We’re referred to the insurance department. He tells us his name but I instantly forget. Something like Matthew or Mark or John or Luke, any number of ex-boyfriends. He doesn’t stand, but his office box lingers with yesterday’s Axe, usually reserved for hotel lifts and bus upper decks and school toilets.
He says, “I don’t do what Jim does – fixing finances for you in annual reviews.” We already know what he does but the next paragraph from his mouth is a lengthy vow he makes daily. I only know prayers better, and lose words from those, unwittingly, for each new Taylor Swift lyric I learn. Osmosis. Brute force. Or failure.
“Life insurance works,” he starts, “But only if you go outside after this and get hit by a bus. Then you have your family pay-out, lump sum, but for you, now, meaningless. Nothing. If you’re out of work long term, what benefits do you get?”
Under scrutiny we’re no longer ‘we’ but singles, trying to convey connections unnecessarily. They’re interested, only, if it leads to our autographs.
Jack says, “Six months full, six months half.”
And insurance man is quick to chat back, “Well, how long have you been there? Because usually, less than 5 years somewhere, and you’re lucky for a lunch break.” Jack details the time, adding the months and days on. It’s an increments-’til-my-birthday moment. Then insurance man turns to me. “What do you do?” he asks.
“Self-employed,” I say, and he turns back to Jack before my sound stops. It’s a party shun in the nineties; boys giggling indiscriminately, as any girl walks in.
“Consider this,” a bold start, “one of you is sick, terminally, critically ill, can’t work, can you survive on one person’s salary? Heart attack, cancer, stroke, touch wood, what would you both do? Paint a picture. Imagine Amy’s sick, Jack. At home all day. Do you really want to work full time while she’s stuck? What would you do if this happened? God forbid, of course.”
“Ask our parents, I guess,” Jack says and insurance man is an underhand sneer, a status-grab in high school.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to do that. Would you really want to ask your parents for help? You’re paying rent, you can’t move back in with them. Be a burden.”
Jack says they’d want to help us and insurance man uses this twice as the conversation wraps up, thinks he’s joking when he says, “Well, I guess we could all ask your mum and dad, couldn’t we?” But this isn’t where he loses me.
If it wasn’t the interim moment between walking in and sitting down, or when he received a tweet on his iPhone as we sat there, it was the word cancer falling from his mouth like lies on Saturday nights to bar girls and drunk girls and men after 2 am, said as only by someone inexperienced in it, with it. And the “Picture this” script, exposing him as less than a visionary, missionary, psychic predicator, the UV light instead showing ill-wisher, grave chaser, digger, casing with bribes and scaremongering. And the smell of him. We didn’t buy anything.