the shelf of her ample left breast, clearly the larger of the set. For a moment, she seemed distracted, and as I read her name, I truly was distracted. Or bemused. Maybe dumbfounded. The right adjective escapes me because she apparently had the same name as the Queen of England. All this happened in seconds, of course, and I quickly recovered my wits and confirmed in my deepest FM voice, "Yes, I am looking for a screw, Ms Elizabeth II." Then, with a wink, I asked, "May I call you, uh, Liz?"

"No," she rebuked me with a dark grimace. "In Robertson's, we like to remain as formal as possible."

My blood now rushed down from my head and plunged back to wherever blood goes when one feels the shame of overstepping a boundary.

"I'm sorry, Ms II. I wasn't aware ..."

"No need to apologize," she said quickly. "It happens all the time. Day in and day out, people come here to find a special screw. For some customers, Robertson's seems to create some kind of idiotic reaction. Normal people suddenly become circus clowns. So we try to keep things as sane as possible. Civility is everything, you see. Please don't feel insulted."

"I understand completely," I said in a whisper, as if we were sharing a corporate secret. Then, without thinking, I chuckled and said, "No screwing around, then."

"See? There you go. Making a joke." Her face took on a painful expression, as if, just now, a wave of nausea surfed through her digestive tract. "It all becomes so tedious," she continued. "We like to avoid such triviality. Here at Robertson's, we take screws seriously."

"My apologies, again. I'm really not one of those flippant people." I quickly stuck my index finger to the side of my head. "No screw loose here, I assure you."

"And yet again, you throw out a silly pun. Like I haven't heard that one a thousand times before."

"Sorry? Did I say something screwy?"

"You must be going for the record."

"Not really. I have screwples after all."

With that, Ms Elizabeth II turned on a dime and began to walk away from me. "Wait," I called to her. "I really do need your help."

She hesitated for a moment, and then, without even turning to face me, she muttered back over her shoulder, "You're done with the silly jokes?"

"Yes," I said in something of a pleading tone. "I'm done with the silly jokes. I promise."

She turned, her face passive, except for a slight twitch that had developed over her right eye and a red patch on her bristly chin. "How can I help you then?" she asked in an uncertain voice.

"I need one of these," I said, and I help up my cell phone to show her the photograph of the kind of screw that I had been unable to locate anywhere else.

She took a step toward me and examined the blurry image on my Nokia. Her eyes rolled upwards into her head, and a slight smile formed on her pouty, pink lips.

"Well, I see," she droned slowly, and then, with an explosive laugh, she added, "I'm afraid you're screwed."

As her chuckles turned into guffaws, I looked at her blankly, helplessly, the way one looks at someone who has just passed gas during communion in church. I didn't know whether to join in her laughter or to cry because I had obviously driven her over the edge.

"I beg your pardon?" I threw the question up like a balloon and waited for it to pop her back into reality.

"Oh my, oh my," she chortled as tears began to stream down the heavy base of concealer on her cheeks. "You really are a screwball."

"Have we switched roles then?" I wondered as I drifted into a feeling of frustration mixed with despair.

"No, no, it's just that ..." Her words broke off as a lump of spit caught the back of her throat, and she began to gag involuntarily. I was worried that she was about to pass out right there in front of me.

"Perhaps someone else can help me?" I asked quietly.

She looked up at me with hay fever eyes, and then in a gargle, said, "No, no, please. No one here can help you. That's not a screw, not even remotely like a screw. That, I'm afraid to tell you, is a nail, a bent, common 5 penny nail."

I turned my cell phone to look at the photo. "That's a nail?" I asked, completely abashed by my mistake.

"Yes. That's a simple nail. Nothing at all like a screw."

"A nail?"

"Yes, a nail."

"Not a screw?"

"Most definitely not a screw. You won't find it here in Robertson's."

"You don't sell nails?"

"No. No nails. Just screws."

I looked at the picture on my cell phone again. "I feel so stupid," I offered.

Her face confirmed my self-evaluation. A look of complete disdain was riveted there with a stoic resilience.

"I'm sorry to have wasted your time," I offered as graciously as possible. The self-loathing, which my parents had generously taught me throughout my childhood, began to intermingle with waves of embarrassment. My blood pressure spiked, and my head was pounding. "You must think I'm a real jackass," I groaned.

"No, not at all," she said in a condescending voice. "I just hope you now know the difference between a screw and a nail. Don't beat yourself up about it." Then, just as I was leaving the store, she added with a final cackle, "Go have a drink somewhere. Have a couple of drinks. In fact, get yourself hammered!" Her laughter expanded. "Get it?" she roared. "Get it? Nail? Hammered?"

The sound of her unadulterated derision faded as I stepped from Robertson's Special Screw Mart and wandered down the walkway in the mall. For some reason, I was overcome by a sudden sadness, and I felt completely alone in the world, almost to the point of feeling desolate, well, maybe even a little past desolate, maybe all the way to deflated, despondent, depressed, or any one of those other nasty de- prefixed words.

The day's light was waning, and as I was trying to remember where I had left my car, a bank of lights suddenly lit up right in front of me. I took it as a sign. Well, it was a sign, a sign that formed the word "BINGO" in a series of flashing, incandescent light bulbs, but I mean I took the sign as a sign for something else. All I know is that I was drawn toward a staircase that lead down into a bingo hall where a number of people were clamouring to get in.

And that's how I stumbled upon the Cosmic Bingo Emporium. Ah, but that's another story, perhaps for another day.



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