Henry Davies sat in the comfortable armchair by the window, slight sunlight catching the occasional fleck of dust as it danced in the air in front of the net curtain. He held the telephone to his ear with one hand and, as he spoke, he fiddled with the end of his pen with the other, clicking the point in and out, in and out. Henry had liberated himself from the tyranny of the corded telephone several years ago and he now revelled in the joy of being able to sit wherever he pleased when speaking. Today, while trying to book an appointment with his dentist’s receptionist, he had chosen the chair by the window. It really was a most comfortable chair.
They had almost agreed on a suitable slot for his appointment when he noticed it. He flicked back and forth through the pages to be certain but, sure enough, it wasn’t there. There was a page missing from his diary. Henry felt one of his headaches coming on.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘but I am going to have to call you back.’
He hung up the phone and looked at his diary. It was a straightforward insert for his personal organiser: one page for each day of the year and the opposite page for notes. He jumped back a few pages and worked through them one-by-one. November the seventh; November the eighth; November the ninth; November the eleventh; November the twelfth. There was definitely no page for the tenth of November.
‘How very strange,’ said Henry aloud. ‘I wonder that I hadn’t noticed before.’
But then, when he had considered the problem a little longer, he concluded that, really, it was not all that strange a thing. Why, you couldn’t be expected to check each page individually when you bought a new diary. Indeed, there was an expectation that, on purchasing a diary, all of the pages – a whole year’s worth – should be included. In Henry’s opinion, this was yet another example of the sort of thing that was wrong with the modern world. For every step forward, and the cordless telephone was the epitome of that, there were several strides back the other way. It was liable to lead to even the most mild mannered of men becoming quite upset.
It should be said that Henry was exactly that sort of man.
‘This really shouldn’t stand,’ he muttered, as he searched for the customer care number at the back of the diary.
He settled back into the armchair as the dust turned circles in the air above his head. Henry dialled the number, sat back and waited.
Of the long list of options offered to him, Henry concluded that none were suitable for his current predicament. Instead he selected the final, catch-all option reserved for miscellaneous queries; the strange, the awkward, the ones resisting pre-recorded categorisation. Music filled the spaces between announcements and Henry waited.
With a barely audible click, the music dropped away to silence and a young man’s voice stepped into its place.
‘Good afternoon and thank you for waiting. How can I help you today?’
‘Yes, good afternoon,’ said Henry. ‘I would like to complain about a diary insert that you sold me.’
‘A diary insert, sir? For a personal organiser is it? Okay. Can I take your name please sir?’
‘Mr Henry Davies. That’s Davies with an I-E-S at the end.’ Henry was very possessive over his extra E.
‘Thank you Mr Davies. And could I please ask about the nature of the complaint?’
Henry took a deep breath. ‘The diary I have in front of me – the diary you have sold me – is a diary that contains only three hundred and sixty four days. Not three hundred and sixty five, but three hundred and sixty four. I am missing a day. There is a whole diary day missing.’ He wanted to add that it really wouldn’t be tolerated; however Henry had played this game before. In his experience, it had always paid to keep the initial exchanges civil.
‘I am sorry to hear that Mr Davies,’ continued the voice on the line. ‘Do you know which day you are missing?’
‘Of course I do.’ Despite his best intentions, Henry couldn’t help but express his frustration at such a ridiculous question. ‘It is really not so hard to work out once you’ve got the hang of how a diary works! It’s the tenth of November.’
‘Oh! The tenth of November is it?’ The voice on the other end of the telephone had, all of a sudden, developed an unexpected edge.
‘Hello?’ said Henry. ‘Are you still there?’
‘I’m sorry Mr Davies, but I am going to have to transfer your call to another department. Please stay on the line.’
And with that, the man was gone, replaced in Henry’s ear by a fresh burst of music. Henry clicked his pen a few times, adjusted his position in the armchair and waited.
This was a new voice on the line. Older, more confident. This was the sort of voice that Henry ought to be talking to. ‘This is Mr Davies,’ he replied.
‘Thank you for holding; I’m sorry that you had to wait. Please may I check that I have this understood: that you are short one day? The tenth of November is absent from your diary?’
‘That is correct,’ replied Henry. ‘As I was explaining to the first young man, I purchased one of your diaries and I now find, some several months later, that your product is faulty. The tenth, as you say, is missing.’
