The Price of Gas

by Rob BURKE
 

Ryan sat alone and agitated at the dining room table in their newly rented apartment. Layers of bills, statements, applications and reports trapped him in a semi-circle of financial uncertainty. He was nervous. He ran his hand back and forth through his dark cropped hair and winced as he scratched the back of his neck. Their accounts would soon merge and he could not help but imagine his pristine credit record spoiling like meat in the sun.

“Barely a dent in this student loan,” he grumbled “‘90 days past due, Aromatherapy Associates,’ two maxed-out credit cards.” He opened an envelope from Fashion Hunters, Ltd., containing a $500 cancellation fee for an all inclusive trip to Reykjavik. “Puffin hunting?” His head dropped to the table.

Ryan heard Karen’s Grand Am pull into the driveway. He pushed himself away from the table and rose anxiously, determined to learn her debt-reduction strategy for the very near future. Karen entered, dropped her purse on the floor and walked up to him. Placing her hands onto his chest and blowing a long strand of copper-streaked hair from her face, she landed a long, warm kiss on him. Ryan was disarmed. His anger and frustration lost momentum like a bicycle on sand.

“I’m so tired,” she said clinging and resting her weight on him, “and I have this damn sales meeting tonight. You remembered, right? I have to get ready. How was your day?” she said, unhooking her necklace and walking away.

“Actually, I forgot about it. I’ve been going over some bills, trying to get an idea of what it’s ‘gonna look like in September. I’ve got to tell you.”

Karen interrupted, “I’m hopping in the shower Ry, come talk to me if it’s important.”

Ryan declined. “It can wait ‘til you’re out.”

He had no idea how to tell Karen that she was irresponsible, short-sighted and a looming liability to anyone who would assume her debt. He knew only that he had never been happier since she agreed to marry him and also that he was not going to risk his solvency for anyone. Karen had made a few bad decisions, he reasoned, but that would not discourage him. These remnants of her youth would disappear now that she was engaged.

The shower was off and Ryan sat still, waiting for his courage to come. It was a necessary confrontation but he knew he had to be careful.

“Fuck!” he heard her shout. He followed a trail of polluted vocabulary into the bedroom. “Goddamn it” she said, sitting on the bed investigating her panty hose. “I’ve got a run on the ankle. This was my last good pair.”

“Looks like a pretty minor run to me,” Ryan dared.

With a glance she conveyed that his opinion on this matter was not important to her. Karen stepped quickly into some gym shorts. “I’ve got to go to CVS. I’ll be back.”

“CVS? You’re going to drive all the way over there for a pair of panty hose? No one will notice that tiny run near your foot.”

“It’s not tiny when you put your foot in it, Ryan,” Karen said, losing patience.

“Honestly Karen, who is going to see your foot at the meeting? Aren’t there chairs and a big desk that will cover your feet?”

“I’m not going to explain it to you. I have an hour before the meeting, I’ll see you in a few.”

“It’s completely ridiculous to spend the money and time on new panty hose when the pair you have is fine and no one is going to notice unless you have your meeting on the floor. I mean, a barrel of crude is now over 80 dollars and you still drive around in that voracious Pontiac. Gee Karen, can you even afford new panty hose?”

Karen stared deliberately at him and with incredulous facial contortions slowly asked, “What is your deal? Can I afford panty hose? Ryan,” she said turning from perplexed to indignant, “I make plenty of money, who are you to ask if I can afford a goddamn pair of hose?”

“Well you make good money but it really doesn’t matter if you squander it all on interest, late fees and impulse shopping.” Ryan felt his anger overwhelming him and added, “If you think I’m going to marry a woman whose idea of fiscal responsibility is spreading her botox plan over 12 months instead of 18, then you’re crazy.”

“I have a good job and believe it or not, looking like a professional is part of my job. You obviously wouldn’t understand. You wear the same earring from high school and that sorry excuse for a goatee on your face. Honestly Ry, it’s like birdshit on a Ferrari. You might be handsome without it.”

“You know my skin is sensitive and it hurts to shave.” Ryan said defensively.

“You buy your razors at the Dollar Store! What do you expect? You know, Ryan, what I cannot afford? I cannot afford to dress like I don’t give a damn and I cannot afford to stand here talking to you any longer.”

“Well who is going to be able to afford you when you can’t get a loan? If you lost your job, you would lose everything else in a month. Say good-bye to your precious car and your spa days and your shoe shopping. Your only friends will be telemarketers and bill collectors. And that’s only until they cut off the phone. You live in a house of cards, Karen, and unless you get serious about money and your future, it won’t be long before it folds.”

“Ah yes, and where would I be without you, my financial strategist, my guidance counselor, my life tutor? Huh? I wonder if I could even wipe my ass without your wise direction!”

“You’re acting like a child. You have serious debts that you never told me about and if you’re not going to be responsible for them and confront the issue and discuss it like an adult then I have no desire to marry you. I’m not going to let you drag me into your impending poverty. I’m leaving.”

Ryan walked through the hall to the front door, grabbed his keys and left. Karen ran to the door and yelled, “Have a nice life you sissy bastard!! Don’t forget to come back and sweep all your shit off the street!”

“Loser,” he said with his back to her.

“Asshole!” she responded.

Ryan drove to Starbuck’s and ordered a Venti half-caf nonfat hazelnut latte with nine Splendas. He waited calmly for his sole hedonistic indulgence. Sitting in his car across from the Shell station, he noticed a gallon of regular was $3.88, two cents less than his coffee. His hand slid off the wheel onto his lap. He convulsed with sharp, deep breaths, fighting the flow of tears.

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