by Vincent S. Tobia
Stephen slowly crept downstairs, trying to not make much noise. He had just laid down James, their two year old son, for his afternoon nap. James was nearing the age where he no longer needed a daily nap, but the little toddler had a busy Saturday morning running around and playing outside. Marie and Stephen had taken turns whacking weeds, trimming bushes, and cutting the lawn while playing with and feeding their five month old, Henry. Stephen was tired and so too was Marie, but they were happy to be parents to two happy sons.
“Henry’s sleeping. I’m going to take him outside. Come out back, okay?” Marie whispered from the kitchen.
“I will. Just after I fill out some bills. Want a soda or something?” Stephen asked softly.
“No, thanks. I’m alright,” she smiled and then slipped outside with Henry carefully positioning her wicker armchair in the soft October sun. The weather had been warm, especially for late October. She leaned back and began to daydream of going on vacation to far away places. Henry was snug and comfortable, snoozing away in her arms.
Back inside, Stephen grabbed a handful of bills and unopened mail from off the kitchen table. He got out his checkbook and the laptop. He began the monthly monotonous monstrosity of paying bills. The damage was almost overwhelming: mortgage, car loan, car insurance, electric, credit cards, cable, internet, cell phones, water, heat oil, hospital bill from Henry’s birth, and a doctor’s visit bill from when James had an ear infection.
Stephen always had the same thoughts while paying bills.
This is all we do. We keep ourselves afloat by paying these bills. This is the way of life. Debt is how we get things in our lives and keeping things moving forward. I’m both grateful and disgusted. This is how we ensure our survival. Not by hunting or gathering, but staying backed up behind a wall of not having enough. It doesn’t seem natural.
He stood up and cracked his back. Thirty minutes had gone by without him fully realizing it. He wondered what took more time, the actual paying of bills or his hemming and hawing. Stephen grabbed a beer for himself and the bottle of diet ginger ale that Marie said she didn’t want.
The clean and crisp fall air smelled good to Stephen as he gently walked out back. It was still warm in the sun, but the breeze was refreshing. It was the perfect balance -something that winter would ruin in just a short time.
“Hey, babe,” Stephen whispered as he sat down next to Marie. He set down his beer and opened her soda before handing it to her. The quiet hiss made Marie smile to herself.
“You know me too well,” she replied as she gently rubbed Henry’s back in slow circles with her free hand. The baby still snoozed away in sleepy land.
“It’s so nice out,” Marie said.
“Yeah, just wait a few more weeks. It’ll be cold. Take it in while you can,” Stephen said, taking a large gulp of ale.
They sat on their patio facing main street of their small town. A few blocks away, cars moseyed through town on the lazy Saturday afternoon. In the distance, a small mountain range cradled their view and the sky above was as bright as blue could be.
Adjacent to those mountains, other neighboring towns quietly laid nestled out of view.
“Where do you want to go on vacation next year?” Marie asked.
“I’m totally for Colorado. You know that. But there’s always a problem with that,” Stephen began.
“The airfare? Do we bring the kids or leave them with our folks? I know you always mention that Stephen. You know, if we keep thinking that it’s too far away then we will never go there.”
“Well, they’re legitimate concerns. Don’t ya think?” Stephen leaned back in this chair.
“Of course, but it’s nothing to get too concerned about. Other people do it. So can we.”
Stephen knew Marie was right and he knew that his concerns were general and rationalized.
“I would still like to be able to get out to Seattle,” Marie said.
“For a ballgame?” Stephen asked, excited.
Marie chuckled and hesitated, “Yes… among other things. There’s pristine forests, many national parks, and kayaking in Puget Sound.”
Stephen set his empty beer bottle down on the patio pavement.
Henry wiggled in Marie’s arms until he was comfortable again.
“Shhhh, love,” Marie whispered to Henry.
“What do you think the cavemen would think about all this?”
“What?” Marie asked, perplexed by her husband’s question.
“Think about it. Prehistoric man never had to worry about money or bills.”
“Okay, Stephen, I know you hate filling out the bills every month. Would you like me to start doing it?” Marie applied a second thought, “Or at least have us rotate months?”
“It’s not just that, Marie. We, as a species, used to just hunt and eat. We made fires. We made shelters. I think that’s cool.”
“It is cool. But do you really think you can hunt for your own food?” Marie asked.
“Um, maybe,” Stephen pondered.
“Consistently? Year ’round? It’s not that easy. Do you understand how great it is that we can just go to a store and buy any type of food we want? And have it fresh?”
“Of course. I know how easy we have it now. We also live in a house, or shelter, that we didn’t personally have to build. I’m just concerned that we aren’t connected to the world. All things are made possible by chasing after more and more green paper,” Stephen stated.
