Minimum Payment

Reads: 94  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 2

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Phil is struggling to make ends meet. When his friend suggests a new type of credit card Phil hopes that will put an end to his troubles. But the trouble was only just starting.

Submitted: April 20, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 20, 2017

A A A

A A A


Lloyd Barclay downed the last of his pint. He turned to his friend with a drunken smile.

‘A few of us are going for a curry if you fancy it.’

‘I can’t really afford it, mate. The car is in the garage next week. You know what mechanics are like. Could end up costing a few quid.’

Phil West shrugged. Lloyd waved a hand.

‘Come for a curry, Phil. My treat.’

‘You don’t have to do that.’

‘Mate, I insist. I’ll chuck it on my credit card.’

‘Lloyd-’

‘Let’s go, Phil. I’m starving.’

Lloyd rubbed his hands together as the group headed for the doors.

The meal was out of this world. Starters of Mulligatawny soup, samosa, pakoras. Main dishes of Rogan Josh, Bhuna, Madras, served with rice, chips, Bombay potatoes, and all kinds of naan bread. All this was washed down with several rounds of Cobra lager.

When the waiter brought the bill the group of six reached for their wallets. Phil did the same despite having no way of paying his share. Lloyd waved a small green credit card.

‘I’m getting mine and Phil’s. I said I’d treat him for his birthday.’

‘My birthday is in September.’ Phil whispered.

‘Shush.’ growled Lloyd.

They walked along the street. Phil heading for the bus stop, Lloyd to the taxi rank. Phil thanked his friend for the meal.

‘No worries at all, mate. You’d do the same if I was a bit skint.’

Phil nodded in agreement. Why was it always him that was stuck for a few quid? He couldn’t understand how everyone else afforded the lives they lead. He and his wife of three years, Natalie, were just about getting by. Each month they juggled the wages, the bills and tried to have something of a life too.

Recently his friend Lloyd seemed to be doing very well for himself. The shirts he wore these days were all designer. Phil’s best shirts came from the local supermarket. What was Lloyd’s secret? What was Phil doing wrong?

The following week Phil met a few of his friends in the pub. Manchester United were playing a Russian team whose name nobody could pronounce. He sipped his pint slowly as he watched the game. The group shouted and cheered at the screen. They gave each other stick and poked fun. Lloyd was wearing the latest United shirt with pride. His name was printed on the back. Phil’s shirt had the name of a long retired player and was faded to almost pink by years of washing.

Lloyd swigged the last three quarters of his pint. He pointed at Phil’s glass.

‘Another pint?’

‘I’m okay, thanks.’

‘My treat.’

A few minutes later he returned with fresh pints. Phil spotted the bandage on his friend’s hand. As he took a swig of beer he asked.

‘What have you done?’

Lloyd raised his hand.

‘I burnt it cooking dinner the other night. Nothing serious but is hurts like a bastard.’

With a shrug he turned his attention back to the game on screen. A tackle had been made that was either a straight red card or had hardly touched the player, depending on which team you supported.

When Phil arrived home he found his wife in the living room. In the lamp light she was huddled over a handful of paper. Phil sighed. He knew what was coming. She looked up from the bills with tears in here eyes.

‘Alright, love?’ he mumbled.

She shook her head and gestured with the papers.

‘I can’t do it. I just can’t stretch our funds out far enough. I give up.’

‘Come on, Nat. We’ll sort it.’

‘How?’

‘We’ve always managed before.’

‘Something has to give.’

‘It’s late. We’ll talk about this in the morning.’ he said.

‘We never do.’

‘Natalie-’

She pushed past him and trudged up the stairs to bed. When Phil climbed into bed half an hour later she had her back to him and was pretending to be asleep.

The next morning Natalie busied herself with the household chores that they normally split between them. Phil went into the kitchen and attempted to take the bundle of washing from her arms.

‘Leave it.’ she snapped. ‘It’s fine.’

‘I don’t want to fall out.’

‘Really? I can’t cope with living like this.’

‘Come on, love. That’s just life. You have to get by and just get on with it.’

‘That’s your help, your comforting words? Get on with it?’

Phil shrugged. He had no idea what to say. Was she right? Was he in the wrong? Maybe they both had a point.

On Thursday evening as they were watching a predictable thriller on ITV Phil’s mobile phone rang. Lloyd’s face and name flashed up on screen.

‘Hey up, Phil. How’s it going?’

