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  • Zenia Platten

Private Poverty

Hailey Parker wrapped her fingers tightly around her coffee cup. The days were shortening and the warmth was delicious. It was nearing three o’clock and the end of her weekly coffee date with her daughter.


“So, if you’re still looking for Christmas ideas for Doug and me, we were thinking we would love a hot tub.” Jenny Parker said, taking Dorothy’s hand. Her bright red manicure seemed fever bright next to her mother’s plain, clean nails. “They’re not as expensive as they used to be. You can get little electric ones for only seven hundred.”


“Seven hundred? Really, that is impressive.” Dorothy lifted her cup to her lips but didn’t drink. The barista glided past their table, leaving the bill in his wake. Jenny didn’t so much as glance at it. “Well, you know, since your father left that is quite a bit more money than it used to be.” She didn’t look at Jenny. All she could see were the red nails, green the week before, and purple before that.


Jenny squeezed her hand. “I know mother, but think of all the fun we could have - girl’s nights and cocktail parties. Besides, you bought John a vacation last year, and that must have cost more.”


“Yes,” Dorothy agreed, gently taking her hand back. “but your father was still here last year.” Dorothy fought to keep any signs of fury from her voice. Her eyes stung. She glanced at her watch: 2:55. “I promise to think about it.” She stood gathering her coat. “It’s three, so I won’t keep you, I know you’re meeting Doug after his shift. Dorothy flashed her watch at Jenny, too fast to read, and her daughter nodded.


“Already? Okay. Do you want a ride? I hate to think of you alone on the bus. I still don’t understand why you got rid of the beamer.” Jenny’s eyes lit up. “And I could finally see your new place! It’s been two months already.”


“Yes, time flies doesn’t it?” Dorothy agreed. “But I think the bus will have to do today, I have some errands to run and I’ll only make you late.”


Dorothy had to parry her daughter’s offers and questions twice more before they finally hugged goodbye. Jenny left for the parking lot without so much as acknowledging the coffee bill. Dorothy scooped coins from the bottom of her purse counting out the exact amount for the bill, and her usual ten percent tip.


She offered the barista a brittle, whitened smile on her way out, bee lining straight for the bus stop. While she waited she wondered what her daughter would say if she saw her mother’s new rental suite, Christmas lights up, but not on.


When she could finally close herself into the little apartment she was relieved to be alone. The job she found doing reception for a small accounting firm allowed her to pay the rent, but keeping lunch dates with friends and family was more than her shriveled budget could handle. Still, she told herself, it’s only a dry spell. Relief would come. It always did. Only now, her kids were distant or wrapped up in their own lives, and Phil, well, he was wrapped up in blondes.


She charged her phone at work most days, and she turned on the smartphones little flashlight to find the bathroom. When she was finished, she opened the ‘hot’ tap wistfully, washing as quickly as she could in the frigid water.


In the living room she passed her computer, screen still as blank as it had been every day since the first of the month. Dorothy slid onto the sofa, wrapping herself in blankets against the Toronto chill. She would spend the evening on her phone, crushing candies and posting pictures of better days. #ThrowbackThursday.


She wondered if anyone suspected that she was a fraud. If on some level they knew that the settlement with Phil had left her in the dust, despite how hard she worked to keep up appearances. Still, it didn’t matter, this would only be temporary.


Dorothy ran a thumb over the orange plastic bottle, still full of Phil’s old heart medicine. She’d be exposed at Christmas, unable to host the dinner, and arriving without gifts. She’d be forced to confess, and her family would be forced to accept. Or not. At Christmas, one way or another, relief would come, and for once, she wouldn’t be expected to pick up the bill.

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©2019 by Zenia Platten.