y Oscar Deadwood
forum: Affluenza
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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           Milo was relieved that his wife mentioned it first, taking a job that was less than savory but necessary because of the cost of things these days. Especially fuel. Fuel for the car, fuel to heat their 2,800 square foot home during the long Midwestern winter. Gas for the house cost as much in one month as it used to cost for the whole four months of winter, and a full tank gas for Milo’s Lincoln cost more than he had been earning in a day. 
            Not to mention the price of everything else going up as well.

            The sad thing was that his wife was working already, and had been working for years as an office manager in a dentist’s office. She basically ran the place, she’d tell Milo when she collapsed on the couch as she came home from work. If it wasn’t for her the place would shut down, she would say, almost daily, to Milo’s indifferent ears. And Milo was weary himself, working all day as an insurance salesman, but these days no one was buying anything extra, just bare bones insurance, nothing frivolous. The days of selling fat and outrageous life insurance policies, the kind that helped put a pool in the backyard of their colonial house that sat neatly in a cul-de-sac were gone. Everyday was a grind and the company demanded more, and he couldn’t hustle the way he used to. That certain zealous energy was gone, he couldn’t guilt anybody into buying anything anymore. The people were just flat broke, it seemed, these days, because of the cost of things.
            Milo and his wife had been feeling it, that certain pinch of one’s lifestyle that comes when one’s lifestyle costs more than one earns.

            “We could cut back on some things, you know,” Milo said to his wife on the night their last credit card had been charged to the limit. They were sitting in their recently remodeled kitchen. One wall had been taken down halfway, creating a sort of bar-like counter that opened the kitchen into the family room. The old appliances that came with the house when it was built in the eighties were ripped out and replaced with shimmering stainless steel ones- the best of the 2010’s - and the old Formica counter tops were replaced with a polished and dark marble. It was beautiful. His wife had picked the kitchen out of one of those magazines about style that she read with a regular devotion. The kitchen cost a fortune, but the construction company offered financing, and they were paying monthly.

            “Food, perhaps, we could spend less on groceries,” Milo’s wife said rather meanly as she patted him on the stomach. His stomach had grown in the last few years. The age of forty was not good to Milo. He had managed to keep nearly all of his hair up until the age of thirty-nine. But forty came with a vengeance and hair gathered in the bathtub drain every morning as he took his shower, his knees would creak and pop with every step and stoop, and his once semi-athletic build morphed into something less than appealing. He couldn’t stand to see himself naked anymore. His pectorals started to sag and his waist became encircled with fat, causing him to be wider in the middle than he was at the shoulders. He felt like a flabby bowling pin.

            Milo sighed, jealous of his wife. Despite having two children, a girl and a boy now in elementary school, his wife maintained a rather firm and attractive figure. Nothing sagged, her stomach was flat, and she seemed to ripen nicely with age. The age of forty cast a sort of knowing sultriness across her face, as if she could take care of herself in this cruel world. Milo found it devastatingly attractive; his wife seemed sexier now than she did twenty years ago when they first got married. She had her nails manicured and painted weekly at a salon, she went to a tanning bed thrice weekly and her fingers and wrists were jeweled with twenty years of Christmas and birthday and anniversary gifts from Milo. But alas, forty was not good for Milo’s libido, and his mental desire was not matched with any physical desire; he couldn’t do the things sexually that he could when he was younger. The children posed another financial problem too. The college fund set up by the grandparents had already been raided just a few years prior, back when they had a hot tub built into the deck. 

            “What about the satellite dish?” Milo offered.

            His wife frowned. “Yeah, I guess we could get rid of it, but that would leave us with nothing to watch…”

            “Well, what if we just got the basic package?” Milo countered.

            “That would give us nothing but commercials, and I would miss my shows and you would miss your ball games.” 

            A look of horror dashed across Milo’s pale and pinched face. He loved sports. It was the one thing he could talk to his customer’s about as he was poorly versed in just about every other subject.

            “No,,, no,,, we can’t give that up, now can we, what if we moved, you know, sold our house,,,”

            “And move where?” his wife asked, somewhat angrily, standing in front of the refrigerator. She was still in her dental office gear, pale blue scrubs, her hands on her hips, her surgically enhanced breasts straining and heaving against the shirt, leaving nothing to anyone’s imagination.

            “I don’t know, closer to the city, maybe.”

            “The schools are crap there and it isn’t nearly as safe as it is out here,,, besides, all my friends are here.”

            When Milo and his wife moved to their subdivision, it had been on the periphery of their metropolitan area, but sprawl had overtaken it, leaving the once placid and empty country roads congested for hours a day, and the roadside produce stands and antique markets had been forced to make way for gourmet coffee shops and high-end shopping centers. And those too, were now starting to go away.

