A short story by Robert Cormack.
Terry was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the bills. They’d all come in the same week — some the same day. He’d opened the envelopes, stared at the amounts, then threw them back on the table. Over a thousand dollars was owing — payment past due, payment required immediately. Christ, they couldn’t even cover the utilities, let alone the credit cards.
It was critical, in other words, the most critical—in his mind, anyway—was Angela. She was the one always saying, “Don’t worry, Terry, we both have jobs. We deserve to treat ourselves.” Now they were broke, in debt. And where was Angela now, exactly? Terry didn’t even know that. He didn’t have a clue.
She’d come home one day, saying she’d booked a trip to Mexico. She hadn’t even ask if he wanted to go. “It’s only a week,” she told him. “Honestly, Terry, I couldn’t pass this up. What travel agent passes up a trip below cost? They even dropped the single’s supplement. Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll be back before you know it.”
There was that, of course — that and her thinking she could leave him with Sam and Trixie, her two cats. “Take care of my babies,” she’d said, going out the door the next morning. She blew them kisses from the cab.
“I met some people here,” Angela wrote. “I’m staying on for a bit. Tell Sam and Trixie I miss them. Give them a big hug.”
That was a week ago, a week with the cats sulking by the window, him sitting in the kitchen. Then a postcard arrived from somewhere in Mexico, showing a resort. “I met some people here,” Angela wrote. “I’m staying on for a bit. Tell Sam and Trixie I miss them. Give them a big hug. You, too, of course!”
He’d put the postcard on the kitchen table next to the late notices. Everything they owned was on layaway. What was he supposed to do? He freelanced at a local paper. Sometimes they didn’t pay him for months at a time. He kept telling Angela that, but it didn’t stop her from buying stuff. She’d go months without paying her credit card. Every time she wanted something, she’d say, “Don’t worry, we don’t have to start paying for ninety days.”
Now he — they — were broke and in debt. Collection agencies would be down their necks soon enough. He tried calling Angela at the resort. The woman at the front desk said she must have checked out. Then he called the travel agency where Angela worked. Nobody had heard anything, either. “Tell her the manager’s pissed if she calls,” the secretary said.
Terry put down the phone and kicked over a chair. Then he went outside. Someone was cooking next door. He hadn’t shopped in over a week. All he had was dry cat food. When he’d kicked the chair over, the cats ran under the couch. “Cats are perceptive, Terry,” he remembered Angela saying. The next morning, they took off out the cat door. He’d checked with the neighbours and walked up and down the street. No Sam and Trixie. The cats were gone.
Friday came, Terry was bringing boxes up from the basement. Everything was going back in the original wrapping — even the instructions and warranties. Some of the stuff couldn’t go back, obviously. The triple-burner barbecue, for instance. It cost them over five hundred dollars. Angela wanted it for all her parties. She never asked if he wanted his friends over. Not that he had a lot of friends, but she still never asked.
Angela’s credit card bill had arrived that morning, showing fifteen hundred dollars. Terry noticed some Mexican restaurants, one called The Picador. Before she’d left, Angela told him the trip was all-inclusive. “I don’t have to spend a thing,” she kept saying, but she was spending. Angela was going through everything she had — everything they had.
He kept reading Angela’s words. Meeting some great people down here.
Then another postcard arrived from a place in Bucerias. He couldn’t find it on a map. “Where the hell’s Bucerias?” he’d yelled. He kept reading Angela’s words. Meeting some great people down here.
Terry tore up the post card and went outside. He started the barbecue. The bills went on first, then Angela’s letters, then two boxes of photos. He had to keep dumping it over because of the ash. The neighbours were probably watching. It didn’t matter now. He tossed on the rest of the photos, then went back in the house to get Angela’s things.
He was upstairs in the closet when the phone rang. It was probably a collection agency or Angela’s work. He didn’t want to talk to them. The answering machine finally picked up and he heard Angela’s voice.
“Are you there, Terry?” she asked. There was a pause. “Terry, I’m at a phone box. Please call this number as soon as you can.” She read the number off. “Hurry, baby. It’s an emergency.”
Under the sink in the kitchen, there was a bottle of vodka. He took it out, got some ice, then rinsed out a coffee cup. Everything else—the china, glasses, pots and pans—they were all packed in their original boxes.
The phone rang again. This time he picked up.
“What?” he asked.
“Why didn’t you answer before?” he heard Angela say.
“I was outside.”
“Listen, Terry,” she said, “they’ve cut off my credit cards. Did you get any notices? I’ve barely got enough for the bus.”
Terry could hear highway sounds in the background.
“Where are you, Angela?”
