THE GREAT ESCAPE
By Donna Johns
John Donne leans leisurely against King Arthur. Arthur Rex snuggles soundly with Sweet Will Shakespeare. Towering above them is Fanny Farmer, sans covers, coated with stains from holiday feasts. My books and shelves are home from a long exile in the land of Public Storage. They will never know how challenging it was to rescue them.
The kingdom of Public Storage is ruled by a troll named Chuck. Long of beard and mostly bald, he sits behind a long expanse of counter on a black mesh desk chair with wheels. He never stands or walks. He rolls from side to side, trying mightily to be as unhelpful as possible while appearing to be helpful. King Chuck, like many rulers, is cursed. His computer is always down.
I take a deep breath and walk through the empty room to the counter of power. Chuck squints up at me. “Hello,” he says brightly. “How may I help you today?” He sounds sincere, but I know from previous encounters that he is not.
“I’m emptying my storage unit today. I’ve already done the online notification and canceled the autopay. They said I needed to notify the manager.” Snap! This should be easy.
“They said to notify me?” He looks puzzled and alarmed, as though I had just announced my intention to set fire to his counter.
“Yes.” I begin to sweat. I have deviated from the King Chuck playbook.
“Huh.” Chuck wheels his way to his computer and peers at the screen. He strokes his beard thoughtfully. “Gee, my computer is down.”
I say nothing. I checked when I came in. His wifi is up and running.
“Did you take your lock?” he barks into the silence. I hold up the padlock to prove I’ve obeyed orders. Then drop it on my big toe. A genuine Chuck smile emerges. He enjoys his customers’ pain.
“Well, when my computer is working I will email your receipt. I hope you have had a good experience with Public Storage. It’s been a pleasure serving you.” OK, so maybe I’ve been a little harsh.
I walk back through the parking lot to the loading dock. My daughter and her boyfriend, who are the muscle behind the moving operation, are cramming a bed frame into the crowded UHaul. It doesn’t fit, so they break it up. It is not my bed. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter had thrown her old bed in my storage space. They head upstairs in the elevator to retrieve the last remaining occupant of my storage space: a mattress.
I wait outside the elevator doors for their return. Then my cell phone rings. I answer and a nasal voice demands, “Are you in the lobby?”
“Excuse me?” I answer. “Who is this?”
“It’s Chuck. Are you in the lobby?” I look around in confusion. As near as I can tell, this isn’t a lobby, it’s a loading dock. I was in the lobby when I last saw the demon Chuck.
“No. At least I don’t think I’m in the lobby. I’m….”
“I know you’re in the lobby. I can see you.” He chuckles, a rusty sound straight out of a Stephen King movie.
I resist the impulse to hide behind a pillar. I look around and realize there are security cameras pointed at me. “Well, OK then, I guess this is the lobby.”
“There is a mattress in your storage unit.” Contempt drips from every word. “Did you think you could just leave it behind? That’s against the rules.”
A pause while I resist the impulse to run for my life. “They’re picking it up now,” I blurt. The phone goes dead. I never even get the chance to say goodbye.
The kids arrive right after the phone call. We quickly shove the mattress into the truck, and we speed out of the parking lot of Public Storage, never ever to return. Chuck waved as we passed his window. We didn’t wave back.
This morning, I fill the empty bookcases with my beloved books. As I dust each one, I promise, “You’ll never have to live in the land of Public Storage again.”
Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.