Actuarian

Dean Kisling

Coroner closes the metal door.  James and Ellen stand silently.  Traffic passes.

Ellen: “Would you like to get a drink?”

James: “Absolutely.”

They walk a block down 16th Street to a neon sign that says “MCs”.  They enter, sit at the bar, order beer.  On the mirrored wall behind the bar is a smaller neon sign that says “Mitigating Circumstances”.  Ellen lays pipe on bar.

James: “So (gesturing vaguely)… you’re ok with this?”

Ellen: “Yeah. Hi, my name is Ellen and I’m not a redskin alcoholic.”

James: “Don’t be so touchy.  I’m supposed to be grieving.”

Bartender sets two beers on bar, takes money.

James: “I take it back.  Here’s to being real.”

Ellen: “To the real red way.”

They drink some beer.

James: “You’re not too keen on that casino thing are you.”

Ellen: “The tribe doesn’t have the capital to do it on its own so it will be bankrolled by an investment group who’ll take the biggest share of the profits.  Gambling, alcohol and dehumanizing jobs will be more readily available on the rez.  What’s not to like?  We’ll make some money to improve social services but what will it really cost us in, you know, further destruction of culture and assimilation into the great American way of life?”

James: “You’re a lawyer and it doesn’t seem to have destroyed you.”

Ellen: “OK… point taken.  You’re an actuarian, how’s that going?”

James: “The word is actuary, but I like yours better.  I should put it on my cards.  Analyze statistics, identify trends and patterns, assess risks and predict profits and losses.  My professor used to insist we did not predict the future but of course that is exactly what we try to do.  Or maybe we’re creating it.  Maybe that’s what bothered him.  Except it’s the future of nobody in particular so it has nothing to do with actual life--but it has everything to do with making money, which apparently does have something to do with actual life.”

James: “I like the math and setting up computer analysis and I’m not good at anything else and it’s what my dad would agree to pay for but it all seems very unreal sometimes.”

James: (sipping beer)

James: “Hi, my name is James and I’m an actuarian.  It’s been three months since I calculated anyone’s death.”

James: (crying briefly)

Ellen: “You miss him.”

James: “I’ve been missing him for years.  It just reminds me of that.”

Ellen: (sipping beer)

Ellen: “You’re not too bad at talking to a complete stranger.”

James: (looking at pipe) “Why did you have this with you?”

Ellen: “I thought it might help.”

James: “How do you mean?”

Ellen: “I never knew my great-great-grandfather of course.  My father left me the pipe.  He used to put the pipe in my hands and hold me in his lap and tell me this was all we had… each other.  He didn’t mean just him and me.  He meant the tribe, the people.  I just… thought it might help… make things better… somehow.  I don’t know what I expected, maybe nothing.  Not this.”

James: “Your father is… gone, too?”

Ellen: “He worked high steel. He flew off a skyscraper.”

Ellen: (the other way she remembered him--flying through the air, arms spread like wings, hair whipping in the wind, hard hat tumbling far behind him, bound for earth, smiling, thinking about her)

Ellen: “It paid for law school.”

James: (this we call cold, hard facts?) “I suppose I’ll inherit something now.”

Ellen: (don’t think) “I don’t think the tribe has any actuarians.”

Ellen: “We probably need one.”

James: (touching the plastic bag)

Ellen: (just fly) “Why don’t you hold on to that for a little while.”

Ellen: “You can give it back to me at the funeral.”

James: “I…” (predicting the future)

James: “…suppose I could work cheap if I inherited something.”

Ellen: (nodding) “Not much profit in working for the tribe.”

James: (putting hand on pipe)

Ellen: (putting business card on bar)

Ellen: (go now) “Call me.”


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