Linda sat across from Joe, her heart racing as he sulked over the pile of bills, as if they weren’t his doing. She wanted to reach over the table and shake him by the neck, ask how he could be so selfish, so thoughtless, to squander their life savings on a business he knew nothing about. She seethed as she leafed through the Chase Credit Card bill, the TD Bank bill, the mortgage she never signed for, the Disney Credit Card bill. They hadn’t been to Disney since the kids were young. Why would they even have a Disney card? She glanced at him over the table and released a grunt of exasperation, in case he hadn’t realized how disgusted she was with him.
He looked up at Linda, her face scrunched and brows furrowed, and then down at his lap, trying to gather his thoughts. Linda had called the daughters to the house to help them sort through the bills, see if they could somehow erase some of the damage he’d done. No one believed he could run a profitable business. He thought about their lack of support from the very beginning. When he first told them about the business, all they kept saying was how he will never compete with Amazon. What did they know? How could he know if he didn’t take a chance? They never had faith in him. They never supported him. And now, just when his business is up and running, they want to sweep in and take it all away. Claim him incompetent. He’s not stupid. He knew exactly what he was doing. But they won’t listen long enough to hear him explain. It was good plan, goddamnit. He just needed more time.
The girls’ steps pounded as they ascended to the porch. They walked through the back door, each with a scowl on her face. They didn’t say a word before divvying up bills, each taking a stack to their respective place in the house so they could make calls to the creditors without interruption. Their voices, raised and serious, echoed through the house as they fought to convince the disinterested customer service representatives of their father’s senility.
He wasn’t senile, though, but a dreamer. Since when was dreaming so wrong, he thought. It was his money to do what he wished. He deserved better in his old age than to sit in his kitchen and be degraded by his own children, listen to them laugh with strangers about the lunacy of a creditor to think a man in his 70s, a man who has never run a business, no less, could be trusted to start a sales website. He couldn’t hear the other end of the line, but he imagined them chuckling right back with them, commiserating over the burden of aging parents who didn’t realize there wasn’t space left for them to live. Once you hit a certain age, he fathomed now, you merely exist. That’s it for you. No more, or you risk troubling those still in the throes of life.
Linda watched him, tears welling in his eyes, and she grew hot and dizzy. She knew those tears were for himself, not for her and the debt he’s left her in. He lied to her, telling her it was just a few thousand dollars, nothing to fret over. When Sunoco Gas declined her credit card, she was over her limit, she did some digging. She found mounds of bills, tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt she knew they’d never repay in her lifetime—or his. She thought she’d wait out her days with him, unhappy but secure, relatively comfortable. And now, it was all gone and she hated him more now than she had a year ago, when she thought of slipping antifreeze into his Propel. Now, she figured she’d have to go first. She couldn’t stand to be left alone with all this debt burying her alive. She’d die first.
Jaime Grookett is an MFA Candidate at Drexel University and teaches college composition. She is a Fiction Editor at Paper Dragon, Drexel University’s graduate-run literary magazine. Her poetry has been published in The Sock Drawer Journal and Grand Little Things. She is currently working on a collection of short stories and a historical fiction novel.