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Short Story: Assessment of a Lifetime

Riva Pomerantz

There is a candy wrapper and a broken drum to the right of the building entrance. How typical. He steps over the garbage derisively and moves his finger toward the doorbell but hesitates and knocks instead. It would take a protracted length of time before someone answers, never mind the fact that he called to remind them about the appointment. Twice. Footsteps. He looks for the telltale eye in the peephole, but the door opens immediately with the intriguing suggestion of expansive hospitality. “Hi!”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Oh — you must be the insurance assessor. Please come right in.” She waves him into the house and he enters gingerly. There is a tension in his features, a bitterness in the way his mouth is set, and his eyes are hard.

“We will go through everything together,” he says, brisk and businesslike. “We will start in the kitchen.”

“Can I get you a drink?” she asks, smiling.

He is again caught off guard, but he catches himself quickly and nods with a brusque motion. A millisecond later he realizes his mistake. Accepting a drink is potentially the first chink in the armor. It is too late — she pours him a cup of fresh, cold water and serves it gracefully. In an attempt to repair the damage he deliberately refrains from thanking her.

“Appliances?” he asks.

A man — presumably the husband — comes down the steps.

“Ah — you must be from the insurance company!” he exclaims through a heavy beard, extending a hand.

He takes the hand gingerly, as though it is unclean, and gives it a perfunctory shake.

The husband’s eyes quickly whip over him, taking in the absence of a head-covering, the shirt casually unbuttoned to mid-chest. He waits with a kind of dark delight for the telltale, unconscious frown, but his hopes are dashed.

“We really appreciate you coming out here today. We want to get our policy up and running already,” the husband says breezily. “Insurance is one of those things that you never actually want to use but it’s good to have. You know what I mean?”

There is an awkward pause when no answer is forthcoming.

“Appliances?” he asks again, keeping the tone aloof. He is determined to rebuff the friendliness.


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