Service Providers

by Elena E. Smith | Bullhead City, Arizona, USA

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Illustration by Elli Dalton

People can be so dumb. I tell them my name and they act like I’m the stupid one. I know it’s not common but my mom told me it belonged to a famous singer back in the days. I don’t know which days. My mom’s no genius, so if she knows that then everybody should. That’s what I think.

“Umm Kukulowski?” The way he said my last name came out like coo-coo. I was used to that. We always say it kew-kew.

“Yup.” I smiled. My teeth were not my best feature—too long and too crooked—but I’d been told that ladies like my freckles, even though the ones who told me that were my mom’s friends. Still, I was sure I’d get a girlfriend someday. I was only twenty. Fresh out of continuation school with my GED. Ready for my first real job.

“What kind of name is that?” The interviewer, a geezer in navy Dickies, snickered like he thought he was the first person who ever said this to me.  

I shook my head. I’d been told bosses were dumb. But I did want him to like me so I could get this job. I smiled wider, pushing my cheeks up to my lower eyelids. “I was named for a famous Egyptian singer, Umm Kulthum. But, umm, I’ll bet you never heard of him.”

I barked out a coarse laugh at the man behind the desk but he didn’t get my humor. What was even funnier was that the opera singer was a chick, not a dude. Further proof how stupid this boss was.

“And you want to be a mail receiver?” he confirmed.

I nodded.

“Do you know your I.Q.?”

I told him. I knew that anything over sixty-eight was good and mine was seventy. Higher than anyone else in my family or at my last school.

“You realize it is a commission job. You get a percent of what you collect.”

I nodded eagerly. Big words like “commission” meant the job was important.

He pressed a buzzer somewhere on his desk and a dude about my age, dressed in t-shirt and jeans, came in. 

“Take this guy out and show him what’s what,” he instructed. “His name is Umm. Umm, this is Marty. He’ll be your partner.”

The guy stared at me a minute, then motioned me to follow him.

That’s how I started my new career. Marty drove us around the area, cruising through various communities and slowing down whenever we came to a neighborhood with unlocked mailboxes. My job was to remove the envelopes and drop them in the plastic bin behind his seat. He said it didn’t matter if the letters were coming or going.

“We perform this service for the government,” he explained as he trained me. “The post office wants everyone to pay their bills on the internet but a lot of people won’t do it, especially old people. They don’t like change. Some of them don’t even know how to turn on a computer.”

I laughed. I definitely knew how to turn on a computer.

“So,” he continued, “our job is to collect everything in the mailboxes, take them back to the warehouse, open the envelopes, and give all the checks we find to the boss.”

“What does he do with the checks?”

“He turns them all into internet payments, which is what the post office wants.  We’re what you call service providers.” 

But I saw a hole in the plan. “What about birthday cards?”

Marty had a long, thin face and when he smiled his mouth made a small, tight line.  “You’re smart. Most people I train never ask about birthday cards.” He licked his lips. “We give those back to the post office to be hand-delivered.”

Our route finished as soon as his plastic bin was full. Marty was a good driver, the way he lined up my window to the mailboxes, and I was fast at grabbing the stuff inside. He told me it was important to work fast and not let the old people see you because they might get mad. By mid-afternoon, we returned to the warehouse with the electric fence and razor wire on top. Our work for the government was so important, Marty told me, that we had to protect all the mail we picked up so no one would know about it and try to give a better service contract than we did. Or something like that, whatever. I didn’t care too much about business things. As long as I got paid my cash at the end of the day.

At the gated entry, Marty punched in a special code. He told me I’d get a code once I worked there longer, if they decided to keep me. He seemed to think they would. Marty slid his car up to the guard shack window. It was a plain-looking ride, not like what I’d want. But Marty told me it was the best type for this kind of work because it wasn’t memorable. Whatever that meant.

The guard knew him by name. I hoped he’d soon know my name, too.

We carried the plastic bin into a windowless room and placed it on a large table that had a bunch of chairs around it. It was called the sorting room. This part of the job was boring. I had to open all the envelopes but I got paper cuts because I hadn’t brought my own knife. But I knew at the end of the day the person who opened the most mail got a ten dollar bonus, so I worked hard.

I came across a bright green envelope. “I bet this is a birthday card!”  

“Open it,” Marty ordered.

“But I thought you said—”

Everyone at the table stopped to watch me.

“Okey dokey.” I pulled the end of the envelope off and in addition to the pretty card and poem, there was a check.

“Good job!”

I was confused. “How are we going to send the card and also put the money on the internet?”

“That’s why we have an I.T. specialist,” Marty explained. “So, just put the card and the envelope in this pile and the check over here.”

“But isn’t that the pile for garbage?”

“Oh, my bad,” said Marty. “Here’s the special bin for birthday cards. The late crew reseals the envelopes before they go back to the post office for person-to-person delivery.”

After a month of working, I’ll have enough cash to buy my own car. Then I’ll be promoted from mail receiver to driver. Someday, all people will pay their bills online just like the post office wants them to. And when that day comes, I’ll go to work for the credit card companies. ■

Elena E. Smith has had three noir short stories published recently in the Coffee House Writers Group anthologies. She is seeking a publisher for her mystery novels, set in the small fictitious town of Mahuenga. You can join her in her Facebook group MAHUENGA.