About The Process Offer (A Short Story)
The Process Offer: A Short Story (Part One)
He counted something like a hundred people at the burial. Not a great turnout, considering the tide of sullen faces that came out for the viewing and funeral service. Maybe his numbers were off. It was all a blur. Six days he’d spent in misery, dreading this final goodbye. Desperate as he was to continue courting denial, it was impossible, considering what was before him. The ground was calling them down, dust to dust and—he couldn’t bear watching. A rush of tears. The preacher whispered a few final words and attendees starting slinking off in the rain, leaving him to stomach random men in coveralls as they lowered three caskets, all different sizes. The caskets of his wife and two children.
After hugs and downed heads from his closest friends and family, he was alone. An hour. Maybe two. Standing motionless until he was nothing but a remnant in a suit, a puddle for a home.
Shivering and completely lost on how to proceed with the next minute, let alone the rest of his life, he decided vaguely that it was time to go back to the limousine. He thought about how big it was and how alone he’d feel once he got in—
“Mr. Schroeder, I can’t say how sorry I am.”
He looked up to see a woman with a caring face, completely clad in black. Dress, stockings, hat… all black. She was between him and the limo—he tried to place her—I’ve seen her before—maybe one of Nicolette’s colleagues—perhaps one of Jackie’s teachers—one of Sally’s nannies—“Thank you,” he muttered, abandoning further attempts at recollection. “T-thanks for coming. I’m going to go home now.”
“Mr. Schroeder, this is the worst part of my job, but if I could talk to you a moment before you go.”
“Have we?” he asked. The question was weak, dying quick in the wet air. He tried to pass by the woman. Collapse into the limo. The big, empty limo.
“If you’re asking if we’ve met, the answer is yes, but only briefly. I doubt you’d remember.”
The driver came out and rounded the ridiculous vehicle, opening the door and an umbrella with choreographic fluidity.
“It was at your home. Just after,” she continued.
“Maybe I remember,” he mumbled, thinking more about the driver and the sadness of his job. Picking up people from the worst moments of their lives, hauling them back so they might get along coping, sorting through casseroles.
She could see he wasn’t responding. She’d give her pitch and hopefully that would be enough to cut through the fog. “I’m Alayna Ruiz, a representative of your life insurance company. I’ve come to inform you that because of the work at your tech firm and the extraordinary nature of the loss, we’d like to make you an offer.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Schroeder. Our company has a burgeoning partnership with your firm, and as an Executive Vice President, you qualify for the program.”
“Program? You’re selling me something?”
Ms. Ruiz took a step between Ellison Schroeder and the limousine. She was telling the truth. This was the worst part of the job. A man—this young man, probably a guy she’d check out if she’d seen him a week ago—reduced to a husk. But she wasn’t selling. She was offering.
This is what Alayna told herself as she proceeded. “No one can bring back the people you love, Ellison. There is no compensation.”
He looked at her, not knowing what to say.
“Our program can’t bring them back, but it might make it so you don’t have to let go so suddenly.”
The rain fell. Ellison’s red eyes tightened. “Miss—”
“Ruiz. Alayna Ruiz.”
Ellison tried to speak, but his insides were desiccated. He tilted his head back and opened his mouth to the gray sky, letting thick drops lubricate his mouth and throat. “Miss Ruiz,” he finally managed, “what the hell are you talking about?”