Sheryl slipped the spatula under the patty and flipped it. The meat sizzled. Grease popped in retaliation and bit down twice into the back of her hand. With gritted teeth, she snatched up a dishrag, frayed at the edges and damp from two spills already this morning. She wiped off her hand and then smelled the rag, testing to see if it would need to go in with the first load of laundry. Deciding it could last at least through lunch, she tossed it back on the counter and turned to the man at her table.
“I thought the policy was good,” she said. “I mean, I kept up the premiums.”
The young man--maybe in his thirties, but most likely his late twenties--looked up and smiled. And boy-howdy, weren’t they were the most perfect teeth she’d ever seen? Almost like Billy Bob Thornton’s in Bandits.
“Rest assured, ma’am,” the man said, his words coming creamy, “your claim will be processed just as we agreed. First, though we have to ask a couple questions.”
He wore a black suit with a white shirt and a tie, the knot so triangular she would have sworn it was a clip-on, except now, looking at him sitting there, she could see the rest of the tie roped underneath the starched collar. He had wide set eyes--bedroom eyes, she would later tell her best friend, Janet--and hair pristinely set with some styling gel.
Sheryl walked across the linoleum, her fuzzy slippers whispering to each other with every step. She pulled out a chair and sat. Thinking about the way she looked, Sheryl knew she should have excused herself to the bedroom the moment he arrived, change into something more… well, presentable. As it was, though, she had two kids to herd up--one who was probably still playing submarines in the toilet with his brother’s toothbrush--and they both needed to be fed before the bus arrived. So like it or not, the insurance representative had to deal with her just as she was, first impressions be what they were.
She slouched back. “Questions, huh?”
The man nodded. “Standard policy. The inconvenient part of this business.” He reached into black leather briefcase, pulled out a file, and opened it. “It shouldn’t take long, though.”
“I hope not,” she said, letting the Southern drawl slip out. It usually did when she felt wired up. “I mean, not unless you want to eat some eggs and sausage with my two boys. Though I must say, you got to eat fast around them. If you want to eat, that is.”
He flashed those Billy Bob whites again, and said, “I’m good, thank you.”
So polite, she thought. Like he was seated before royalty or something. It was a lie, of course, imagined for the sake of convenience, just like all the others, but it felt good anyway.
She reached into the pocket of her house coat, pulled out a crinkled pack of Salems. “You smoke?”
He shook his head.
“Mind if I do?”
“It’s your house.”
Sheryl tittered. Of course it was. So, Jeez-Louise already, why was she asking? She reached into the other pocket and fished out a lighter. The cigarette lighted, she took a deep drag and blew the smoke out the side of her mouth.
“So…” She waved a hand in the air. “What do you have to ask?”
The man glanced down at the folder. “Your name is Sheryl Linsford, is that correct?”
She looked at him for a moment. “Chris, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Chris Alegria.”
She nodded. “Please don’t tell me you came all the way out here to ask me if I know who I am.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just standard--”
“Policy, yeah, I get it.” She took another pull on the cigarette. “The thing is, you called me. This morning, in fact. And look at me. I haven’t had time to try and fool anyone.”
“It’s just a question I always ask. We’re going to scan your eyes anyway.”
He reached into the briefcase and pulled out a netbook-sized laptop, a rectangular box, and a tripod. Setting up the equipment, he connected a cable from the computer to the box.
“I don’t have any wireless, you think you’re gonna need it.”
The man shook his head and pointed up. “Satellites.”
Sheryl nodded once.
“Okay,” he said, “this will only take a moment.” He made another adjustment, told her to hold still and looked straight ahead. The Billy Bobs seemed brighter this time. “Well, you check out, Mrs. Linsford.”
“Good to know,” she said. Smoke seeped between her lips with each word. “For a moment there, I thought you were going to ask me for a birth certificate or something.”
He closed the computer and put everything away.
“And your husband is gone, correct?”
Sheryl felt inside the pocket again, this time finding the photo. It had been produced on an outdated printer; though a little grainy, the image was clear enough.
“That’s him there with Ms. Tuesday Night Poker Party.” She pinned the photo on the table with two fingers. “What do you think of those? Personally, I think they’re fake.”
He glanced at it.
“But he’s left?”
Her shoulders dropped. “Mr. Aleh…”
She nodded and fished out another piece of paper. “He left this behind, too. I think you’ll appreciate the irony, how he still loves me, loves the boys, but can’t find it in his heart to be happy.”
He read it.
“Okay,” he said. “We’re all done as far as I’m concerned. See? A fairly simple process.”
Sheryl stared at him. “So, when will my... claim be processed?”
The Billy Bobs again. “As soon as I call our agent. Your ex-husband will then be your deceased ex-husband.”
“Just like that, huh?”
“That’s what Cheaters indemnity is for, ma’am.”
Now she smiled. “Easy-peasy.”