The following is an excerpt from a short story about a young man from Atlanta. His first job after graduation from high school was with the Greater Atlantic Life Insurance Company. It was 1940 and jobs were scarce the pay poor; he would get to keep one-dollar for every policy he sold. His territory…the Appalachian Mountains. He did not know that the daughter of a potential buyer would be the wildest thing he would ever encounter in his life. It is a work of fiction based on real people and circumstances.
Andrew Pritchett walked two miles to reach the run-down shacks in the Tennessee foothills that edged the Georgia state line; he sold burial insurance. He knocked hard on the rough pine boards of the door, scrapped his knuckles, wiped the blood on his pants leg, stepped back and looked at the rotting porch, barrels for sitting, a can for tobacco spitting and a mangy dog swarmed by tiny black flies.
Suddenly a gigantic body filled the opening of the doorway. Moody Cahill wiped his mouth; relocated tobacco scum to the front of his patched overalls and returned his hand to the sawed off barrel of a shotgun.
“Mr. Cahill,” Andrew stuck out a trembling hand as he choked back the smell and disgust at the sight of the man he desperately wanted to sell something.
“Your neighbor down the hill, a Mr. Ragsdale said that you might be interested in some burial insurance.”
Andrew’s eye twitched, the lazy one when he was nervous, he sat the worn leather valise down on the porch; it held his entire life, insurance applications, rate book and envelopes to mail the company their money. Underneath all that was an extra pair of socks, underwear, a straight edge razor and a worn out towel; all he possessed beside his old truck.
“Folks in these parts have been buying up these burial policies pretty good, they come in handy if needed”.
Uneasy he took out a handkerchief wiping sweat off his neck. When he looked back at Mr. Moody a young girl with thread bear clothes and a sweet gum twig hanging through a gap in her teeth was leaning on the doorframe. She smiled at Andrew just before the elder man pushed her back into the rundown shack they called home.
“You married young man”.
“Cotton get on back out here and introduce yourself properly to this young man, he aren’t married.”
The sweat on Andrew’s body turned cold, his white shirt shined like frozen ice; his throat closed and he could hardly breathe when Cotton stepped through the door. The man he assumed was her father stepped aside but did not lower the shotgun as Cotton took Andrew by the hand leading him into the dark shack that smelled of animal fat.
You just sit down here young feller and let Cotton pour you a glass of cold tea, we keep it in the well. When she returned she handed him a tin cup; he drank it quickly then opened his case taking out insurance papers.
“Mr. Cahill all you have to do is sign your names give me three dollars for each policy and I will fill out the forms, you’ll be all set with burial money when the time comes”.
“Well let’s have some more tea first then I will think about making my mark”.
After a few cups of “tea”…Andrew’s arms and legs went numb. He didn’t resist when the old man led him to a cot next to a big potbelly stove. He didn’t resist when Cotton climbed onto the cot without her threadbare dress. He didn’t resist as his mind begin to go blank!