By Greg Oldfield
Flo’s standing alone behind the counter, adjusting the I heart insurance button on her white apron. Her red lipstick is vibrant against her complexion, which matches the white backdrop all around the store. Her hair’s pulled back in a navy headband, the tips touching her shoulders like my sixth-grade crush, Debbie Conway, who used to rock a New Kids on the Block shirt with stonewash jeans. Flo jolts up, waving her hands as if they’re on fire as I approach. It was her personality, like Mentos in a two-liter bottle of soda, that first drew me in.
I’m not ready to do this. But I have to.
“Great,” Flo says, when I tell her I think I’m being transferred to Albuquerque. She says she’d always wanted to see the desert even though I never really asked her to go with me.
“Flo, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I’m all ears,” she says, leaning over, elbows on the counter, chin on her knuckles, eyes on mine while flashing a whitened smile that reminds me of a character in the “Black Hole Sun” video.
I take a breath. Steady now. “I’m looking for a change,” I say.
She straightens up and says, “Change is good. We’re offering discounts if you add collision, full tort, rental coverage.” She starts pulling small empty boxes from the shelf behind her. “Or, additional drivers,” she turns with a wink. When she sees a discount for work vehicles in New Mexico, she holds it up like a trophy and gives a breathy crowd cheer.
“It’s not that,” I say. “Something new.”
“Have you heard about our name-your-price tool?” she says. “Just go to Progressive.com and choose your options.” Her voice squeaks as she counts the online features on her fingers. “Account balances, twenty-four-seven customer service, policy changes, claims, all with the click of a button!”
“No, I’m talking about a change more—permanent.”
“Oh,” she says with a puzzled look. Then she holds up a pointer finger, pops her lips like a suction cup and digs along the bottom shelf. “I’m not supposed to share this with you, but—”
She stands up holding a new box, jewelry-sized this time. She flutters her eyes, leans over the counter toward me, and whispers, “We have a special loyalty bundle discount. Home, auto, boats, motorcycles, ATVs. Won’t increase. Even if your driving history changes. You’ll save almost fifteen percent. Enough to maybe take your favorite girl,” she raises her eyebrows, “out on the town. Maybe a little vacay. What do you say?”
I picture Flo on the beach still wearing her collared shirt, her pants, her apron, horizontal on a lounge chair under an umbrella with a fruit daiquiri in her hand, a thick layer of zinc oxide on her nose, rambling on and on about premiums and discounts.
“It’s not the policy. It’s, I mean, you and me.”
Her smile fades, and I remember that time I woke up at three a.m. to her sitting at the end of my bed because I forgot to renew. I backtrack because she knows my address, phone number, social security number, checking account number, and has a copy of my driver’s license. I try to remain calm, yet on my phone I’m secretly googling sales jobs in the Midwest.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” I say. “You’re perfect. I just need some time to explore other options.”
“You mean, like, shop around,” she says. Her puppy-dog eyes glance toward the floor, and she adjusts the knot on the back of her apron.
Then, as if remembering something long forgotten, she says, “Wait.” Her smile returns. “We have a price-match guarantee. We’ll match any competitor’s rates no matter where you live in the U.S., including Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
“It sounds great. But I think I’ll pass.”
“O-kay,” she says as if losing her voice. Tears form around the bottom of her eyes.
Great. Now I hurt her feelings. I didn’t think she’d take it that hard.
“Hey,” I say. “It’s not goodbye. Just a brief separation. Conscious uncoupling.”
She gives a weak smile, says fine like a child conceding to a My Little Pony instead of the real thing.
I feel like a jerk. Maybe I can reconsider. Try it for one more year. Insurances are all the same anyway.
Then I remember it’s not just her. It’s the commercials. Day and night. The radio ads, the pop-ups, the Facebook posts, the Tweets. Flo has over four-million likes. Forty-five thousand followers. A fan club. A chat room. What the hell am I thinking? Of course I’m doing the right thing.
A man with a fake mustache wearing a three-piece suit walks over. It’s another Flo.
“What seems to be the problem,” the new Flo says in a deeper Flo voice.
Flo pulls a tissue from the front pocket of her apron. “We’re having, commitment issues,” she says as she dabs her eyes.
A third Flo emerges from a back room, gray hair, tweed jacket, pocket watch, wire-rim glasses. “Need some counseling?” he asks.
Four more Flos appear: a lawyer holding a contract, a priest with a Bible, a banker with a briefcase, a biker with a crowbar. They all ask Flo how they can help.
I consider changing all my passwords, all my cards. Even a new identity is on the table.
Disguised Flos converge from every direction, consoling Flo as she sits on a stool with a cup of water in her hand. They pat her shoulders, provide phrases of encouragement like, “You deserve better” and “Other fish in the sea.”
“Sorry, Flo,” I say. “I got to go.” Make up something. “Conference call. 3:00. New boss from corporate. Time zone thing.”
I back out through the door. No one looks up when the bell dings. The car’s only a block away. I run once I’m clear of the window. Almost free.
But I don’t notice the detective Flo who catches the door before it closes and follows me out.
Greg Oldfield received as MFA in Creative Writing at Arcadia University, and teaches Physical Education in the Philadelphia area where he lives with his wife and daughter. His fiction has appeared in The Broadkill Review and HCE Review.