            Selling the house really wasn’t an option anyway. They had refinanced too many times, owing more on the mortgage than the house was really worth.

            “Maybe we could downgrade your minivan, you know, trade it in for an older model…”

            “You want me to drive the kids around in an unreliable vehicle? You can be such a selfish bastard Milo. Why don’t you give up your Lincoln, Mr. Big Shooter?”

            “Clients can’t see me driving around in something unprofessional, I have to maintain an image, a professional image. If a client saw me driving something old and used, then, well, they’d have no confidence in me, things are hard enough as it is. Maybe we don’t have to have a van that is loaded. I mean, do you really need leather seats?”

            His wife held up a ringed hand in protest. “The kids are spilling crap in the seats all the time. You try to scrub a cloth seat and let me know how easy it is. Leather is much cleaner, and much more comfortable.”

            They remained silent and avoided eye contact for more than a quiet moment. They both knew they were utterly unable to give anything up. Neither of them wanted to change a thing.

            “Well then, I’ll get a job, at nights, that’s what I’ll do,” Milo said, picking up the evening’s newspaper from the kitchen table.

            “What can you do?” his wife asked, somewhat mockingly.

            “I don’t know, let me see what’s out there.” He retrieved the classified section from the folds of the newspaper. Back in the previous decade, there were several pages of want ads, but in the decade of the teens there was barely half a page, mostly for professional types - doctors and social workers and collection agents.

            “I could probably deliver pizza or something…”

            “In a Lincoln?” his wife asked with a sneer. “Besides, all the mom and pop pizza places are closing, haven’t you noticed? Only the chains are surviving, and I don’t think they will want an oldster like you sporting their uniform,,, I’m sure they’re fully staffed anyway.”

            His wife remained standing in front of the refrigerator; her arms folded across her chest, her gaze aimed at the ceramic tile floor of the kitchen. Milo sat at the table morosely, his chin resting in his left hand, he could feel the sweat of his palms creeping in the pores of his face. He tapped the fingers of his right hand on the tabletop in an irregular rhythm, a rhythm that matched the discord of his mind.

            “I could get a job, easier than you,” his wife said, the sharpness of her voice cutting through the silence.

            “Doing what?”

            “I’ll find something.

            Another week passed, and his wife couldn’t find a job either. Not even as a babysitter. 

             Milo knew there was one thing his wife could do, one thing that would guarantee them a large sum of extra money, but he couldn’t ask her to do it, not that. 
            But he wished she would. 

            He had to forego both car payments the last month in order to make the mortgage, and the days of polite notices from the banks were long gone. Phone calls were made the day payment was due. Curt phone calls that were to the point. Pay or lose, pay or go to court, pay or go to jail.

            Milo had heard some of the guys at work talking about women, and that’s when he first got the idea for his wife. He wasn’t sure he loved her, really, if he could handle her taking on a job such as that. But what the hell, he wasn’t going anywhere, and she showed no signs of leaving him. 

            But it really wasn’t a job, so to speak.

            The shopping malls that just a decade earlier had been full of stores and shoppers had turned into hollow and desolate places, the only stores that had managed to survive were the mall anchors; larger, discount chains that extended credit cards of their own with large limits.

            The rest of most shopping malls contained just the shells of stores, their entrances barred from public entrance. The food courts and movie theaters had all become a part of the past.

            But people still went to the malls, and they had turned into a sort of adult marketplace; ignored by the police whose hands were full searching for terrorists and thieves who were running amok on land and in cyberspace. 

            The mall near Milo’s house was no different. It had once been an upscale mall with glass elevators, potted palm trees and concourses roofed with skylights that allowed the sun to splash on the white and polished floor.

            Not anymore. A few of the high-end shops remained for the wealthy retirees who could afford it, aging baby-boomers who could afford the finer things in life and still had the cash to do so. But the rest of the mall was chaos. The concourses were littered, the skylights were quite dirty with a decade’s worth of dust and rain, so the sunlight was filtered somewhat, casting a haze on the dirty floor.

            It was a marketplace; average women had taken to the malls, engaging in the oldest profession.


            And their customers were the men and women who had the cash to buy what they wanted, mainly retirees who popped pills to prop up their libidos. 

            “I could do that,” Milo’s wife said, again in the kitchen, in regards to the mall. Milo was seated wearily at the head of the table. The kitchen table was covered with bills and warning letters ignored and unopened. Their debt, at Milo’s last calculation, was approaching a quarter of a million dollars. Years ago, they could have claimed bankruptcy, but the laws had been changed. If one got too deep in debt, then one was considered immoral, and if one was so immoral then one must be removed from society. And removal from society meant jail, until the debt was paid, but how could one earn money while sitting in jail?

            Milo shuddered, but it was for effect. Women in the mall were doing quite well, especially those who would work in fantasy, dressing and acting the way their clients wanted them to. He needed his wife to earn more money.