‘Thank you Mr Davies, I completely understand. Before we continue, can I just check: it couldn’t be, perhaps – and I hesitate to ask – that you have misfiled the day? It hasn’t, by some accident been placed a day later than it should? Or a week? A month, even? Could it have crept in at the end of the year, a lost day adrift in your diary?’
‘I can assure you that it has not,’ Henry said, with a stiffness to his voice. ‘That was the first thing that I checked. I would not presume to call you up without first ensuring that I, myself, was not somehow at fault.’
‘Of course. I apologise, and I am sure you understand that I had to ask. It is with sadness that I say that not all of our customers would be as thorough as you have been before picking up the phone.’
Henry did understand. To his mind, the world would benefit from more people being a little bit more like him.
The voice on the line was continuing. ‘We shall proceed under the agreement that it was, of course, ourselves at fault. That we have supplied a substandard product and that you, Mr Davies, are quite utterly and completely not at fault.’
Henry felt rather pleased to be talking to someone who was, quite clearly, a good judge of both character and a situation. ‘We shall,’ he concurred.
‘Then I would like to ask what it is that we can do for you, Mr Davies, to compensate you for this inconvenience?’
‘Ah! You misunderstand my call,’ Henry explained. ‘I am not looking for compensation. I am merely after a new page for my diary. All I ask is that you send me, at your cost, a new page. The tenth of November, to add to my organiser.’
This was not the response that Henry had expected. His request was reasonable; more than reasonable.
‘I am sorry Mr Davies. I thought my colleague had explained. There are no more tenth of Novembers to send. Not one. We have run out.’
Henry listened in confusion, and with no small amount of frustration finding form within him. He clicked his pen furiously. ‘Surely you are able to send me a new page. I am not being unreasonable.’
‘You are being perfectly and understandably rational in your request. Were it any other day then I would be only too glad to give you a new page for your diary. Or even a new diary; a full replacement, plus a complimentary copy of next year’s diary as a demonstration of our desire to retain your custom and repair our relationship with you.’ The voice on the line let out a slight and apologetic sigh. ‘However, the tenth of November is an anomaly, an error. There was a problem with the suppliers and we have run out of them. There are no more. None. Zip. Not a single one remains.’
Henry hummed and hawed for a minute. It did seem rather as though he was not going to get what he wanted from this conversation. He considered the diary sitting open on his lap.
‘I suppose that I could just insert a blank page of my own in its place,’ he said, begrudgingly accepting the inevitability of this course of action.
There was an urgent clicking of teeth at the other end of the telephone line. ‘No, no, no. That will not work at all Mr Davies. I fear that we are still talking at cross-purposes; that there is still some slight misunderstanding. The simple truth is that our suppliers have not provided enough days to go around. For a few unfortunate people, the sun will not rise on the tenth of November. Our suppliers have rather buggered it up this year, if you will excuse my language.’
Henry replied that, far from being offended and, being a man of the world as he was, he had heard far saltier language in his time.
The voice on the line had dropped to a more conspiratorial tone. ‘I hear that they are blaming it on the rampant growth in the world’s population. It has been said that a sudden spike in Oman caught everyone on the hop. It is claimed – although I have not heard this from them myself, you understand – that next year we may see an even greater shortage. I fear that our suppliers have rather fallen out of step with the world; or is it that we have fallen out of step with them?’
The conversation had been left hanging and Henry felt that he ought to step in. Unfortunately, he found that he had become slightly adrift from what was going on. Nevertheless, he made an attempt to reel in the discussion once again. ‘Do I take it that you are having an issue with your printers?’
‘Our printers? Oh no! If only it were that simple! Our suppliers supply the days; the printers just print the pages.’
‘Of course,’ said Henry. ‘I see.’ He really didn’t.
‘Mr Davies, as one of the unlucky ones, you will miss out, this year, on the tenth of November. It really is very embarrassing for us. You didn’t have anything important planned did you?’
Realisation began to dawn on Henry. ‘Are you saying that I lose out on the tenth of November altogether? A whole day? Just gone.’
‘I am afraid so,’ replied the voice on the line. ‘There will be no tenth of November for you this year at all.’
‘But that’s ridiculous. Whatever shall I do? What happens?’
‘That, you will be pleased to hear, is a very good question.’ Despite his annoyance, Henry found that he was quite pleased. The voice continued, ‘As it turns out, we don’t know.’
‘You don’t know!’ Henry’s mood swung southwards once more. ‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’
‘It has never happened before, so we are all a little in the dark. There are a few theories going around and one of the ladies in the office has even volunteered to donate her own tenth of November just to get some first-hand experience of the whole thing. But if I were to be honest then I would have to say that we haven’t the foggiest idea as to exactly what will occur. Chances are that you will hardly notice.’
