“Here, read from the top. Don’t consider signing anything until you’ve looked it over in full.”
She looks like a kind lady. It takes her fingers several seconds to unfold a pair of spectacles.
“I saw your advertisement. Bless channel 7, I don’t know how they’re still broadcasting.”
“It’s a mystery. I produced the spot here in my garage on an old Toshiba camcorder. When I saw channel 7 was still running programming I delivered the tape by hand to their drop box. Turned on the TV the next day and there I was. Lucky break.”
“How did you have the courage?” she asks, glancing out the window.
“Well,” I lean back, “I have protection.”
“Yes, yes of course,” she says, wringing her hands, “I’m just so worried nights that something will crawl in my window.”
“I understand. Things have been uncertain for common folks since this … change. Don’t worry about it. I’m fully qualified by a higher authority to see you through this.”
She nods, I nod, we’re in agreement. I gesture at the papers and she picks them up. As she reads in silence I take a turn looking out of the window. Most of the houses in this area bear the mark, while others have been completely destroyed. Fires from domestic disputes, panic, car accidents, broken gas mains, bolts of lightning, strange showers, falling debris and the like have reduced entire housing blocks to ash. Through gaps in the residential wall a glow bleeds in from the nearest open fissure. Light wavers and flows upwards from the earth dimming from phosphoric white to deep wine before blending with the night sky. Paper crinkles as I watch one, two, three stars pop like light bulbs. They flicker, burst in a flash and leave nothing but black space.
The streets are empty. My office smells like instant coffee, dish soap and hot paper. This button-up with a faded stain on the pocket is my last clean shirt.
“Excuse me,” with a quivering hand she adjusts her glasses and waves the stack, “Excuse me.”
“I don’t understand this,” she taps the paper with the butt of a pen.
“None of it?”
“No,” she looks down at her fingers, “I’m sorry, but this is all new to me. I just want to make sure I have the same coverage as my husband.”
“Well,” I lean forwards giving her my full attention, “You understand the situation you’re in, right? This, what’s happening out there, is the end. The punchline of the joke. These papers here are just part of the sorting process. You don’t need to worry about the details: I can guarantee you a secure place if you sign on page nine.”