‘Hi Lloyd.’

‘Quick one for you, fancy going to the rugby tomorrow night?’

‘Can’t make it. Sorry mate.’

‘How about if I pay?’

Phil said nothing.

‘Tell you what, I’ll get the tickets and you get the half time pies.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Make mine a meat and potato.’

‘Deal.’ Phil laughed.

On the night of the rugby as they watched the game Lloyd grumbled about his life. Work was hectic and the way his boss was treating him was nothing short of bullying. His computer had crashed without saving weeks of work. His boss was threatening to sack him.

‘Anyway,’ Lloyd said ‘how’s everything with you?’

‘Aye, not bad. Just a bit skint at the minute.’

Lloyd just nodded, eyes on the pitch. Phil had a good night despite his friend being so wrapped up in himself. He meant nothing by it. That was just how he was. And Salford got beat but that was nothing new either.

A few weeks later Phil met Lloyd for a pint after work. Lloyd had a black eye and a bruise on his cheek.

‘Blimey, Lloyd. What happened?’

‘I went shopping in town on Sunday. I went round the shops and had a bit of lunch in a lovely Italian restaurant. On the way back to the car some lads jumped me.’

‘You’re kidding. Did they get away with much?’

‘No, they were just trying it on.’

Lloyd didn’t seem his usual confident self. The spark had gone. He seemed downbeat compared to the clowning around he normally did. When he asked what was new with Phil he just sighed and explained that as usual he was strapped for cash.

‘Sorry to hear that.’ said Lloyd.

‘It’s coming between me and Natalie. We’re always arguing about something, mostly money.’

‘Don’t let something like money ruin things, Phil. Remember what’s important.’

‘That’s easy to say but it’s so stressful. We’re living from one week to the next.’

‘We’ve all got stresses and worries, mate.’

‘I’ll drink to that.’

One evening there was a knock at Phil’s door. Lloyd was standing on his doorstep. He seemed tense, upset and slightly drunk.

‘You alright, Lloyd?’

His friend forced a grin on his face.

‘Is Natalie in?’

‘No, she’s at her Skinny World meeting.’

‘Perfect. Can I come in?’

When they were settled in the living room Lloyd rubbed his hands together. He fixed Phil with an intense stare.

‘I’ve been thinking about what you said about having money troubles.’

‘Hardly money troubles. We’re just a bit skint at the minute.’

Lloyd nodded patiently before continuing.

‘I’ve got something that could help you out.’

‘If you’ve come here to lend me money then you can leave right now. I don’t want charity.’

‘It’s not charity.’

‘What is it then?’

‘It’s a credit card.’

‘What?’

‘It’s a special credit card. It should take the pressure off.’

‘I don’t think taking out another credit card is the answer.’

‘This card is different. The interest rate is really strange. They more or less pay you to use it.’

He produced the small green card. He held it out.

‘It’s all sorted. All you need to do is take it.’

‘I don’t know, mate.’

‘Trust me. Take the card.’

‘No massive bills that I can’t pay off?’

‘Not at all.’

‘Promise?’

‘I swear.’

Phil took the card. As Lloyd left Phil grabbed his arm.

‘Don’t say anything to Natalie. She’s on at me enough as it is.’

‘I wont say a word. I hope it helps.’

‘Thank you so much. It means a lot.’

Lloyd did not reply.

The next day Phil finished work early. He called into the posh supermarket by the quays. The place was like another world compared to the no-frills place he normally shopped in. it was almost like being in another country. All these little counters selling dainty over-priced bits. Patisserie? What on earth was that? Maybe it was a type of French cheese.

He picked up a bottle of wine and some items from the Deli counter. Lastly he grabbed a bunch of flowers. That should do the trick. At the check out he swiped his new credit card. He held his breath for a moment. He wondered what he’d do if the card was refused. A second later the tiny screen flashed ‘transaction complete’. He headed for the exit. The minute he stepped through the automatic doors there was a clap of thunder. The skies darkened to almost black. Rain lashed so hard it bounced high off the pavements and puddles the size of garden ponds quickly formed.

He dashed through the rain to his car. Halfway across the carpark he lost his footing. He landed on his side in a puddle. He swore in pain. Sopping wet he got to his feet. Cursing his bad luck and the awful Northern weather he scooped up his shopping bags and continued to the car.

He arrived home just as his wife came in from work. They dashed in out of the rain. In the hallway she noticed he was soaking wet. She burst into laughter. She had not laughed like that in years. The age and worry vanished from her face for a moment.

