I clamped my clammy hand around the handle of the door and pulled. The manufactured, cool air hit me like a wave. It washed over me and made its great escape into the boiling air around me while I pushed through it and closed the rest of it in with me. Standing in the front room of that building, cool air swirling around me, I saw her.

Carol sat in the middle of a loveseat to the right of the door. She grinned that maniacal, full tooth grin that had me wondering, again, if that was a requirement to get your real estate license. I could just imagine it: Now smile Janet. I said smile! Don’t you want to close on that multi-million dollar house?

“Oh, Eric. How are you?” she asked. Her nasal voice grated against me, that extra syllable she added to every -ar- that stretched every word with it to the maximum capacity beat against my ears.

“I’m fine, Carol. Yourself?” I replied. The woman may have driven me crazy, but my mama didn’t raise me to be impolite.

I sat and Carol filled the next half-hour with how her day had gone and her family’s upcoming trip to Michigan — We’re going to Ann Aaaarrrrbor — I nodded appropriately, my eyes fixed on an old rotary phone. I pacified myself by imagining taking it off of its small table and hitting her upside the head with it.

Finally, the door at the end of the hall opened and the seller emerged with their real estate agent. I gave them a small smile and nodded to them. They had, after all, built and maintained the house I was buying. Carol stood as they left, ushering me to follow her to the room. Just as quickly, she stopped. I almost ran into her as she settled her hands on her narrow, boney hips and tittered at a man.

“Honestly Frank, again?”

A man with a hawkish nose looked briefly away from the binoculars he has pressed to the window. “I only have a limited amount of time to see this bird,  Carol. I will not miss this opportunity.”

Carol sighed and rolled her eyes at me. I stood, staring unblinkingly back at her until she gave up and took me into the room. There was a plump woman situated at a table waiting for us. She gave me a softer, kinder smile.

Someone failed out of real estate school.

“This is Denise, she’s here representing the bank and will be the witness,” Carol said as she sat next to the woman. This left me with the seat with my back to the door. Great.

“Let’s get started, hmm?” Denise said.

I nodded and she slid the first page towards me. She opened her mouth to begin. Frank burst in, binoculars clenched in his spindly fingers.

I jumped at his sudden appearance and watched as Carol lept up to deal with him. Mama forgive me, but I got a sick sense of joy seeing someone annoy her. I watched, blindly feeling for a writing instrument on the table. I felt the smooth curve of a pen and readied it while she shooed Frank out.

 Denise gave me another failed-real-estate-school smile and walked me through the stack of paperwork. It had been a mistake to do this after a long shift. I could feel my eyes glazing over, my mind wandering to what I would have for dinner. I didn’t care about property lines or improvements to the house.

The last sheet of paper slid over the table to me and, unfortunately, I took that moment to look up right into Carol’s smiling face. She had been chatting on and off with Denise the whole time and it was the first time she had looked at me. I thought I was going to get off without another smile. I inwardly groaned.

I scrawled my, by now, messy signature on the last line and slid it back over to the two women who were talking about their daughters. They stopped and looked at the paper. Then, in unison, they both frowned. Denise began to sort through the paperwork, shaking her head as she did so.

“What? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh dear, Eric. You signed all of this in pencil. We’re going to need it in pen. Just give us a minute to reprint it and we’ll get going again,” Carol replied. Her real estate smile plastered on her face.