Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty eight years and wasn’t retiring anytime soon. His reason: money. Just like everyone else. Too many people wanted it from Frank and he couldn’t seem to hold on to his.
Let’s see, there was the mortgage every month, electricity, heating, water, gas, his premiums, prescriptions (he only took half the amounts he was supposed to in order to make them last longer), the vet bills for their ol’ dog Charlie, parent loans, car insurance– well you get the point.
Frank arrived on his doorstep to a mailbox full of bills. Their red “overdue” stamps glaring in his direction. He decided to shove them to the back of his consciousness as he hummed the Katy Perry song he’d heard a dozen times that day. Inside he untied his smock, hung it and his hat on the hooks to the right of the door. Comfortable, out of work mode, as he liked to think, he reached a hand out the front door and clawed the bills into the house.
Frank turned and closed the door with a swinging foot. “Clare? I’m home,” Frank called, shuffling the bills, sorting them based on urgency. “Clare?”
“I’m in here Frank.” Claire’s voice carried from the kitchen on whiffs of sweet simmering red sauce and italian sausage. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
“Mhmm. Smells good.” He said, distantly, frowning at the stack of envelopes still in hand.
“Why don’t you come in here and sit down?” Clare called. “You need to take your pills before dinner anyway.”
Frank looked up, through the living room and embraced the heat from the kitchen. Steam mingled from the pasta pot and the sauce. Frank was back in his mother’s kitchen, his troubles melting away.
“How was your day?” Carol asked, searching through cabinets as Frank turned the corner.
Frank tossed the stack of bills on the table and his face eased a bit. “Oh. Fine. How about your day? What did you do?”
Carol pulled a strainer out of the lazy susan to the right of the sink. “Oh, uh, it was good. I called Toby and we chatted for a bit. Then me and the girls went and got lunch at Eddie’s. Y’know their banana cream pie is just to die for.”
Frank smiled. “Yeah, and the crab cakes. I know. You get them every time.”
Carol stopped and looked over from the sink. A sad smile was faint on her lips. “And the crab cakes. You’re right. They were out of that today though. I got the muscles instead.”
“Oh. How were they?”
“Good. Not as good as the crab cakes.”
Frank pulled out a chair and watched his wife of 40 years drain the pasta, saving a cup of the starchy water to mix in with the sauce. It was the way his mother had shown Carol the first time Frank took her home to meet his parents. She’d never done it differently after that. Frank didn’t know if it was out of respect, or just because she hadn’t known any other way, but he didn’t ask. He was content, and at this point, it didn’t matter. It was habit now.
He looked up from her hands, “Hmm?”
“Do you want one piece of garlic bread or two?”
She opened the oven door and the heavy garlic smell spread through the room. His stomach audibly rumbled. Then a crash. Garlic bread tumbled to the floor and Carol stood above the mess cursing, her face twisted in pain as she clawed up the mess onto the hot pan. “Shit. Shit.”
Frank looked up. “What happened. You okay?” He watched his wife pound a fist into her chest.
“Oh, it’s nothing.” Carol said. “Just bad acid reflux since lunch. I think it might have been the mus–” Carol fell to a knee still clutching at her chest. Her face folded in pain and turned a deep red. Frank threw his chair back and hurried to his wife’s side throwing her arm around his shoulder as he lifted her to a seat. He turned around and fumbled with the corded phone on the wall.
On the fringes Carol’s attention she heard “…is your emergency?” She kept pounding a fist into her chest trying to beat the pain away. The lights around flickered as she gaped for air, feeling like a fish with no water. Frank was there. Fear had gripped him. She saw in his eyes a worry that she’d only seen once before. The night Charlie seized for the first time. Now she could only smell garlic.
Carol awoke in a white bed, in a white johnny, facing a white wall of monitors all hooked up to her. Frank was there too, asleep on the chair next to the bed. Carol adjusted in bed and Frank’s eyes fluttered a moment and opened. He sat up, wiping away drool and smiled. His smile quickly gave way to tears. Carol reached for him and he took her hand and pressed it to his cheek.
“Hi,” Carol uttered, meekly.
Frank inhaled to unclog his nose. “Hi,” he paused. “How are you feeling?”