Without realising, Henry had risen from the chair and had begun to pace around the room causing eddies of dust to form in his wake, twinkling in the light as they swirled behind him. ‘Hardly notice!’ he repeated, somewhat louder than he had planned. ‘I hardly think so.’
‘Let me see now…’ and there was a pause and the sound of fingers working across a keyboard. ‘The tenth is a Tuesday and, really, who enjoys Tuesdays? They are, after all, a rather dull and dreary day. The chance to miss a Tuesday seems like a fine opportunity. Now if it was a Thursday or, heaven forbid, a Saturday, then I think that you would be quite within your rights to feel aggrieved. But a Tuesday? No. You will hardly miss it.’
Henry had to concede that he had a point. He had ever much cared for Tuesdays.
‘Just think,’ the voice continued, ‘you will wake on Wednesday a whole day younger than you otherwise would have been. Think of it as though it were the best night’s sleep you have ever had. And you can always catch up on anything important that’s happened from the papers.’ There was a pause. ‘But like I said, it’s a Tuesday so nothing important will happen.’
Henry flicked at the net curtain absent-mindedly as he mulled over what he was being told. One word had crept back into his consciousness from earlier in the conversation.
‘You mentioned earlier that there might be some… compensation?’
‘But of course. We readily accept that you are an entirely innocent party in this most regrettable incident, and that you are being quite unfairly inconvenienced out of a day. Even if it is only a Tuesday. I am authorised to offer you the sum of five hundred pounds by way of an apology.’
Five hundred pounds did not seem unreasonable, but he was being deprived of an entire day. Just think of the things he could have achieved in that one day. On reflection, perhaps five hundred pounds was poor recompense for twenty four missing hours.
‘Are you able to go any higher?’ he asked.
There was more clicking of teeth at the other end of the line. ‘We may be able to stretch to seven hundred,’ was the eventual answer.
‘I am afraid that your offer is unacceptable to me,’ huffed Henry. ‘And I am not above taking this to the local papers, or the ombudsman, or the regulators. I’m sure my MP would be very interested in all of this.’ The name of his local MP was a complete mystery to Henry.
There was a long pause. ‘Please bear with me Mr Davies. I am really not supposed to do this, but I am going to go and talk to my manager about what we might be able to do for you. Could you hold the line for a moment?’
Music returned to Henry’s ears so he sat back down and waited.
‘Thank you for holding.’ The voice was back. It also sounded happier. ‘Good news! This is very unusual, but I have just had a conversation with my manager – and he has cleared it with his manager – and I am pleased to be able to let you know that we can offer you a replacement day. Would you be willing to accept, by way of apology and in lieu of the tenth of November, the thirty first of September?’
‘You can do that?’ asked Henry. ‘You could give me the thirty first of September? Good grief. Would I have it all to myself?’
‘Largely, I should suspect. They are, after all, rather rare.’
Henry tried to hide his excitement; it didn’t do to let on how happy you were when negotiating. ‘I think I may be able to accept your offer,’ he said eventually. ‘Plus a free diary for next year, of course,’ he added.
There was a sigh of relief at the other end of the line. ‘I am very pleased to hear that Mr Davies. Very pleased.’
Henry gave over the rest of his details and arranged to take delivery of his additional day. What, after all, would he really have achieved in a single Tuesday? The man had had a point: Tuesdays have always been overrated. Overall, he thought, as he hung up the phone and sat back in the armchair, that had all worked out rather well.
That feeling was reflected at the other end of the line. He gave out a long sigh of relief as he clicked the ‘end call’ button on his desk phone and rocked back in his chair. How many more missing tenth of Novembers were going to crawl out of the woodwork before the year was out? They hadn’t had an incident like this since that rogue batch of February the twenty ninths had been shipped out, and just look at the legacy that had created. The pain caused by that cock up was still being felt today.
He scratched his balding head, picked a piece of paper from his desk and looked down through the list of jobs. At the bottom, Henry Davies’ name was drying into the paper. First and foremost though, he had to get a call in to the suppliers.
As things stood they were only contracted to supply him for two more years. If he didn’t get an extension agreed soon… well, there was going to be a whole world of trouble.
A Day to Forget was original written for, and longlisted in, the Carried in Waves competition. It was broadcast on UCC98.3FM in 2016. You can listen to this story on Soundcloud.