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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes - Story about managing a salary

PAYING THE BILLS
Martin Green

Arnold Gray was spending lunch time in his office, eating a tasteless sandwich at his desk while trying to finish up some overdue reports. There was a soft knock and Steve Fairchild, one of Arnold's junior analysts, poked his head through the door. "Have you got a minute?" he asked. "I'd like you to meet someone."
"Sure," said Arnold. "Come in."
Fairchild came through the door holding hands with a stunning redhead, attractive enough to be a starlet, causing Arnold to put down his sandwich and quickly pull out a handkerchief to wipe the crumbs off his lips.

Norman Rockwell -
Paying the Bills

"I wanted you to meet Cynthia, Cynthia Morgan" said Fairchild. "This is my boss, Mr. Gray."
Arnold stood up awkwardly, banging his knee against his desk in the process. Cynthia gave him a wide smile and held out her hand for him to shake, a gesture of the 90's woman. "Nice to meet you," she said.
"Nice meeting you." She had a firm handshake, noted Arnold, sitting down again.
"Cynthia came over for lunch," said Fairchild. "It's payday so I'm taking her out. Do you want to join us?"

Fairchild was in his early twenties (about half Arnold's age), tall, dark-haired and athletic-looking. He'd gone to work for the State right after graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Government Administration and had been in Arnold's section for almost a year. He had an easy, confident manner and, judging from what Arnold had overheard of his talk, had about as active a social life as possible in Sacramento. "Thanks," said Arnold. "But this is my lunch." He pointed to his half-eaten sandwich. "I have to stay here and finish up some stuff." "That's too bad," said Cynthia, with another wide smile. "Steve has told me a lot about you. Maybe we can do it some other time."
"Yes, maybe," said Arnold. Besides her red hair, Cynthia had greenish eyes and fair skin. She wore a short skirt, green of course, which displayed a lot of her shapely legs and although her white blouse was buttoned to the neck it did nothing to hide her breasts. Now that he had some time to take her in, Arnold saw that she was very young, no more than 20 or 21. And she wasn't absolutely perfect. There were some blemishes on her face, covered by make-up. "Where do you work?" he asked her. "In Social Services," she replied. "I'm an Office Technician."
An Office Technician was the State's title for a secretary. "How long have you been there?"
"For two years. Ever since I got out of junior college."
"We'd better get going," Fairchild broke in. He turned to Arnold. "Do you think I could see you for a few minutes sometime this afternoon?"
"I have a staff meeting after lunch," said Arnold. "That's why I have to finish up these reports. Let's see. It can't go more than two hours, I hope. How about three, in the cafeteria. I'll be ready for a cup of coffee by then."
"All right. I'll see you at three."

Almost as soon as they'd left, Arnold's phone rang. It was the call from the car repair shop that he'd been waiting for. The bad news was that his car needed a new transmission. Arnold asked how much. The figure made him gasp. "Look, I'll see if I can put in a rebuilt one, okay," said his mechanic. "Okay," sighed Arnold. "If it has to be done, go ahead and do it." A few minutes later, Arnold's wife Ellen called. She was a teacher and usually tried to call him during her lunch break. He told her about the transmission. "I'm afraid I've got more bad news," she said. "Not your car, too?"
"No, that's okay. So far. I think there may be a problem with the dishwasher. It sounded funny this morning."
"Great," said Arnold. "I'll take a look at it tonight. How are the kids?" "Harold wants to use the car, one of them, tonight. Carol needs a new dress for a party this weekend. The usual."
"Right. Well, I'll see you tonight."
"Okay. Don't forget about the big soccer game this weekend."
"How could I do that?"