‘Fell on my arse.’ Phil laughed. ‘I’ve got us something nice for tea though.’

He lifted up the shopping bags.

‘What have you got?’

‘What haven’t I got? You go and get changed and I’ll get cracking on this lot.’

‘How did you afford it?’ she asked.

‘Got a bit of a bonus this month. Not a lot  but enough to give us a bit of a treat.’

Phil didn’t like lying to Nat but sometimes it was easier to tell the odd fib. The end result was often the same just less earache.

‘Lovely.’ She sighed.

He heard her humming to herself as she went upstairs.

Phil poured the wine as Natalie took her seat at the table.

‘Look at all this.’

The table was full of various kinds of dishes. There was chorizo, king prawns, Spanish meatballs, and a wide selection of cheeses.

‘Phil, this is wonderful.’

She looked at him like they were teenagers again. Phil shrugged and told her she was worth it before munching on a chunk of garlic bread.

It was just after midnight when Natalie woke. She rushed to the bathroom. Phil found her in a ball on the floor. She was pale, sweating and had traces of vomit on her chin. She eyed him with hatred when he stuck his head round the door.

‘Are you poorly?’

‘Yes I bloody am. It must be your cooking.’

‘I don’t think-’

‘You can’t do anything right.’

‘Sorry, love. Can I get you anything?’

‘Leave me alone.’

Phil traipsed back across the landing as Natalie was sick once more.

The next morning his wife growled ‘Good morning’ when he joined her in the kitchen.

‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.

She washed a couple of pills down with a glass of water. He noticed she was dressed for the office.

‘Are you going in? Aren’t you tired?’

‘Yes, I am exhausted but I’ve got meetings lined up all day.’

She left without another word.

After a couple days of frosty treatment from his wife Phil sent her some flowers at work. He pulled out all the stops. He ordered an expensive bouquet from the company he’d seen advertised on television. He charged it to his new credit card. Again the transaction went through.

When he arrived home that evening Natalie was arranging the blooming flowers in a vase. She glanced round, smiling.

‘You got them, then?’

‘Thanks love.’

She pecked him on the cheek. Phil nodded. Whilst she was being warmer than she had been she still wasn’t her usual self. There was something lacking between them. He decided not to dwell on it. Things would get back to normal. They always did.

As he flicked through the evening newspaper he spotted an advert for a gig in town. The Dandy Highwayman, his early Eighties hero, was preparing for a one off gig. Fantastic. He ducked out of his wife’s earshot and a few minutes later he had bought two tickets. He would decide who he’d take with him nearer the time. He had tickets. That was the main thing.

The next morning he climbed in his car to go to work. He turned the key. The engine spluttered and coughed then went silent. He tried again. Nothing. He turned the key once more. Again nothing.

He swore remembering the meeting his boss had planned for first thing. Phil was never late for work. He growled at the thought of missing the meeting. Bloody typical. He jumped out of his car and ran for the train station. He ran as fast as his black slip on work shoes would allow.

There was a train at eight fifteen if he could get that then he just might make it. As he reached the station, sweating and breathing hard, he yanked his tie loose. He checked his watch. Eight eleven. Great stuff. He tapped the keys on the ticket machine quickly. Hit ‘buy tickets’. He opened his wallet. He had no cash. He quickly swiped his new credit card. Transaction complete. Printing ticket. It was eight twelve. He dashed onto the platform. He looked at the announcement board. Eight fifteen to Manchester : Cancelled. No, he whined, not now.

He ran back down the platform approach. A black cab waited, orange light glowing invitingly. That would do. He sprinted quickly. He was almost there when a woman in a trench coat climbed in the back. The cab pulled away leaving Phil ranting on the pavement.

It was almost eleven o’clock by the time he reached the office. He knocked on the door of his manager’s office.

‘Sorry I missed the meeting, Dave.’

‘It’s sorted.’

‘If there’s anything-’

‘Get back to your desk.’

Phil shuffled out of his office.

The house was in darkness when he arrived home. Natalie usually arrived him before him. Perhaps the traffic was bad. He let himself in and changed out of his shirt and tie.

An hour later there was still no sign of her. If the traffic was that bad then he would have either heard about it on the radio on the way home or been caught up in the traffic himself. He called her mobile. It went straight to voicemail. Phil hung up and tried again. Straight to voicemail. He didn’t leave a message. These days your mobile phone told you who had called and when. He really didn’t see the need to leave a message saying he’d called.

