Actuarian

Dean Kisling

James Smith was notified of his father’s accident and requested to identify the remains.  Ellen Sings at Night was notified she could retrieve her pipe.  As it happened (the coroner wanted to get these things done and go home), they arrived at the coroner’s office at the same time.

Ellen: “I’m here about the pipe.”

Coroner: “You are Ellen… Sings at Night?”

James: “You’re the one who…?”

Ellen: “Well, you could say it was my great-great-grandfather.”

Coroner: “And you are…?”

James: “The… James Smith.  His son.”

Coroner: “May I see some identification?”

Coroner: “I’m sorry.  Both of you please.”

James: (showing his ID) “Why could you say that?”

Ellen: (showing her ID) “It’s his pipe.  He died in 1889.”

James: “What did he die of?”

Ellen: “He was lynched by a white rancher for stealing his own horse back.”

James: “So this is his revenge or something?”

Ellen: “I don’t know.  They say he was pretty mad about it.”

James: “You sound pretty mad about it too.”

Ellen: “Look.  He fell on top of me.  I wasn’t stalking him with my primitive native artifact.  I’ve already been accused of being a militant Indian, an Arab terrorist, and the jilted concubine of a paleface lawyer.  The pipe is over a hundred years old and it means a lot to me and I never saw your dad before in my life.”

Coroner: “Follow me please, Mr. Smith.”

The coroner leads James Smith into a room where his father lies on a stainless steel table with wheels.  The coroner reveals John Smith’s face and, gaping, ruined eye socket.  Even covered by the sheet, the rest of his body looks nakedly old, scrawny and discarded.  James Smith nods to the coroner.  Ellen Sings at Night watches through the window in the swinging door.

James: “That’s him.  That’s my dad. John Smith, Esquire.”

Coroner: (replacing sheet) “Thank you.  I’m sorry.”

Coroner: “The body can be released from here to the funeral home as soon as those arrangements are made.”

Coroner: “I’ll just need your signature on the identification form. Please follow me.”

The coroner, followed by James and Ellen, returns to the counter joining the office with the hallway.  James signs the form.

Ellen: “Why do they call them homes?”

Coroner: “They used to call them parlors.” (like ice cream parlors)

James: “They just want something that sounds like… not like what they are.”

Ellen: “Is it hard to work in a place like this?”

Coroner: “The deceased are not hard to get along with.”

James: “If you didn’t know them.”

Ellen: “I’m sorry about your dad.”

James: “Not your fault, but thanks.”

Coroner: (placing a plastic bag containing the pipe on the counter) “The pipe has been cleaned and sterilized in an autoclave.  We had to do that because the uh… material on it is legally considered a biohazard.  I don’t think it was damaged in any way but we are not guaranteeing that.  Please initial here and here and sign and date here.”

James: “Dad’s brains… biohazard.”

James: “Sorry.”

Ellen: (signing the form) “Was he…?”

James: “A decent man? A good father? I suppose. I don’t know. He was a lawyer.”

Ellen: “Meaning…?”

James: “He didn’t engage real life much.  He had a good brain.”

James: (snort) (cackle) (shudder)

Coroner: (sigh) (here it comes) (not a bad place to work until the living showed up)

Coroner: “Thank you both very much for your patience.  I’ll show you out.  Please follow me.”

James: “You’re limping, did you get hurt?”

Ellen: “I hit the steps pretty hard.  (I’ll live) I’m all right.”

James: “Why were you there?”

Ellen: “I’m a lawyer.  For the tribe.”

Ellen: “What do you do?”

James: (I insert foot in mouth)

James: “I’m an Actuarial Scientist.  That is, I have my degree.  I’m looking for a job.”

Ellen: “What kind of job would that be?”

James: “Making sure the house always wins.”

Ellen: “Isn’t it like that already?”

James: “Well yes, but you want it to be your house.”

James: “What do you do for the tribe?”

Ellen: “File papers so we can open a gambling casino on the reservation.”

Coroner: “This is not the way you came in.  Here is Sixteenth Street.  Fremont and the main entrance are that way.  Thank you for coming.”


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