At three o'clock, Arnold, as he'd promised, was having coffee with Fairchild in the building cafeteria. "How was your lunch?" he asked. "Great," replied Fairchild. "We went to that Italian place. They give you enough spaghetti to feed an army." Despite this, Arnold noted, Fairchild was having a large slice of pie with his coffee. It must be nice not to have to worry about your diet. "How was the staff meeting?" Fairchild asked.
"The usual. More projects and they all have to be done right now. Well, what did you want to see me about?" "What did you think of Cynthia?"
"She seemed very nice. A very pretty girl."
"We're thinking of getting married. I wanted to ask you about my chances of getting a promotion. Once we're married, I'm going to need more money. Cynthia wants us to buy a house. Then if she has a baby and can't work, well, you know how that is."
"Yes, I know." So Fairchild was going to get married. Well, it happened to most people, sooner or later. Fairchild was a good worker, although not the most industrious. The times an urgent project came up, they weren't many in State government but they happened, Arnold couldn't remember him volunteering to work overtime. If he had someone like Cynthia waiting for him, who could blame him? But Fairchild had something which Arnold had discovered to be more important than ability. He had personality and the knack of pleasing his superiors. Already the department managers were aware of him. In fact, at the staff meeting Arnold's boss had asked how Fairchild was doing. Arnold couldn't help thinking that he could have used some of Fairchild's personality. He'd risen through the State ranks slowly and painfully, his only strength an ability to analyze numbers and spot trends. Fairchild also had the confidence of youth, or maybe it was of his generation, which believed it was entitled to everything. Arnold could imagine what his old boss would have said to him had he asked for a promotion because he was getting married. "If you don't think you can afford to on what you're making now, maybe you'd better put it off for a while." But Fairchild was looking at him eagerly, waiting for some kind of response.. "You'll be getting your merit raise after one year," Arnold reminded him. "I know, but that's not going to be enough."
"Well, you know how tight the budget has been. We were lucky that our section didn't lose any positions last year."
"But you said we were getting more projects. Doesn't that mean we need more staff?"
"That would seem logical. But that's not the way the department sees it."
"Then what about upgrading my position? Is there a chance of doing that?"
"I don't know. Frankly, the present climate isn't too good. But I'll tell you what. Why don't you write me an updated job description for yourself and throw in any additional duties you think you might be able to do. That'll give me something to work with when we present our next budget to the people upstairs."
"Okay," said Fairchild enthusiastically. "I'll have it on your desk first thing tomorrow." He rewarded Arnold with a smile. "And thanks. I appreciate it."

Arnold was sitting in his living room chair, going through his usual payday ritual, writing checks to pay the monthly bills. His wife Ellen was sitting in her chair, correcting some class papers. It was a little after nine o'clock. Their teenage son Harold had taken Arnold's car, its transmission repaired, after dinner and was still out, studying with a group of his friends, he'd said. Their daughter was doing her homework in her room. No matter how many times Arnold had written the monthly checks, he was always amazed at how the process came out. First, he entered the amount of his and Ellen's paychecks in the deposit column and they were temporarily rich. Then he started writing the checks, first for the house payment, then for the gas and electricity and the phone and their bank account would go down step by step. Then would come the credit card and the department store payments and the account would be back where it started, at a few hundred dollars, many times even less. "Is this Macy's bill right? Over two hundred dollars."
"Yes. I had to get new drapes for the kids' bedrooms. Don't you remember?"
"Yeah, now I do." The television set was on, some drama about a couple trying desparately to have children. On television, Arnold thought, children were as rare as plutonium and just as coveted. He wondered how many parents in the real world viewed their children as such unmixed blessings. In his mind's eye, he suddenly had a glimpse of Steve Fairchild, his wife Cynthia beside him, writing his monthly checks as three or four red-headed little children raced noisily around their home. Would even handsome, personable Steve be having second thoughts around that time?

It was funny, when Arnold had received his last promotion, making him section head, he'd thought the additional money would solve all of their financial problems. But there seemed to be a rule that as your paycheck increased so did your bills. Maybe he should try to upgrade his own position when he submitted his section's budget, then he could upgrade everyone below him and Steve could get his promotion and everyone would be happy. The only catch was that it was as likely that the department would go for that as the Governor would give everyone a Christmas bonus. And in any case, the extra money would soon be eaten up by extra bills. "Don't forget to call about the dishwasher," said Ellen. "I was just thinking about that," said Arnold. "Another bill."
"You look tired. Why don't you finish that up tomorrow and go to bed."
"Just a few more checks to write and I'll be done." He looked at his wife. She looked tired, too. For the first time he noticed that her hair had become more gray than brown. How long would Cynthia's hair stay that glorious red? How long would Steve stay young and confident, sure that everything was his for the asking? Well, he'd try to get Steve that promotion even though he knew that, like most rewards in life, it wasn't the magical answer but something that would eventually have to be paid for.

© Martin Green December 2004
mart_88 at hotmail.com

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