Good Faith
    Tiff Holland
I was good at what I did. While I did it. And I told myself that if I did it right, I was helping people. People asked. How could I do it? And how could I go from doing what I did before to doing that? I asked them who they wanted on the other end of the table when the accident happened. I believed myself.

I was the best adjuster in my state. Claims reps they called them at my company. They gave me a gold star. Like in grade school. They gave me a gold star for the lowest average claims payment. That was how they measured what I did: how much I paid out. They wanted the claims settled fast. And cheaply. As cheaply as possible. As possible in good faith. They used that term a lot. Good faith. For them it was a legal term.

The way I did it. The way I did it their way and my way at the same time. I settled the bullshit claims cheap. Cheap and fast. I empathized. I didnít rush. But I made the people whose claims I settled aware the money was ready now, and money now is always better than money later.

The company wanted the claims settled in person. This made things harder. I like to help people, but I donít like to watch them cry. Iím better on the phone. Thatís why I was a good police dispatcher. Before.

The people, claimants my company called them, offer you things. Lemonade and brownies, coffee all times of the day and night. I hated their generosity, their faith. The glass sweating on the table while I whipped out my pre fab releases. Left the briefcase open the drafts in plain sight. Told them to take their time.

The worst claim. Thatís hard. Maybe the little boy who looked like Mccauley Caulkin with the dog bite to the face. The lip. From the cheekbone to the vermillion. Thatís what they call the first hint of pink at the edge of the lip. No surgery repairs a scar to the vermillion. I met the family after hours at his house. The kid showed me his pets, his guinea pig, his horse, his own dog. He was the sweetest kid. His mom held back. I left my briefcase in the car. The next time I came out we watched Godzilla movies. I never took that briefcase out of the car. That one was pending when I left.

Maybe it was the family returning from outlet shopping, a triple fatality. A teenage girl was driving her boyfriend and little brother. Her arms were so skinny, she didnít have the strength to twist the wheel out of the fishtail after she was sideswiped and the airbag inflated. I interviewed the truck driver that hit her car, who saw her sideswiped by the blue blazer that had been weaving in and out of traffic. He laid on the brakes, jake and air, but couldnít avoid her. He described the accident calmly but broke down when he told me how just before impact, the Escort turned around 180 degrees, he saw the twelve year old boy staring out the back hatch. That truck driver couldnít finish the interview. He quit driving truck. I sent out registered letters before the trial, but he couldnít be found. The family made one of those roadside shrines. They kept the flowers fresh.

Maybe it was the girl who lost her spleen, hit by a snowmobile while sledding.

Or one of the child abuse cases. Sometimes someone hurts their own kid or a relative does and they actually try to turn in a claim. Say it was an accident. Get some dough out of the abuse. The worst was a four year old forcibly submerged in hot water by an uncle who was baby-sitting. Burn Boy we called him around the office. We had nicknames for lots of them, for the claimants: the mobster, Burn Boy, Deep Throat.

There were decapitations. I took three by five glossies of the death scenes, bodies still in the cars with highway patrol panchos draped over them, limbs sticking out at impossible angles. One woman who drank industrial cleanser left in a soft drink cup.

No the worst was a fire. Newlyweds. They clung to each other through the smoke, lost each other. She got out through a window, circled round to hear him beating on the inside of the front door, a key-only lock, the key too hot to touch, to turn, then juggled and lost, and she heard it all. The pounding.

The company told me I was taking the job too seriously. I hung up on claimants who called to complain about their rental cars. Didnít they know people died? Couldnít they be happy their kid didnít run a stop sign on his bicycle, that the company didnít have me calling them to demand payment for the damages to our insuredís car?

The company sent me to anger management training. My files squared away, releases signed, I called other offices asking to help with the pending. The company sent me to the movies. I couldnít pass an intersection in the county without visualizing an accident scene. I had to deny the claim of an old lady hit jaywalking on her way to a funeral. It was dark. She was wearing black. The insured vehicle was traveling under the limit. I quit. There are still people all over the county who would welcome me any time with coffee or lemonade. They tried to fix me up with their sons, their grandsons. They thought I did a good job.

Tiff Holland lives and works in Northeast Ohio where she teaches creative writing at Kent State University. Her poems and short stories have most recently appeared in Pig Iron Malt, Exposure and Poetry Midwest. She has work forthcoming in Sulphur River Literary Review.


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