On Balanced Budgets 

“We need to talk.” The text lay dark in its gray bubble. The sentiment seemed walled within its shadowed two dimensional confines on Sam’s phone, yet it loomed...

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“We need to talk.” The text lay dark in its gray bubble. The sentiment seemed walled within its shadowed two dimensional confines on Sam’s phone, yet it loomed – its import impossible to be limited inside anything manmade, even an iPhone. Sam’s sat heavy in his shirt pocket. He kept looking at it when stoplights allowed, to see if anything had been added since. A little more context would be nice. But there was always nothing.

He wound the Hummer down his driveway where the garage door yawned open and their personalized parking mats beckoned there like hungry tongues. He and Betsy had been married over twenty years. They were happy. He was reasonably sure he had done nothing wrong. He couldn’t believe that she had either. They just weren’t the type. Still, when “We need to talk,” is trotted out in a relationship, things can get hairy.

He sat in the cabin of his SUV for a moment, marshalling his forces. Hairy, huh, he thought to himself. Well, I’ve proven to be a good enough extreme barber in the past. Time to strap on my parachute, grab my shears and bolt-cutters, and face the enemy. He smiled a grim smile, slid down out of the car, levered out his shotgun, then went into the house.

It was set policy not to leave weapons in the car and now it was even more important than usual to keep things on an even keel. He stepped into the mudroom-slash-gun safe where most people would probably have put a laundry room (the combination to the lock on the door was their anniversary). He took the .45 off his hip and the .38 from his ankle and into their cabinet. The shotgun was wedged in with all the others organized beside the assault weapons. The shells, cartridges, and speed loaders went into their drawers. Only then did he sing out, “Honey! I’m home!”

But she was already behind him in the kitchen, head tilted, eyes dark, arms folded. “I heard the garage door.” She cocked a hip. “We need to talk.”

“I saw,” he said, taking the phone out, giving it a little shake. “I left work early,” he said, closing the door and spinning the lock. He tried not to wonder if Bets had similarly disarmed herself. “What’s up?” he said.

“We’ve got to balance our budget,” she said.

Sam blinked at her.

Betsy sighed and continued, “We’re carrying too much debt, spending way too much. It’s scaring the hell out of me and we need to cut it out. And I mean right now.”

Sam felt the tension go out of his shoulders and tried without success to keep even the ghost of a smile off his face.

Bets wasn’t having any. “I’m serious.”

Sam said, “I know. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…” I thought it was something serious, he didn’t say. “I thought maybe you were sick or something. You went to the doctor’s the other day. I didn’t know.”

“Business can’t continue this way. It’s ridiculous.”

“Have the accountants said anything? Our CFO?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t trust them though. Have you seen how much debt we’re carrying? How fast it’s growing?”

“Are we having any trouble meeting our fiscal responsibilities? I haven’t heard anything in that direction. I heard that things were pretty good after our rough patch there.”

“Well, no,” she said. “But the debt!

“I suppose we could reduce it by looking at our income versus our spending, it hasn’t changed much lately, but we’ve got to be careful. Most of the time reducing spending is reducing jobs, which doesn’t do anybody any good. We are the economy here and for most of the places nearby. If we’re careless…”

Betsy waved a hand, dismissing all that. “Yeah, but – ”

The alarm went off and she smirked. “Forgot to disarm the system, eh?”

He went over and punched the code into the terminal, and the electronic blatt-blatt-blatt, which had always sounded to Sam like Pac-Man with explosive diarrhea, silenced itself. “Sorry,” he said. “I was preoccupied.” For good measure, he flipped on the closed circuit monitoring system by the stove and gave the screens a quick perusal. Their spacious backyard was empty, the pool was covered, the pool house devoid of movement, the unfinished fence bereft of intrepid explorers or rabid bandits… one day I’ll get around to finishing that, he thought and then turned back to his wife.

“I don’t care about the next town over,” she said. “I care about this town and our company. I think the budget should balance every year. No more borrowing if we can help it.”

“We founded our company by borrowing, hon. Businesses do it all the time, when they don’t need investors anyway. It isn’t inherently evil.”

“I know that. I was at tea with Gretel and Marcia the other day though and they just don’t see how it’s all sustainable. That debt will choke us.”

Gretel and Marcia again. Well, that explains it. “Look, a lot of people want to sound as if they’re fiscally responsible, especially when they’re in line for the loan officer at the bank.” He held up a hand, forestalling any defense of her tea friends for the moment. “Cutting and balancing things will-he nil-he is dangerous. Besides, will it keep us from financial emergencies in the future?”

She looked at him.

“And will it help us deal with those emergencies when they crop up?”

She didn’t answer.

“And if get a hold of our lawyers and set this in stone now, what happens if something way in the future, something we know nothing about right now and couldn’t possibly anticipate (which will certainly be the case, the future being what it is), or what if our thinking changes to different model and our hands are tied by this? You’re asking us to react to something that isn’t happening yet by doing something that doesn’t need to be done and might keep us from correcting it in the future. Besides, not that long ago, we were able to erase our deficit without any of that.”

She fumed, pointing at the ground. “I. Still. Don’t. Like. It.”

“Nobody likes it, my love.”

She spun on her heel and stormed out of the room. She stormed up the stairs. She raged in her room. He heard a large clunk and a zipper screamed in white-hot protest. He heard the sliding of drawers and assertive footsteps from the walk-in closet to the bed and back again and again.

She’s leaving me.

The bottom fell out of his stomach and his heart knocked in his chest as if to say, are you aware of what just happened?

He looked right. Looked left. Looked at the CCTV screens. He looked down at his phone. Something his nephew had showed something to him the other day. Sam had kept it in mind. You never knew. He opened up their favorite app. They used a shared account with special paid options that saved on shipping.

He put a pair of pearl earrings, the most expensive and highest rated, and a pair of authentic Wild West replica his-and-her pearl handled revolvers with matching gun-belts into his shopping cart and placed the order on their Visa.

He heard her ping of notification echoing his own over the tumult upstairs. There was a pause. “Oh, Sam!”

Soon after, articles of clothing began to float down the stairs. He caught the very last article in his teeth.

And all was right with the world once more.

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