The Status of Your Refund

Carl goes line by line through the bank statement with his trusty lime green highlighter. He’s known for his detailed work. The last performance review he had called him “eagle-eyed.” It’s been seven years now since he was evaluated, but he did not become an auditor for the recognition.

He’s alone in the office again today. It’s been a long time since the other cubicles held the bodies of his colleagues. There are plenty of coworkers he doesn’t miss seeing, but there are other times when he wishes he could catch up with Greg and discuss highlights of the last Chargers game. But that’s just the way it is. People come and go.

Carl congratulates himself for a thorough, months-long investigation. After going through a string of 15 complaints about this financial institution, he determined that this small regional bank owed almost $6500 back to its customers for improper charges. He was sure it was more, but with the computers down, he was relying on the mailed complaints only. That wasn’t gonna stop him from slapping their ass with another $3000 fine, too. That’ll show this greedy bank not to mess with the general public, he thought, signing his name on a strongly-worded letter to the bank’s compliance department. He’ll have to figure out the address later.

The corporate fridge still has a few Cokes in it, even though the collection jar for snack purchases has been empty for months. Carl has been trying to avoid soda, but this is a special occasion. He cracks open the can of lukewarm cola and allows himself a ten minute break to look at the family photos on his desk.

He re-reads the complaint that kickstarted his audit of this bank. Mrs. Lolamae Harrison, 85, Wilmington, Nebraska, claimed she was overcharged for her checking account monthly fee. She kindly asked for help in getting her $15 back.

There was a bit of a backlog, of course, in processing the complaints. The Bureau was understaffed these days, and Carl’s specialty was accuracy, not speed. Mrs. Harrison’s mailed-in bank statements were from a few years ago, the coffee stain on page 3 long dry. Carl’s job was to audit, not to pass judgment, but he still noted her $600 monthly donation to her church. He had wondered if $600 per month had been enough to buy her way into a better place.

He assumes Mrs. Harrison is probably dead now. She could have survived, he chides himself, it’s possible. But, she was elderly, and everyone knew Nebraska had been a hot mess. Almost nobody had made it out of Omaha alive. Most likely, the virus didn’t spare her. And if she had made it, well, Carl figures she probably had more pressing issues than collecting a $15 refund from a bank with no branches left standing.

What justice is there against sickness? He can’t punish the antibodies of the dead for their failures. He can’t cite a disease; can’t slap a fine on the plague. But he can still audit.

The virus took his wife. His son. It took away football games and potlucks and normalcy. Every day, he looked out the window in the corner office he’d finally commandeered after four years of waiting for his boss to come back, he saw the city where he’d grown up and lived a humble, good life falling around him in decay.

He pens a handwritten note to Mrs. Harrison, informing her that he has put in the request for the $15 refund from her bank. He thanks her for taking the time to write to the Bureau and apologizes for the lengthy delay in remedying her concern. He tells her that wherever she is, however she is doing, she was absolutely 100% correct that the bank overcharged her, and that he hopes that this truth brings her comfort in these uncertain times.

Carl peels a Forever stamp off the roll. Once, the roll seemed infinite, but now, after all these years, the stamps are dwindling. He pushes the thought out of his mind. He doesn’t want to imagine a day when the stamp roll is empty, his highlighters have dried up, and there is not a single goddamn complaint left.

He puts on his respirator, goes outside, and crams the letter into the overflowing mailbox.

Gracie Beaver-Kairis is a Pacific Northwest based humor and fiction writer. Her work has been published in McSweneeys, The Hard Times, Slackjaw, and other outlets. You can find her on Twitter @beaverkairis.

Leave a Reply