Another hour passed. This really wasn’t like Natalie. He called her mobile every few minutes. He hoped she’d pick up. The more he heard the recorded message the more anxious he grew.

He paced the living room. What should he do next? He could set off and head towards her work. Maybe he’d see her along the way. Yes, that’s what he’d do. Nothing else for it. He grabbed his car keys and turned towards the front door. Natalie walked through the door. She smiled.

‘Hi love.’ she said.

‘Where have you been?’

‘It’s my Skinny World meeting tonight.’

‘No, that’s on Thursday.’

‘I’m going to get changed.’

Leaving him standing confused in the hallway she headed upstairs. Phil did not pursue the matter. Natalie seemed less angry with him than normal so he went along with things.

‘I’m away with work next week.’

‘Where are they sending you?’

‘I’m in Birmingham for two nights.’

‘Two nights?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Just work stuff.’

‘Is it training or something?’

‘Yes, it’s training.’

And so Natalie left on Monday telling him she’d see him Wednesday evening. On the second night Phil met up with Lloyd for a curry. They dined on the wonderful Indian food. This was just the ticket. Phil loved nothing more than a decent curry. At the sound of sitar music his mouth watered. He munched on his Chicken Madras. The two of them put the world to rights they way only old friends can. Phil went into details about his problems. His life just seemed so complicated right now. Work was awful, and his home life was quickly declining.

‘At least you’ve not got the money worries you used to have.’

‘I’m putting everything on the card though. Just wait till I get the bill.’

‘I’ve told you, they’ve got some weird payment-interest thing going on. You don’t need to worry about paying.’

Phil nodded and stuffed a chunk of naan bread into his mouth.

Natalie swept through the door on Wednesday evening like she was walking on stage. She seemed different, more confident and chirpy.

‘Hi Phil.’

She pecked him on the cheek. He caught the smell of cigarette smoke.

‘Have you been smoking?’

‘You need to lighten up.’

She waved her hands dramatically. Phil noticed the silver bracelet on her wrist. That was new, he thought. She was never one for jewellery so that was strange.

‘How was the course?’

‘What? Oh yeah. It was fine.’

Phil sighed. Something was going on. Why couldn’t life be simple? At least when he had money worries they were the only worries he had. Now there seemed to be nothing straightforward in his life. Even his wife was acting strangely. If he didn’t know better he would have suspected- no. No. He didn’t even want to think about that. He shook his head and went to put the kettle on.

Natalie had to work late the next evening. She had left for work more dressed up than usual. Her hair hung styled to her shoulders instead of the usual ponytail. And then she’d announced she would be working late. To distract himself Phil called into the Trafford Centre on his way home. He had a mooch round the shops and a few beers. In a spur of the moment, to hell with it, decision, he bought a leather jacket from one of the department stores. If Natalie asked he’d tell her his brother had given it him after having a wardrobe clear out.

He arrived home and flaked out on the settee. He tried to concentrate on the television. The documentary about Viking Britain was interesting but he couldn’t stop thinking about his wife. Her behaviour was getting stranger. Was she having an affair? His stomach churned at the thought of it. A couple of hours later she arrived home. She barely even looked at him.

‘You must be starving.’ He said. ‘I’ll put the oven on.’

‘I’ve already eaten.’

‘At the office?’

‘Erm, yes.’

‘Nat, don’t take me for a fool.’

‘I don’t know what-’

‘Rubbish. Why don’t you tell me what we both know.’

‘Which is?’

‘You are cheating on me.’

She sighed. She ran a hand through her hair.

‘Alright. Fine. Yes, it’s true. I’m seeing someone.’

Phil felt the words hit him like a blow.

‘You can’t be surprised.’ She continued. ‘Things haven’t been the same for months.’

‘Well they have to me.’

‘Come off it.’

‘And instead of talking to me and sorting it out you decided the solution was to start screwing around?’

‘It’s over, Phil. We’re finished.’

‘Are you really going to throw everything away?’

‘Wake up. We have nothing. We don’t even speak to each other any more.’

‘Go on then. Get out.’

‘Why should I be the one to leave?’

‘Why? You’re the one destroying our marriage.’

‘Right. Okay. Have it your way. I’ll stay with my mum for a while until we sort things out.’

‘Why don’t you stay with one of your fellers?’

