Reggie stared at the pen.
Held between the thumb and index finger of the hand that emerged from a white coat sleeve, the golden implement caught and reflected the overhead lights in mesmerizing fashion. No doubt by design.
Reaching to accept the offering, he did so not of his own volition. As had been the case since Emma declared the community “home” within seconds of their first visit, Reggie felt the conveyer belt moving beneath his feet, hurtling him towards a purchase that didn’t feel right.
The house was exactly what he wanted. Boasting 3 bedrooms split from a home office, the warm slice of Tuscany was ideal for his burgeoning family. A play pool, a swing set in the middle of the community park and a tree-lined street with neighbors who actually waved when they saw you coming … it was Pleasantville in every conceivable way.
As he took the pen, squinting away the glare to scrutinize the engraved homage to the “Top Producer” across the table, he chastised himself for his hesitance. If there was one thing that defined the walking neurosis that was Reginald Painter, it was the perplexing inability to make a decision. Asked to pick the movie on date night, he’d break out in a cold sweat between the “Romantic Comedy” and “Thriller” aisles. Given a choice of soup or salad, he was apt to order both. Why, the mere mention of “paper or plastic” had been known to reduce him to a catatonic state. Steeling his resolve, he hunted for the signature line with his trembling hand.
The air fled the sales office as the world around him slowed to a crawl. He felt as though he were breathing through one of Gabe’s twisty straws. Unable to scrawl his name and unable to pull his hand back, he stared at the ponding ink where the pen dug into the contract. The formerly amicable pair of watery, brown eyes across the table narrowed to predatory crescents – the flint of a looming sale sharpening the agent’s countenance to a wolfish blade. Reg’s mind eye foresaw a suddenly hirsute figure leaping upon the table between them to howl over its fresh kill.
Then the noise of the cavernous surroundings returned, louder than before, amplified by the preceding silence. The man across from him once again nothing more than a run of the mill sales associate, making him more or less human. The agent laughed in obvious discomfort.
“Earth to Reg,” the Realtor was saying. “You okay in there, boss?”
“Yeah, um, fine. I’m fine. Sorry,” Reggie responded.
He looked around to see if anyone else noticed the episode, his face hot with embarrassment. A manic middle-aged woman was loitering in the vicinity, but she was too busy prattling on about her recent kitchen remodel to pay him any mind.
Re-gripping the pen with a sense of determination, Reggie bent again to make his mark. It was time to move out of a self-imposed Purgatory and into the rest of his life. And his dream home.
Expecting a Herculean effort in deliberation, he was shocked to see his hand fly across the page, with flair no less. He’d done it!
Except he hadn’t. Seeing an indentation but no ink, he realized the pen was dead. He chuckled at the irony.
“Not a problem, not a problem,” the agent assured Reggie as he rifled through the pockets of his ill-fitting jacket, his broad shoulders testing the tensile strength of its burdened seams. “I have a spare here somewhere.”
Now it was the agent whose brow began to sweat. The momentary panic relented when he found what he was looking for inside a coat pocket.
“Your sword, my liege,” the agent intoned, bowing his head in mock reverence and extending the considerably less impressive Bic that was emblazoned with prescription drug branding.
When his joke was met with silence, he lifted his head.
Reggie was shuffling away in the direction of the television. He was missing a slipper.
“How’s business today, Mr. Landry?”
The agent looked in the direction of the new arrival’s voice.
“Brisk, sir. Brisk,” he assured his questioner. “I’m closing a sale right now.”
“Or I would be if you hadn’t gone and chased off my prospect,” he snorted as his eyes drifted back to the retreating figure.
Reggie had sauntered over to a cluster of unoccupied chairs on the far side of the recreation room, paralyzed into standing by the multiple seating options.
“The Vintage Square Development,” the newcomer asked.
Saul Landry eyed the interloper with suspicion before a wide smile spread across his face.
“Why yes, indeed … Vintage Square… marvel of modern architecture and the last place you will ever call home,” he segued. “You strike me as the family type, am I right?”
“You got me,” said the doctor, settling into the chair opposite his patient. His own face stared back at him from the identification badge on the breast pocket of his pilfered coat.
“Do you have any move-in ready specs,” the doctor asked, placing a tape recorder on the table and pressing ‘record’ as he welcomed the forthcoming sales pitch for the long-defunct housing project.
Now that the outside world stood at the brink of a recovery, the rehabilitation efforts for his charges at the Shady Acres Home For the Criminally Inequitable could begin in earnest.
Today’s was an important session.
“You’re in luck,” Saul answered, adjusting his non-existent tie. “Looks like one just opened up!”