            “Besides,” she said, rising up from the table, “I don’t mind sex…” Her words tore right to Milo’s heart. He had ignored her in bed. Even though he found her attractive, the stress of the world had left his libido a ruin. 

            And she started to go to work, nights and weekends, and the children asked where she was. Milo always said simply, “she’s working”.  

            And she seemed happy, even though she refused to talk about her work. She had to invest some money of her own in wardrobe, and Milo caught occasional glimpses of the clothes that she kept in the back of the minivan. He saw a nun’s habit, a nurses uniform, something black and shiny adorned with chains and a large collection of shoes and stockings that Milo could barely stomach as he pictured his wife strutting around the mall.

            But it seemed to be worth it. Six months passed and their financial burden was beginning to ease. She earned some nights what both of them earned in a week, but it came with a cost.

            She had taken to popping diet pills, pills to keep her awake for the long hours she kept. This caused her to lose weight, even though she didn’t need to lose any. Bags formed under her eyes and her face had become narrower and her age more apparent as crow’s feet branched out from the corner of her eyes and creases formed in her cheeks and at the corners of her mouth. She aged what seemed like a decade in a very short period of time. And to hide the flaws in her face, she had taken to wearing a lot of make-up, piling it on thick and white. She looked like a mannequin and quite unlike her own self underneath the lights of their bedroom, but the dim light of the nocturnal mall hid the waxy glow of her makeup. Her hair too, once thick and long and shiny, had become thinner and dull. She had treated it too much. So she had bought wigs, and these she kept on busts on the top shelf of her closet.

            Needless to say, when she went to work after the children were asleep, Milo couldn’t recognize her. The woman who drove to the mall in a minivan bore no resemblance to the woman he married.

            But the work came to an end, after about a year. His wife flew into the bedroom at about midnight on a Tuesday night. She was crying vigorously, her now narrow and bony shoulders were trembling. His wife had never displayed any emotion before in regards to her evening work. She would come home silently around three in the morning, and wake up at seven with her face scrubbed to get ready for the dentist’s office and to take the children to school. She would climb into bed without saying a word to Milo, trying not to wake him, even though the smell of cigar smoke and alcohol and perfume always disturbed his sleep. 

            Milo sat up in bed and clicked on the lamp on the nightstand. The sight of his wife shocked and revolted him. She had on a long blonde wig and she was wearing a policewoman’s costume, except policewomen don’t wear fishnet stockings and short-short skirts. She even had a belt with handcuffs and a holster that held a dildo rather than a gun. 

            But the tears that poured out from behind her mirrored sunglasses softened him, just a little.

            “What’s wrong?” he asked, with sincere tenderness.

            And then she told him about it.

            A man, a man she knew, approached her, and asked her for sex. He didn’t recognize her of course, even though she had known him all of her life.

            “Had he been to the mall before?” Milo interrupted.
            She shook her head and said, “No, not that I know of.”

            She continued, lighting a cigarette and leaning back against the vanity in the corner of the room. The man wanted to rent her for the evening, but she told him no, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept on offering more and more money, and she kept on refusing, even though the amount grew to something astronomical.

            “He offered me twenty-thousand, cash, up front, for just two hours. I had to take it, didn’t I?” his wife asked, looking to Milo for support.

            Milo nodded, “I guess so, but who was the man?”

            She didn’t answer Milo right away.
            The man took her to his sports car, and he opened the trunk. He had a safe installed where the spare tire should be, and handed her stacks and stacks of bills. “Mad money,” he told Milo’s wife, “money my wife doesn’t know about it.”

            “Was this guy rich?” Milo asked.

            “Just another retired baby-boomer, who cashed out before the big crash.”

            She went with the man, to the motel near the mall that she often used, and gave Milo the lewd details, even though they caused him to wince.

            “And he wants to see me again, soon,” she added, “but I can’t.”

            “For that kind of money, why not?” Milo asked.

            She removed her sunglasses. Mascara and eye shadow had been mixed with tears and she looked somewhat like a clown. 

            “Because it was Dad,” she said softly, and she went into the bathroom and vomited.

            When Milo realized who it was, the father of his wife, the grandfather of his children who would occasionally loan his wife money, he too, rose from the bed, and joined his wife in the bathroom.
            He wondered just how long it would be, exactly, before he wound up in jail. 


copyright 2005 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood is a writer living in Royal Oak, MI with his wife and two small boys.  He has worked as a sailor, a journalist, a miner, a mechanic, and a salesman.  He was first published twelve years ago in a small literary magazine called Renovated Lighthouse and took a decade off of writing as he was busy trying to be the next Hemingway.  He was recently published in the December 2004 edition of Dark Moon Rising.