Adjusting a Loss

by Jami Kimbrell 

At first, I looked for goats. Goats grazing. Goats jumping over scrub bushes. Goats with their heads poking through fence rails. But I didn’t see any. I only saw a small group of rib thin cows as they stepped carefully around one of their own, fallen and still. At their backs towered spools of fiber optic cables, spools as tall as a house. Around each bend of the road were toppled billboards and billboards with words faded and illegible. Beyond those spaces, hidden behind or beneath the decay and windstrewn chaos of post-hurricane winter, I was certain that deer watched and waited for a chance to leave the way most of the humans had.

I stopped at a liquor store just outside of Luthersville, Georgia, bummed a cigarette from a man wearing head-to-toe camouflage who sat ceremoniously on the sidewalk in a mildewed recliner, surrounded by a host of mangy dogs and cats. For a solid ten minutes, we traded stories of trauma and defeat. First it was the hurricane stories, how a tree fell through the roof of his apartment during the worst of the wind, how his landlord boarded the place up before he had a chance to pack his stuff and how he’d lost track of his landlord in the six months since then. Then it was me sharing with him how the brick was ripped off my house, how the storm sent sheetrock and shingles and one doorknob through the back window of the car I had left parked in my driveway.

But then he told me about now, about his part-time job as a groundskeeper at the RV park where just last week he caught a wild boar trying to root its way through his freshly planted bed of impatiens. He said his name was Dale, that he grooms bonsai plants and does crossword puzzles to pass the time. I told him I prefer Sudoku and then he offered me a second cigarette in exchange for buying him a lottery ticket. I bought him five. He asked me what I was doing in his neck of the woods. I told him that my boss sent me to evaluate the damage, to provide insurance estimates for what would be needed to fix things. After digging a nickel from the inside of his shoe, Dale scratched line by line from his first lotto ticket. He said, “maybe I’ll get lucky.”

I tell my boss about this guy when he asks why I am late making it into the office. I plug my phone into the desktop computer, and while the photos I took download, I tell my boss that when I was interviewing this Dale guy, an ambulance had skid to a stop across the street from us in front of was left of a thrift store called All that Glitters. I tell him the tarp on the roof had flapped when the paramedics rushed into the building, that inside the building was a woman holding a parakeet and shouting in a language that didn’t sound like English. I tell my boss that Dale had a lady friend named Lorraine who had a star tattooed behind her ear and fingers that shook when she worked the cash register. I tell my boss so that he will know them when he sees them, Dale and Lorraine. I tell him because the photos will not do them justice.

Jami Kimbrell is a mother of four and a trial attorney practicing in Tallahassee, Florida. Her short fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Vestal Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, New South Journal, Tin House Online, Fiction Southeast, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Wraparound South, and the Masters Review, among others. Her poetry has appeared in Birdcoat Quarterly and her nonfiction has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review and Jet Fuel Review.
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