Kathleen tried to keep her focus on the too-tight shoes she wore, specifically for the distraction they afforded. The clerk had asked her to be seated while he assessed her paper work- a whole cache of documents Frank had instructed her to take in. There had been one other customer ahead of her, but he made quite a scene, hurling expletives at the clerk and threatening to choke him by his tie through the small gap in the perspex that divided the waiting area and the clerk’s booth. The man was escorted into the side room through the door just to the left of Kathleen. She could still hear the man, though now in muffled tones that were hard to decipher.
Two weeks had passed since that foggy Sunday morning when Frank took his small boat with the two-stroke engine out on the lake for a spot of fishing. Kathleen raised the alarm when he wasn’t home by 7 pm that evening – unusual for him as the game was on, and tea was to be served. For the next 12 hours, until daybreak on the Monday, a search party was out looking for him. His boat wasn’t found, and it was safely assumed that he had died, leaving Kathleen a widow. She’d arranged the memorial service with Hanson & Sons Funerals, the same entrepreneurial family who operated the insurance company Hanson Merchant Insurance Co. where she now sat waiting for her claim of Frank’s life insurance to be processed. Ever since she’d moved to Pine Creek from L.A when she married Frank, it had bothered her that there weren’t enough degrees of separation in the town, but it was where Frank had spent his formative years, and he was keen to return to the sleepy fishing town. The chief constable of police who had led the search for Frank was also a Hanson.
Kathleen was dressed in a somber, conservative shift dress that fell to just below her knees. Suitable attire, she thought, for a widow. The stark office was draughty and she could feel the cool air on her ankles, making her wonder whether bare legs was perhaps inappropriate for the circumstances. It wouldn’t be long before she could grow her hair long and wear flowing sheer fabrics, perhaps even learn to dance. But first she had this to get through.
The clerk made a great show of shuffling the papers and seemed to have a nervous tic – repetitive coughing that didn’t seem to dislodge anything. He occasionally peered at Kathleen, making her nervously shift her gaze. It was hard for her to look at anything but the clerk though, as the walls were a drab washed-out blue with nothing to offer. She noted that it was the same wall coloring used at the funeral parlor, except here it was devoid of any pictures on the walls that may provide some comfort or distraction for someone like her. She clasped and unclasped her clammy hands before leaving them resting at her sides.
With the clerk once more catching her gaze, Kathleen averted her eyes to the clock just behind him. A white face with gilded edges, commemorating 150 years of the Hanson Merchant Insurance Co. How many life insurance claims would they have payed out in that time? She wondered. The ticking of the clock formed a syncopated rhythm with the typewriter being tapped by the secretary who sat unseen behind the clerk. Tap tap tap, each key making an official statement on behalf of the Hanson Merchant Insurance Co. The sounds flooded her ears, threatening to deafen Kathleen- the clock ticking, her claim papers being shuffled, the clerk coughing, the typewriter tapping, and the angry customer in the room to her left with his muffled outburst. How could Frank do this to me? She was close to tears but tried to focus once more on the pain in her feet, lifting her left foot to cross over her right and then vice a versa. There was no way back now. Frank’s death had been announced in the Pine Creek Herald; a token plot had been dug, what one of the Hanson brothers called a chance for closure, discounted to $2500 seeing as the coffin was empty, and now here she was, waiting to collect his life insurance before joining him across the border in Mexico, our only chance at the good life, baby, he’d said before he left.
Story inspired by Edward Hopper’s Intermission (also known as Intermedio)
*UPDATE 19/08/14: for Frank’s version of events, refer to this post.
*UPDATE 20/08/14: for the insurance clerk’s version of events, refer to this post.