By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Excuses—Write about a character who speaks often of what she would do if only she didn’t have to… Perhaps she would devote herself to her art if she wasn’t the family’s sole wage-earner, or he would go and see the world if he didn’t have to look after a sick relative, or she would live a simple life dedicated to service if it wouldn’t upset her parents so much. Write about what happens when the stated obstacle is removed.
Barbara stood on the second step of the short wooden staircase that went from the floor of the garage to the kitchen door and breathed hard. Normally she’d make it to the fourth step before she started huffing and puffing, but today she had three grocery bags with her. The bags made moving that much heavier.
Her legs started to feel shaky. She managed to fish for her cell phone and pulled it out of her purse. After taking four more breaths, Barbara jabbed the speed dial number for her son.
“Caleb, honey, are you upstairs?”
Her son yawned. “Yeah, Mom, why?”
“I’m down in the garage. Can you come here and help me with the groceries?”
“Aw, come on, Mom, I’m beat. Parker and I spent all day doing stuff.”
Barbara sighed. “All right. Is Becky home?”
“I don’t know. I gotta go, Mom, Parker’s calling.”
Before Barbara could answer her son hung up.
What I wouldn’t give to have enough money for one of those fancy-pants grocery delivery services like in the city, she thought as she pressed the speed dial number for her daughter.
“Hi, Mom, how was your day?” Becky asked.
“Good, honey. Listen, can you come down to the garage and help me with the groceries?”
Barbara dropped the phone in her purse and waited, her wheezing eased by the minutest degree. By the time Becky made it downstairs, Barbara’s body had cooled a little from all the effort of going upstairs.
“Thanks, honey,” she said to her daughter. As Becky turned back to the kitchen door, Barbara noticed her daughter’s tummy pooching a little.
“You know, sweetheart, it wouldn’t kill you to give up the burgers for a couple of weeks,” she said as she clutched the wooden frame banister. She made it up two more stairs before she had to stop again, but this time she didn’t have to wait quite as long for her breath to come back.
“Right,” Becky said as she set the bags on the kitchen counter. “By the way I picked up your tickets.”
“Oh, good,” Barbara said, coming into the kitchen and dropping her girth into a chair at the breakfast table. She waited for a moment as the chair teetered. “Did you put the bad chair on this side?”
“Uh unh,” Becky said. “That one got loose today too. I tried to fix it, but I don’t think I got it.”
“Get me a soda, honey, will you?”
Becky reached into the fridge and pulled out a diet soda. She handed it to her mother and sat across from her.
“And make sure you move one of the good chairs to this side,” Barbara added, pulling the tab on the can. It popped with a satisfying hiss, and she took a long draw from it.
“Hey, Mom, did you get paid today?”
Barbara stopped moving, the can halfway to her mouth. “Yeah, I got some cash. Why?”
“I wanted to buy some new earrings for the dance in two weeks, and I don’t get paid until after the dance.”
Barbara sighed. “Honey, how many times have I told you that you need to budget for these things?”
“Please, Mom?” Becky said, her mouth turning down at the corners. “You know they cut my hours at the store.”
You mean they’re giving your hours to people who actually show up on time, Barbara thought.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Well, the girls were kind of coming over in a little while so we could go shopping…”
“Becky, you know I don’t like being pushed into giving you kids money!” Barbara exclaimed. Her daughter winced.
She drained the can and set it down. After a moment she pushed herself to her feet, grabbing both the back of the chair and the table. The chair wobbled again, and Barbara let go of it and leaned on the table. The table wobbled too.
“I got the mail for you,” Becky said in a small voice. “I think there’s some bills in there.”
Barbara rolled her eyes. “Gold diggers. You’d think I was made of money. I tell you, if your dad had stuck around I wouldn’t have to do everything around here. Raina said with summer coming the shop’s going to be busy because of wedding season, and there’s only so much I can do at work.”
“So why don’t you quit the DMV and just work with Raina full time?” Becky said, running through the lines of a well-worn argument. “It’s gotta be more interesting doing flowers than renewing driver’s licenses all day.”
“Because the DMV gives me benefits, honey, you know that,” Barbara said with a huge sigh, “and Raina’s paying me under the table.”
She waddled to the counter and leafed through the envelopes. For a moment she thought about opening the ones with the corporate return addresses. With a huff she opened the trash can and dropped the bills.
“I’m not sending them any money until I have enough,” she said.
“Hey, Mom, it’s time for Powerball,” Becky said. She trotted to the TV and turned it on.
Barbara shuffled from the kitchen to the living room and tried to ignore the long crack in the plastic of the outdated screen. At least it didn’t inhibit them from watching most of their shows. She didn’t know how she’d get through the week without the bridal reality television shows she watched to get ideas for floral arrangements.
She lowered herself onto the sofa, ignoring the whoosh of the stuffing as it protested her weight.
“Maybe today’ll be my lucky day,” she murmured.
The over enthusiastic announcers rolled the ping pong balls in the large cage and began pulling balls out one at a time. Barbara thought the whole thing looked a little silly and outdated, but she still watched every week.
As they called out numbers Barbara eyed the tickets Becky had picked up. Suddenly her heart started hammering.
“And that’s it, folks,” the female announcer said. “Those are your numbers for the five million dollar jackpot: 66, 7, 89, 45, and 3!”
Barbara’s heart did a flop. If it hadn’t been so much of an effort, she would have jumped to her feet. “Holy mother—Becky, we won!”
Becky turned to her, eyes wide. “What? What did you say?”
“We won!” Barbara yelled. “We won five million dollars! We won!”
“Oh my god!” Becky screamed. “We won! We’re rich! Oh my god, who do we call first?”
Barbara’s mind raced. The exterminator had suggested strongly last week that they tent the house. If they didn’t do it soon, they would run into serious trouble within the next few months.
Caleb’s car still had 37 payments on it. Ever since the traffic incident, the law had put him on probation. He couldn’t look for a job for six months, and yet he still managed to run his tank dry every week.
Becky did make a little effort, but Barbara had had to call the orthodontist’s office the previous day and beg for more time to pay off the braces. Becky would have to come back to the doctor to get the braces taken off, she reasoned with them. They knew Barbara was good for the money.
“Let’s look into one of those fancy cruises,” Barbara finally said. “I really need a vacation. Something for at least a month.”
Becky’s head bobbed in excitement and she ran to get the iPad, hollering for her brother to get his butt downstairs.