Sometimes, when I'm working on a long, in-depth story, I get so engrossed that I need to take a mental hiatus. It's usually during one of these cerebral breaks that I come up a short flash story. "Continental Divide," and "He Said No," are two such stories. This is but another. There is no sex so if that's what floats your boat you'll probably want to take a pass. For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy the read, and as usual, I love to see those comments.
I'll admit it'd been a tough year; not just for Lori, my wife, but all of us.
For sixteen years, I'd worked for Van's Screw and Nut. We made custom fasteners for manufacturers. When a company builds a product they can't just go to the local hardware store to buy screws, everything has to be made to their specifications.
I started out in sales and worked my way up to sales manager. It was a great job and paid very well. If I met all four of my quarterly quotas, which I always did, my year-end bonus would put me well over the hundred-thousand dollar hump. Of course with so many manufacturers going overseas, we had to fight harder to maintain our share of the market but I had built a good, hardworking sales team and we always managed to do better than the year before.
A little over a year ago, all the company big wigs, including me, were called into an unscheduled meeting. We were all very shocked to find out the company's owner was retiring and had been in secret negotiations with a California conglomerate to buy the company. We'd been sold!
The new CEO was introduced and we were all promised our jobs were secure and nothing would change as far as management was concerned. That turned out to be a lie. Within two months, heads started to roll. I saw the handwriting on the wall and started looking for a new job but my time came before I had landed anything. With a pat on the back and a severance check for ten grand in my hand, they led me right out the door.
At first Lori and I weren't too worried, but as the months passed I was starting to realize how the economy had changed during the years I had my cushy job. Not only had a lot of the manufacturing gone overseas, but a number of the domestic firms that were left were buying their fasteners from overseas. I wondered how we stayed as strong as we did, but that was no longer my concern. I had to get a job.
During this time, Lance, our seventeen year old son, was graduating high school. I had mixed emotions when he announced he was joining the military right after commencement. With everything going on in the Middle East, I was afraid for his safety, and of course we both were going to miss him something terrible. On the other hand I was glad we didn't have to pay for college, because frankly, we just didn't have it.
About five months after being let go, it became clear that finding another hundred-thousand dollar job was not going to be easy, so I started setting my sights a little lower. To fill in, what I was sure was a temporary financial gap, Lori started to look for something too. She actually found employment before I did. She was hired as a low level secretary for a software company. It didn't pay much but it was still more than my unemployment check.
A month after Lori started work, I took a sales position with Enright Automotive. They made after-market car parts. For the first couple months I made a token salary while in training. After that I was put on salary plus commission. It was never going to be a high paying job. One guy had been with them for twelve years and was the highest paid salesman there ... he made all of sixty K a year.
You can imagine the strain on our budget. We had gotten used to all the financial trappings of a well-to-do family. We lived in a nice house with a sizable mortgage and had two Cadillacs; only one of which was paid for. That was mine. It was a five year old CTS. Lori drove the same model but we bought hers just a few months before I got laid off. We also had several credit cards, most of which were already maxed out.
Lori and I both missed our evenings out on the town, as well. It was another perk; after-all, if you can't enjoy yourself what's the sense of having money. We used to go out all the time; dinner with friends, sometimes dancing, other times a show, a play, or maybe a concert. It was nothing structured like a regular date night; we just kicked up our heels whenever we felt like it. That was usually two or three times a month-sometimes more.
Unfortunately it was one of the first things that suffered when we had to start scaling back. It seemed to be harder on Lori than on me. Growing up, her family had more money than mine. I didn't start going out and enjoying myself until I started dating in college, but my wife used to go out with her dad and mom all the time; it was practically second nature for her.
We hadn't been out in many months and Lori was starting to complain. As far as she was concerned, the bills could wait. It first started about three months ago...
"Skyler we have GOT to do something. I'm going insane sitting home night after night with nothing to do. I want to go out like we used to. I want to have some fun."
Lori's timing was always bad. I was sitting at the kitchen table going through our bills. Slowly, very slowly we were just starting to dig ourselves out of the hole a little.
I looked up at my beautiful wife. "Sure, no problem," I said sarcastically. "Just tell me which of these bills not to pay."
She just glared at me. I thought for a moment she was going to start yelling but whatever she was thinking, she kept to herself.
As soon as I said what I did, I felt bad. It wasn't really such a horrible request.
"I'm sorry, honey," I apologized. "I promise, it won't always be like this. I haven't stopped looking for a better job; in the meantime, we just have to cool it for a while."
"Cool it?" she snarled. "Skyler we've been cooling it for almost a year now. I feel like a caged animal. I need to get out and enjoy myself."
"I know, honey; I know," I said trying to placate her. "Look, we have a lot to catch up on. Five months ago we missed a house payment and our second car payment. We came this close," I said holding my thumb and index finger about an inch apart, "to having your car repossessed. With this month's commission check we'll be square except for one car payment. If we can keep the grocery bill down, we'll be all caught up in another two months."
I could see Lori's lips tighten. She wasn't a happy camper and I really couldn't blame her. Then I got, what I thought was a great idea.
"I'll tell you what, why don't you and I go to Lincoln Park Zoo this weekend? It's free and we haven't been there since Lance was young."
"Skyler, I don't want to commune with nature, I want to commune with some nightlife," she sneered. "I want to eat and drink and dance until my feet fall off."
"Honey please, hang in there a little longer. I promise, as soon as we get current with all the bills we'll celebrate by going out someplace nice for dinner."
Without another word she turned and went upstairs. I guess I sighed a little to myself. I really did feel bad but this was Chicago, between parking and dinner for two, a night out was going to cost a couple hundred bucks, or more. I was brought up in a household that believed the bills came first. There was no way I could justify blowing that kind of money when we were still behind and barely paying the minimum payment on our credit cards each month.
It took me another ten minutes to finish up. I was going to watch the news but realized Lori was still upstairs so I thought I'd check on her first. When I entered our bedroom she was sitting on the edge of the bed, crying. I really felt like a heel. I sat down next to her, reached around, and pulled her in tight to me. "I'm sorry, babe. I'm doing the best I can," I said leaning my cheek on the top of her head.
"I know," she sniffled. "This has just been such a hard year, and now with Lance gone we could be going for the weekend somewhere. We should be taking little mini vacations; instead we're stuck here. It's almost like being in prison. I thought debtor's prison was abolished," she scoffed.
It's too bad she was looking down when she said that. If she'd been paying attention I'm sure she would have seen the anger in my face. Our house was no prison. Hell, I didn't even want to buy it. I thought it was too big and too expensive, but once she saw it, she just had to have it. Now I'm fighting like hell to keep it and she's calling it a fucking prison. I had a choice; I could either open my mouth and tell her just what I thought of her analogy, or walk away. I chose the latter.
Over the next couple of months, things between Lori and me got even worse. Conversations seemed to be getting shorter and less meaningful. We were spending less and less time in the same room with each other. Love making was becoming less frequent and Lori's participation was decreasing. Her screams of passion became whimpers and the magic was disappearing from the bedroom.
She made no bones about the fact that she was unhappy with me for not taking her out but I couldn't help it. Yes, we both needed a release, I agreed with her, but not until we were at least caught up on our bills. I promised her a night on the town in the near future but it didn't seem to appease her.
.... There is more of this story ...