A Lower Station (430-word fiction)

The stench assaults my senses. Burnt beef, acrid spices. The place is no doubt infested with rodents, which gives us yet another thing to worry about – will they come into our house too?

A gaudy red glow – courtesy of the restaurant’s neon sign – seeps through the flimsy curtains. There’s a streetlight too, which doesn’t seem to be working properly. Steady for a few seconds, two quick flashes, steady for another moment or so, then flashing again: some doom-laden code I don’t understand.

I haven’t switched on my lamp yet. Not after listening to Edgar’s stern lecture on the cost of electricity. We have to worry about that kind of thing from now on, he said. It’s unfortunate, but this is the way things are.

We had a nice house until yesterday. A beautiful home in the centre of town.

We might have been able to maintain it, too, if the company hadn’t foundered – if it hadn’t been for “the bloody markets,” Edgar said. If he had diversified his portfolio. If he had made the bold moves and implemented the most prudent strategy and made use of the right connections: all the things Frederick hadn’t allowed him to do, with his “fuddy duddy attitude”.

I barely remember everything he said that day – all I could do was sit, frozen to the spot, staring at the letters and legal warnings and spreadsheets laid out before me. Red ink. Blaring letters. Screaming out the words I’ve never wanted to hear.

Maybe I should have been more like the modern women who are so celebrated in all the papers these days. Maybe I should have tried to craft some kind of a career after school. Though what would have been available to me in those days?

I could have taken more of an interest in the financial world, at least. I could have studied, I could have done more reading and acquainted myself with the terminology and rules and regulations that Edgar seems to grasp without effort. I could have paid more attention to what was going on with our accounts, rather than leaving it all to him.

Then I could have prevented it, somehow.

I could have asked him why I was suddenly being refused service in our local restaurants, why sneering looks were being directed at me by the other Greenhill wives, why they seemed to know something about our finances that I did not.

I could have asked him to pay the bills.

I could have halted things before they went too far.

Could I?

This is a response to a freewrite prompt. To me, it brought to mind a story set maybe a few decades ago (the late 70s/early 80s is the timeframe I’m currently envisaging), chronicling a woman who expected to lead a luxurious life and has now fallen on hard times, as her husband’s company has foundered.

Image: Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr via Creative Commons

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