Marie and Stephen shared a brief silence, still taking in the scenic beauty.
“Don’t hate me. I heard what you said. But our dollars are really made of cotton and linen,” Marie blurted quickly, her facts bubbling over.
Stephen sighed quietly to himself.
“I just had a terrible thought,” Marie said.
“Well, in the time of cavemen, or prehistoric man as you so elegantly put, there were plenty of things they didn’t have the luxury of having.”
Stephen stepped in, “Yeah, like grocery stores, automobiles, medicine, heating, cooling, indoor plumbing…”
“Beer! They didn’t have beer. You couldn’t make it as a caveman, hon. Sorry,” Marie chuckled.
Stephen comically gasped and pretended to choke.
“I guess we don’t have it that bad then. Thanks for talking sense into me,” Stephen joked.
“No problemo,” Marie cheerfully replied.
A gentle breeze began to grow and escalate. It was the cold wind that reminded the young couple that winter was still upon them. And then the wind died down.
From the distance a siren began to whistle.
“What time is it?” asked Marie.
Stephen checked his wrist watch, but he already knew it wasn’t noon.
“That’s not the lunch whistle. Could be a fire you think?” Stephen asked, perplexed.
Then, a second whistle howled from the distance.
“Wow, two now. That one is coming from out of town,” Marie spoke in a low tone. “They’re awfully loud.”
“I know. I’m going to check Facebook and see if I can find out what’s going on.”
A loud explosion rumbled in the distance. They felt the shudder under their feet. Both were momentarily frozen in shock.
“What the fuck was that?” Marie screeched. Henry woke up suddenly. His eyes were wide and his little mouth was pursed and silent, holding back tears.
Before Stephen could confirm his fears, two more explosions were heard in the distance. The sound reverberated and echoed around the mountains.
“It sounds like things are being blow up. What the hell,” stated Stephen.
“I’m really scared, honey,” Marie admitted. She stood up clutching Henry to her chest.
“Shhh, do you hear that?” Stephen asked sharply. Gunfire rang out from the distance. Sirens, explosions, and gunfire sounded at increasingly random intervals.
“Jesus Christ, those are gunshots!” Marie exclaimed.
Stephen jumped up out of his seat and quickly pulled out his phone.
“Oh my God, babe,” Stephen gasped.
“What!?” Marie shouted.
Stephen held up his cell phone so she could see.
“No signal. No wifi. Nothing,” Stephen said, coldly. “I can’t even call our fam…”
Another loud explosion rumbled from the neighboring town. It shook their ground even harder this time.
“Marie, please go inside and get James. We are getting out of here.”
“O-okay,” Marie stammered.
“Grab some clothes too! I’ll start the car,” Stephen yelled. The sounds of war in the distance were constant and becoming more and more maddening.
Stephen was lucky enough to have his keys on him. He ran down to their parking pad, unlocked the driver side door, and stuck the keys in the ignition. The engine turned over quickly.
He looked at the gas gauge -half full and worried that it wouldn’t be enough to get to Marie’s relatives in the country.
Stephen was torn from his frantic thoughts by the sudden sound of carnival music.
The song “Entry of the Gladiators” boomed from main street.
“What in the…?” Stephen muttered, perplexed by the loud music. He walked around his car to get a better view.
There he saw marching down the main street of his little American town was a full blown carnival. Three large white horses were lead by tall women wearing long jackets and big white top hats. Clowns were jumping and doing front handsprings as they marched. Some of them were juggling bowling pins. Strong shirtless men with long mustaches were blowing huge breathes of fire. There was a carousel on wheels being pulled by two small elephants. Blonde children rode on the carousel and were seemingly having the time of their lives as they laughed and smiled. A pipe organ on wheels was pulled by two very fat men in tight clothing -its music amplified by a wall of large black speakers.
I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This was just a carnival all along? What a freaking relief! Unreal. I gotta tell Marie. Maybe we can bring the kids down to ride the carousel.
What. “Wait, what?”
“For God’s sake, get in the fucking car,” Marie yelled from the back seat of the car where she sat with Henry and James.
Stephen looked down the road again, toward main street. This time he didn’t see a carnival. He saw black armored vehicles and foreign soldiers marching on his town. They were shouting some language that Stephen couldn’t understand. One of the tanks fired a blast of thunder and smoke, destroying a police car. The sound was incredibly loud and it changed everything for Stephen. He realized that everything was now different.
Suddenly Stephen thought back to paying bills. He yearned for it, actually. Everything was now uncertain. He had wanted the chance to do everything for his family without the constraints of a fiscal prison.
Well, now he had his opportunity.