Her smile was insincere. I could tell she was uninterested in processing our claim but was required to play the game to keep her job. The more money she saved the company, the brighter her future would be. Poor people such as my wife and I meant nothing to her. Only the fat cats with big premiums were worth coddling. She could see from the file in her hand that my wife and I had to scrape pennies together to make ends meet and our renter’s insurance had been a strain on our budget but was required to live in company housing. That the company was unwilling to help was another issue altogether. When she left I knew we’d never see a dime.
I’d come home from work at the PEZ dispenser factory two nights earlier and discovered our front door standing open. My wife was still at her wrapping station in the shipping department and wouldn’t learn that we’d been burgled till after the cops left. They didn’t give a damn either. Our part of town was treated like a wad of gum on their shoes. I discovered that the burglars took everything but a few old clothes and some outdated foods in the pantry. Furniture and appliances gone. Ratty TV gone. Even our mattresses and bed linens were stripped and carried away. Oh. . . Our toothbrushes lie on the bathroom floor but no toothpaste. A scrap of toilet paper hung limply by the toilet but wasn’t enough to blow my nose, let alone clean my butt. Tears welled up, then fell as I pondered the bleakness of our future. When my wife got home, we held each other and cried more before sleeping on the cold linoleum floor. Even in the face of such tragedy we couldn’t miss work.
The next day was payday. After cashing my meager check, I paid the utility bills so we’d have heat and not live in the dark but had little left. My wife bought foods we didn’t have to refrigerate and went to a thrift store for a pot, a couple knives, spoons, forks, and a dingy quilt. Thankfully, our stove was bolted to the floor and hadn’t been taken. We ate from the cans, hoping to buy bowls and plates in two weeks. She had enough to buy a bar of soap and toilet paper and a pack of disposable razors. She was beyond menopause so tampons weren’t necessary. Our greatest commodity was each other and we took comfort in that. We would find a way to survive as we always had in the past.
When I realized we didn’t have the means to wash clothes anymore it was disheartening. Even in poverty I’d always taken pride in presenting a clean person to the world every day. The prospect of going to work in tattered old clothes left by the burglars was humiliating. All I could do was rinse my uniform, hang it out to dry on the back fence and hope it would be available by morning. It was when I was pawing through the closet that I remembered the loose board. It concealed my hidey-hole where I kept anything I didn’t want my wife to know about or find. Anniversary presents, a couple dogeared girlie magazines, some chewing tobacco I could indulge in when she spent the night at her sister’s house. When I pried it up, I was overjoyed. Reaching in, I put my hand around the last bottle of wine from our wedding all those years ago. I hoped against hope that it was still palatable. If so, we could pass it back and forth to numb our pain and kindle a glow of hope for brighter tomorrows. We still had jobs and were reasonably healthy, so things could be worse. I could hardly wait for her to come home. Adversity visits everyone from time to time, but I wasn’t going to let it take us down