She lashed out. Her hand cracked against his cheek. He stared at her. Love, fury and hatred burned in his eyes. The hand print on his cheek glowed hot. She rushed upstairs. Phil heard the suitcase being dragged across the landing. Phil paced the kitchen, hands behind his head as his wife packed her things. Phil felt weird. It was as though this wasn’t actually happening to him. Was he in shock?

The front door slammed shut. Phil slumped to the carpet, tears running down his face. He phoned in sick the next day. He just couldn’t face the petty office bullshit. He’d end up having a blazing row about refilling the photo copier. He strolled around the Trafford Centre instead. He walked down the bustling malls just glad not to be sitting at home going over exactly when his life had gone so awfully wrong. He made random purchases as he went from store to store. He bought a designer watch, a record player and a collection of LPs ranging from the Who to Adam Ant. He lost count of the money he was charging to the card. That was the least of his concerns.

He decided to stop for something to eat in the Thai restaurant. Natalie had never been a lover of Thai food so he could think of no better place to eat. He was shown to a table in the elaborately decorated restaurant. They did their best with music, the décor and the staff uniforms, to create the feeling that you were actually in another country.

The beer bottle he swigged from had an elephant logo on the front. He ordered a selection of Thai curried dishes. Of course all this would be getting charged to his card. The waiter, a thin man in national costume, brought the food out a while later. As he placed the tray down he lost his grip. Phil swore as the tray of brightly coloured food splashed all down him. He jumped to his feet. He gestured wildly.

The waiter grabbed a napkin and set to cleaning the hot food off Phil’s clothes. Phil was covered in sticky sauce. He was caked in mess. He felt like he’d been gunked in some Eighties game show.

A small man in a suit with round hamster cheeks introduced himself as the manager. He joined in with the apologising waiter.

‘The meal will be on the house. And another meal too, of course. And bring your friends.’

Phil just shook his head. He wiped the sweet chilli dip from his cheek. He picked up his shopping bags and left without a word.

Back at home he changed into his tracksuit bottoms and Beatles t shirt. He ordered a pizza from a take away shop on the other side of town. The guy on the phone told him it would be the standard forty five minutes before hanging up.

Just over two hours later the pizza delivery guy knocked on the door. He grinned and pulled the pizza box from his bag.

‘Pizza?’ he said.

‘Oh yes.’ snapped Phil. ‘So it is.’

He snatched the pizza box and tossed the guy a ten pound note. He kicked the door shut. He placed the box down on the kitchen counter. He opened the lid. He got a scent of fish. He inspected the pizza. It was not the meat feast he’d ordered but some awful fish-based pizza. He swore as he threw the pizza at the wall.

A week later he met up with Lloyd for a pint. His friend looked at him with concern.

‘You look like shit, Phil. What’s wrong?’

‘My wife has left me. I can’t sleep. I don’t want to eat. Nothing is going right. There’s just no joy to life any more. I bought myself an electric guitar the other day thinking it might help distract me from all the things that are going wrong. The amplifier blew the fuses in my house when I plugged it in.’

Lloyd took a deep breath and spoke.

‘It’s the credit card. There are no bills but you pay for it in other ways. You may get your house kitted out with beautiful furniture but your cat gets run over. There’s always something. You put something on the card and you end up paying the price.’

‘That’s it then. I’ll stop using it. I won’t put another thing on it.’

‘It doesn’t work like that. You’ll always pay with some misfortune as long as you have it. It’s like a minimum payment thing.’

‘How do I get rid of it?’

‘You have to get someone else to replace you. They have to take it from you.’

‘You gave me the card.’

‘I’m sorry. It was the only way.’

 

‘It’s really good to see you, Natalie.’

‘I don’t want any trouble, Phil.’

‘I’m sorry for how I was. I’m sorry for everything.’

‘We just don’t work any more. It’s sad but that’s life.’

‘I understand.’ said Phi. ‘We had some good times though, didn’t we?’

‘Yes, we really did.’

‘Don’t forget the good times when you think of us.’

Natalie shook her head and wiped a tear from her eye.

‘Oh,’ said Phil. ‘I nearly forgot, I’ve got something for you. It’s a special credit card. The interest rate is so low they’re practically paying you to use it.’

He held out the card. She took it.

‘I think that calls for shopping spree.’ she said.

‘Absolutely,’ Phil replied. ‘you treat yourself.’

 


© Copyright 2017 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Comments