“A little woozy.” Carol said studying the devices on her arm. “What happened Frank? All I remember is not being able to breath,” Tears began to roll down Carol’s cheeks, mirroring Frank. “Then nothing.”
“You had a heart attack dear.” Frank said. “Actually the doctor said that you’d had several yesterday. Remember your acid problem? The doctor said that those were heart attacks. You were lucky to–” Frank choked back tears.
Carol covered her mouth with her free hand and sobbed. “But I. But. I don’t smoke. I go on walks. Frank, I’m healthy. We’re healthy. We go on walks. I’m only 61. I don’t understand.”
Franks head fell. “I don’t know Carol, dear. The doctor asked me if anyone else in your family had had heart attacks or had a history. I told him to talk to you when you woke up.” Frank looked up now, more grim than before. “He mentioned surgery.”
Carol put her head back. “Surgery?” she moaned. “Can you call the doctor? Now. Please?”
Frank shook his head and pushed his chair back. He stood and pushed past the curtain and returned a few moments later with the young bleary-eyed doctor. Frank took his seat while the doctor began reviewing the clipboard at Carol’s feet.
“How are you feeling today Mrs. Rooney? Any chest pains, or pain in your jaw or back?” The doctor said flipping through papers.
“Any tightness in your chest?”
“No.” She looked at Frank now, and tried to smile.
“Any dizziness or lightheadedness?”
Frank frowned at Carol. He turned to the doctor “Actually, uh, she said that she felt woozy when she woke up.”
The doctor looked up from the clipboard and stared at Carol. “Mrs. Rooney, I need you to tell me exactly what you’re feeling. Now, can you describe this woozy feeling?”
“Er, no, just a bit,” Carol paused, tapping her index finger and thumb together. “Out of sorts.”
The doctor removed his stethoscope and walked around the side of the bed opposite Frank. “I see,” he said. He put the cold metal up to Carol’s johnny and looked away. A few seconds later he turned back around and stood up from the bed, pursing his lips. He sighed, and Frank cringed. “Well Mrs. Rooney, I’d like to run some more tests soon as we get a chance. I’d also like to get a better grip on your family history, so I’ll have one of the nurses come and talk to you about that soon. But, for now, just take it easy, and if you feel anything out of the ordinary you can reach us with this button,” the doctor pointed at a red call button next to the heart monitor.
Carol nodded, too upset to think of any questions she wanted to ask. The doctor flashed a melancholic look to the older couple, and whisked himself away to another patient.
Silence descended on the room. Frank held Carol’s hand as she steadied her breathing.
“Frank,” she finally said.
The couple fell asleep like that, waking a few hours later to slants of sunlight pouring into the room. Somewhere far away a stampede of shoes thundered through the hall. The two discussed Frank calling out of work, and decided that he should go. If there was to be a surgery and more tests, that meant money. Frank, nearly asleep, blinked away his fatigue and left Carol alone in her white johnny in her white bed.
Frank stopped home to grab his work clothes. The house smelled of garlic when he entered sending small waves of panic up Franks tired spine. He hurried to the kitchen to put everything in the fridge, sauce, pasta, garlic bread. It didn’t matter that it would never be eaten, he just needed their house to regain some normalcy.
The stack of unopened bills still lay on the table. Frank shuttered when he saw them. A popping feeling shot through his neck. Too much to deal with, he thought, averting his eyes. He tried to distract himself with the answering machine’s one new message.
“Hello there, this is craig from credit services,” the message began.
Frank’s arm spasmed as he reached for the stop button. He missed. A swing this time, The plastic casing of the receiver exploded into pieces, some falling on the floor. One particularly sharp piece jutted out of the meat below the thumb.
“Shit,” he cursed. With his other hand he gripped the piece– the size of nail clippers, and pulled. Blood ran on the carpet. It never ends, he thought, it will never end. Frank felt like screaming. He felt like smashing something. Anything. Fuck it all, he thought. A quick glance at the clock, drained Frank of the newfound passion. He hurried to the door, tied his apron, put on his shoes and hat, and locked the door behind him. He could afford to be late, not now, not ever. There was too much to do. Always too much.
Prompt: Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty eight years and wasn’t retiring anytime soon.