Nathan held his pen over the checkbook and studied the piles of bills around him. The small dining room table shaded the floor tile from the nicotine caked light. Every overdue ‘important’ stamp begged for another piece of his strained budget. Overwhelmed, Nathan sighed and set his pen on the table.
"I thought things would ease up once we paid the house off." He said in a huffed breath.
Rubber tubing from his oxygen tank rested on his shoulder and against his beard. Muffled sounds of traffic leaked through the windows and disguised itself as static from the oldies station playing from the back bedroom.
"No matter what, make sure we pay the power, water, and gas bill. You can live with bad credit, but you can't live without heat."
Margaret sat in a low backed chair beside Nathan, a notepad with a long dotted list at the ready. She separated the incoming into two piles; essentials and past-due. Then she bit her nails between tasks.
Margaret knew there were times over the last thirty-three years they had to scrape by. Nathan never said a word. He juggled one disaster while planning for another.
Margaret hated to admit that she liked not knowing the expense of electricity. She never had a clue how much Nathan made each week. Instead she emptied his lunch pail when he came home in the evenings. On Tuesdays she ironed the light blue cotton mill uniforms, and the only time she used a checkbook was at the grocery store.
"They can't take the house from you, and you'll have these two policies when you need them. The water bill sneaks up on you since it's every three months. You'll get the hang of it. It don't take long.” Nathan said.
He barely got the last word out before a coughing fit overcame him. His whole body rocked and spasmed as his lungs gripped for air. Margaret got up from her seat when she saw blood on the handkerchief he pulled away from his lips. She squeezed her eyelids together to try and stop the flow of tears, but they landed on the bags under her eyes like soft rain on rocks.
She stood looking out the window over her kitchen sink with her back to Nathan. She didn’t want him to see her cry, but once a sob escaped like a stray hiccup he stood and wheeled his tank where he would be within reach of her.
“It’s okay honey. You’ll be alright.” He comforted her.
Nathans clavicle ran along her cheekbone as she pressed into him. The soft beginnings of Elvis’s “A boy like me, a girl like you” played on the radio.
“When a boy like me meets a girl like you, then I must believe wishes come true.” Nathan sang
His tone was uneven and the words barely recognizable as they gurgled from his destroyed throat. Margaret heard his chest whine like a failing motor with every suck of breath.
“I could be as famous as Elvis. With this divine voice and looks, I think were going somewhere.” Nathan said.
Margaret snorted a small laugh and wiped her tears across his shirt. The joke was stupid, but it put a small light in his eyes like the smoldering embers of a campfire.
“One day their going to give me top billing, just like Elvis. A shooting star. Headed to ground.”