1st Place – June 2019

The Final Notice

By Robert Taylor

“How could this happen?” A deep surge of panic envelops Joe’s being as he shoves his hands deep into his pockets, again, but alas, the hundred-dollar bill is not there. Martha trusted him with the money, instructed him to walk down to the square and pay the electric bill. A simple task, really, and a beautiful, crisp morning for a walk. But here he stands, in front of the Electric Co-op building, and the money is nowhere to be found. He is certain he stuffed the bill in his right front pocket. There’s no hole in the fabric, so where did the money go?
One thing for certain, he can’t tell Martha he lost the money. That would set him up for a tirade of verbal abuse, accusations of incompetence, untrustworthiness, and even worse. She would bring up her ex-husband. He can hear it now. “Carl was an inconsiderate ass in many ways, and impossible to live with, but at least he could be trusted to go five blocks from home and pay an electric bill.”
Well, one thing is certain, he must go home and face Martha. The final notice for the bill is today. It would be difficult to hide the fact that he didn’t pay the bill while sitting beside her in the dark. But there must be a less incriminating story than the fact that he lost the money. Of course! That’s the ticket.! He’ll make up a story, some scenario that wasn’t his fault, out of his control. I know. I was robbed, held up at gunpoint by a hooligan with a stocking pulled down over his face. A perfect plan, but he must make it good. He takes off running at full speed, and doesn’t slow down all the way to his house.
“What in the world happened to you?” Martha asks, as Joe stumbles through the doorway.
“I…was…robbed,” Joe replies, panting for breath between each word, “at gunpoint!”
“You were robbed? At gunpoint?” She asks as Joe falls on to the sofa, still struggling to get his breath.
“That’s what I said, Martha, robbed. Why are you repeating my exact words?”
Martha stares incredulously at her husband, lying back on the sofa. “That’s a pity, Dear, but why are you so out of breath?”
“I chased the punk, that’s why, for four blocks!”
Rolling her eyes in a sarcastic manner, Martha plops down in her recliner, facing her husband. “Let me get this straight. You, a sixty-three-year-old man with an alleged  heart condition, chased an armed man four blocks?”
“He had our hundred bucks. I wasn’t about to let him get away!”
“So, what happened?”
“He got away.”
The sarcastic look on Martha’s face is replaced with a look of condescending humor. “What were you planning on doing when you caught up with him, catching the bullet between your dentures?”
Joe sits quietly for several seconds, pondering his reply. She’s trying to trip him up, find a flaw in his story. He can’t let it happen, must keep the upper hand. “He didn’t actually have a gun,” he finally says. “He was hiding the weapon under his overcoat, but when he reached out and took the money his coat fell open just enough for me to see that it wasn’t a gun at all.”
“So tell me, Joe. If it wasn’t a gun, what was he packing?”
“A carrot. He had a carrot under his coat.”
Martha attempts to stifle the snicker, but is unable to do so. “So, you were held up at carrot point? How traumatic that must have been for you.”
“This is no laughing matter, Martha. I just suffered through a very horrible experience. What I need is a little understanding and compassion, and what do I get? Sarcasm, that’s what.”
Rising from the recliner, Martha heads toward the kitchen. “I’m gonna fix you a cup of instant coffee,” she says, “you look like you could use some.” She stops, however, at the kitchen door, and speaks with her back to him. “You remember the time I sent you to the market with a list, and you came back with that story about giving the money to some poor woman with two hungry kids?”
“Yeah, I remember, and you would have done the same if you’d seen the look in those kids’ hollow eyes.”
“There were no hungry kids, Joe,” Martha says as she prepares the coffee, “and there was no hooligan with a carrot. I might as well face it, I’m married to a man who ceased to mature mentally at the age of twelve. You’re incompetent, and totally untrustworthy. Why, as horrible a person as Carl was, I could at least depend on him to go five blocks to pay a bill.”
“You know, Martha, every time you act this way, calling me a liar, you drive a wedge between us, damaging our relationship. And as for your ex, perhaps you would be happier with him if he was so damned trustworthy.”
“That’s sort of a moot point, Joe, seeing as how he’s dead!”
“Well, I’m just saying, if he weren’t dead. Anyway, I was robbed, and it hurts like hell that you don’t believe me.”
Returning to the living room, Martha hands Joe his coffee, then puts on her coat and picks up her purse.
“Where you going?” Joe asks, a hint of panic in his voice. “you leaving me over this?”
“I’m going to pay the electric bill.”
“With what? You said that hundred was all the money we have until my check comes in.”
“With this,” she replies, pulling a hundred-dollar bill from her purse and waving in his face. “You left it lying on the coffee table when you went out. I’ll be back in a bit, if I don’t get robbed.” She exit’s the house, slamming the door behind her.
“Well, that didn’t go too well,” Joe mumbles, rising from the sofa and stumbling to the kitchen to refill his coffee cup.

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