I pulled into the driveway and stopped the car, getting a sense of the place as I unbuckled my seatbelt. The Risk, as we call a property. Maybe we’ll say Dwelling if we’re feeling a little homier.
Holiday decorations hung askew on the wire fence around the front of the house. Festive.
I caught myself hoping that meant she had a soft side. But a few letters were missing from the season’s greeting. Last year’s decorations. I suspected that festive wore off a long time ago.
Gravel crunched under my soles as I leaned out of the driver’s seat to lace my boots and I let out breath from clear inside them.
She’s an angry one. Angrier than I’ve been dealt in a long time.
It took exactly three sentences on the telephone to know this. And exactly thirty seconds in the yard to know this in a more intimate than intellectual way.
Still bent over my laces, I heard them.
Lord, have mercy. She let the dogs out. I lifted my head and saw them through the glass in my open car door. One brown, one black. Sleek short hair, stubbed tails, folded ears, and teeth that sparkled like a pretty girl chewing Orbit.
These Cujo-slobbering dogs, anxious to tear limbs off something — maybe me — tore at each other just beyond the once-glittering goodwill on a fence that suddenly seemed very short and very unsturdy and very not fence-like at all.
This one. This one earned its name.
I would call it The Risk and not even feel bad about it.
A demand was made for my visit to The Risk. But still I felt a marked unwelcome, much the intruder.
And I wondered without moving my lips, so as not to draw the attention of two barely caged carnivores, what this angry one might have been dealt to find herself living on such a sharp edge.
I pulled pantlegs back over my boots and tucked my gear under an arm, hoping I didn’t look too much like a chew toy as I found my way around to the back. A young fellow startled me with his friendliness and ushered me through the door.
A son, a girlfriend and a granddad exchanged niceties, pleasant enough. But I knew it wouldn’t be this easy. Where was the angry one? I wondered. And worried.
I realized that as much as the house stretched out in front of me, in clear view, I still stood with my back exposed to at least two doors and a whole array of sharp kitchen utensils should she decide to come from behind. I need to be more careful.
Before I could finish my mental calculation of just where I’d need to place my hands on the counter top to make a spectacular leap, throwing my rickety bones over the breakfast nook if I sensed anger behind me, the floor started to shake and she stomped in through the living room in front of me. I took note that her hands were empty.
I gave her my card. She didn’t care.
I asked her a question. I don’t remember what.
I don’t think it mattered. Because any question and every question unleashed the same straight line winds of anger and hostility that I wondered if it weren’t an act of nature that peeled the roof to the paper but a man-made tornado that periodically let itself loose right here at The Risk.
She figured she had every right to open wide and let me see her inflamed tonsils every time she roared. The roof was flying off, water was leaking in, the ceilings were caving and the floor was giving way.
And no matter how many times she called, you people never do a thing.
Two words, familiar to me in that they are always barked, or spit, rather than spoken, and reserved for insurance folks. I’ve never decided if You people ranks above or below Them people, usually meant for folks who don’t speak English first.
I let her go. She found a way to relate every hardship she’d ever had (and in all fairness, the list was long) to an insurance claim or seven that had gone awry.
I listened. I asked a few questions.
I didn’t tell her no. I didn’t tell her yes.
I just asked her to show me around.
And I let her go some more. Took some pictures, measured some rooms, climbed to the roof and wrote down everything she said, because angry or not, what she said mattered.
Even when she said it loud.
I didn’t pet the dogs. But I did let ’em bark and snarl.
They left me alone, even when I stood my ladder right next to their feeble little fence.
When I left, she dropped the you people and called me honey.
And I hoped she’d been dealt something better that day.
Photo: Thorns 1 by Peter Suneson
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