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Balancing the Books
Ruth Brandt

I walk home from class alone. The evening is dark and rain dollops in loud splodges on the pavement around me. I’m not aware of anything other than my wet feet and the rehearsal of the discussion to come, winding and rewinding in my head.

 

First?

 

a) “So, about money,” I say.

 

Jacob, toast-fragrant and soft, takes me in his arms and holds me, wet coat and all, until my feet are warm.

 

b) “So, about money,” I say.

 

Jacob eases himself up and shuffles his warm, slippered feet. Feet that have been up on the sofa all evening while I have been at my bookkeeping class, learning my capital assets and amortization. He takes my bag from my shoulder and indicates the sofa.

 

c) “So, about money,” I say.

 

Nothing. Jacob doesn’t even stand. He remains watching whichever music video he’s been half attending to but which has now completely captivated his attention. Just a slight twitch of his cheek to indicate that he is aware of me having entered the house and chucked my leaking shoes in a criss-cross pile by the door, left my dripping coat lying at the bottom of the stairs.

 

d) “So, about money.”

 

A humph. Maybe not even that.

 

And next?

 

a) “We’ll get through this,” Jacob says. “When my mother’s better, I’ll be able to work again. I’m just struggling. So short on time and energy. I’m sorry.”

 

And I’m sorry because all I have done is been to a class and when I’m done with itI’ll get a promotion, fingers crossed. If Jacob is able to hug me after his day and absorb the drizzle from my hair and face, I can hug him back.

 

b) “We’ll get through this,” Jacob says. “My mother’s illness/my bad foot/my mental health is doing me in. I’m short on time and energy/in so much pain/struggling to see the point. Sorry.”

 

And I’ve been to a class and walked two miles home in the rain at 9.30pm.

 

c) “We’ll get through this,” Jacob says.

 

“How?”

 

“You’re doing that course thing. You’ll get promoted, won’t you.”

 

He’s been drinking beer. He’s been watching telly and drinking a beer while I’ve walked two miles home in the rain at 9.30pm after having been in a class for the first time in fifteen years with youngsters who haven’t yet started on their lives.

 

d) “Jacob?”

 

“We’ll get through this,” he says.

 

I’m sodden and chilled and in discomfort verging on pain.

 

“Er, money?”

 

He takes a swig from his can. I struggle to see the point.

 

And then?

 

a) “You know I love you,” I say.

 

“I love you too,” he replies, and he holds me firmly, his voice tingling through my chest.

 

b) “You know I love you,” I say.

 

“Cuppa?” Jacob places my bag by the sofa, and I sit in the warmth of his recently vacated space, listening to the kettle filling under the tap, knowing that this man cares enough about me to make a cup of tea despite his stress/pain/weariness.

 

c) “You know I love you,” I say and reach for the can of beer in his hand.

I take a swig and return it.

 

“Is that it?”

 

“Don’t you need an early night after that studying,” he says.

 

“About money?”

 

“Why do you always keep on?”

 

Maybe when I get my certificate, maybe when I get a job that pays properly, maybe then I won’t upset him by keeping on.

 

d) “You know I love you,” I say.

 

“Yeah,” he replies, not looking up.

 

“Well,” I say.

 

I’d like a swig of beer, but even imagining placing my lips where his have been makes me want to gag.

 

“Well what?”

 

“I’m not a magic money tree…”

 

He shifts a hip and tuts.

 

“Your cash cow …”

 

He takes another glug.

 

And last?

 

a) Jacob smooths his hands over my shoulders to remove my coat. His breath strokes my neck.

 

“About money,” I whisper.

 

“No,” he says close to my ear.

 

“We have to …”

 

“Tomorrow,” he says.

 

Behind us, the telly murmurs on.

 

b) “About money,” I call.

 

“No,” he says, far too close to my ear. When did he slip in back from the kitchen? He hands me a cup of tea.

 

“We have to …”

 

“Tomorrow,” he says, and the telly warbles on.

 

c) “Money?” I try again.

 

“No,” he says and I jump at his abruptness.

 

“We have to …”

 

“Stop,” he says.

 

In the silence, the telly jabbers on.

 

d) “Money.” Maybe I shout. I know I shout.

 

“Nah,” he says.

 

“We have to …”

 

He holds up the silencing remote control before returning his attention to the telly and turning up the volume.

Ruth Brandt’s short stories and flash fiction have been widely published. She won the Kingston University MFA Creative Writing Prize, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Write Well Award and Best Small Fictions Award. Her prize-winning short story collection No One has any Intention of Building a Wall was published by Fly on the Wall Press in November 2021. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and has two delightful sons.