“I’m still here in Mexico. I’ve been trying to get home — “
“Terry, they’re cutting me off. Call back, okay? Please. The number’s on your machine. I’ll explain everything. Please call me — ”
Someone was talking. The phone started beeping.
“Terry, they’re cutting me off. Call me back, okay? Please. The number’s on your machine. I’ll explain everything. Please call me — ”
There was a final beep, then a dial tone. He stood there for a moment. Then he called the number Angela left on the machine. There was one ring at the other end. Angela picked up.
“Thank God,” he heard her say. “Can you hear me?”
“I can hear you,” he said.
“Look, I’m trying to get out of here. One of our friends tripped on some rocks. We have to take him to the hospital, then I want to leave.”
“Just a friend. He twisted his ankle — “”
“Why’s he your problem?”
“What difference does it make?”
“Does he have a name?”
“Of course he has a name. It’s Miguel.”
“Are you with this guy?”
“No, I’m not with him. And he’s not a guy, Terry, he’s a shaman.”
“A shaman. A Peruvian healer.”
“What’s he doing in Mexico?”
“He came for a ritual ceremony in Las Cargadas. Look, Terry, the bus will be here any minute. I talked to an American across the road. He says you can wire money to any Holiday Inn. There’s one in Puerto Vallarta.”
Terry rubbed a bit of soot on his arm.
“Terry?” Angela said. “Can you do that for me?”
“Why don’t you get the money from Miguel?”
“He’s a shaman, for God’s sake. He doesn’t have money.”
“When are you coming home?”
“As soon as we take Miguel to the hospital.”
“Where’s the Holiday Inn?” he said finally.
“I don’t know, Terry. Call directory, then call me back.”
“What about your friend Miguel?”
“We’ll drop him off and then I’ll go to the hotel. Please hurry.”
Another beep, another dropped line.
Terry looked up the Holiday Inn and called their central number. A woman at international booking answered. He said he wanted to send money to a friend at their hotel in Puerto Vallarta.
“Is your friend a guest?” she asked him. She told him it was a service for guests. “You can make a reservation and she’ll get the cash when she registers.” Terry gave her Angela’s name and his credit card number.
“What’s the address?” he asked. “She’s coming by bus.”
“Zona Hotelera Norte. There’s a bus stop at the entrance.”
He called Angela back.
“Zona Hotelera Norte,” he said. “Give your name at the desk.”
“Thanks so much, Terry,” Angela said.
People were talking in the background.
“Terry — the bus is here,” she said. “I’ll call you from the hotel.”
“Angela — “
The phone clicked.
A few hours later, Angela called again. Terry was just coming in from outside. His shirt and pants smelled of smoke. He picked up.
“How’s everything there? Are my babies okay? Have you been feeding them?”
“Thanks so much,” Angela said. “I didn’t know you got me a room. The flight isn’t until tomorrow morning. I’ll pay you as soon as I get home. My parents said they’d send me some if I’m stuck. How’s everything there? Are my babies okay? Have you been feeding them?”
He glanced at the cat door.
“No, Angela,” he said.
“What do you mean, no?”
“Your cats are gone. They ran off.”
“Why would they run off?”
“They didn’t think you were coming back.”
“For God’s sake, Terry, they could be cold and alone somewhere. They could be dying. Did you at least look for them? Did you call the pound?”
“You deserted them, Angela. That’s why they left.”
Angela started crying.
“My poor babies,” she sobbed. “How could you let them run off? I asked you to do one simple thing.”
Terry rubbed a smudge off his hand.
He went out, dumped the barbecue over again, then threw Angela’s clothes on the grill. Smoke rose in thick puffs.
Then he heard Angela scream.
“You can’t even take care of two cats!”
Terry stood looking out the kitchen window. Smoke was still rising from the barbecue. He went out, dumped the barbecue over again, then threw Angela’s clothes on the grill. Smoke rose in thick puffs.
Upstairs in the bedroom, he packed his stuff, got his toothbrush, rinsed it out, rinsed his razor. The mattress was leaning against the wall. It was back in its original plastic, the bill on the side. He took it downstairs, putting it next to the other stuff in their original boxes. He checked the barbecue one last time, came back inside, got his coat and suitcase, and started for the door.
He noticed the light blinking on the answering machine. Angela must have called. He didn’t bother listening to the message. She’d come home and figure it out. He opened the front door and looked up and down the street. Sam and Trixie probably saw the same thing when they left. Maybe he’d run into them along the way.
He realized he hadn’t even closed the door.
Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist, and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. You can read Robert’s other short stories and articles at robertcormack.net