American Contemporary Fiction

Word count: 1,105 words


Mary toasted the English muffins and poached the eggs for breakfast for herself and her husband. The Toaster Oven was a little glitchy - she had to set the temperature for higher than she normally would have. But she salted the water set to boil for the eggs as usual, and settled down with the morning newspaper that had just been delivered.

The thing was, she knew Ben was guilty. He’d cheated on their income taxes, claiming far less income than they’d actually had that year. She was a teacher, at a job she loved in the local elementary school; he worked as a garage mechanic - a very good one, who’d never before cheated anyone.

But times were rough and their COVID relief checks hadn’t helped them survive much beyond April. She was worried about money, and worried about Ben. Was this the first of soon-to-be long episodes of cheating on his part? She didn’t know if she could trust him anymore. Would he start scamming his customers, would he begin stealing groceries from their local market, would he even have an affair?

The water for the eggs was boiling and she could hear Ben scuffling into his slippers after rolling out of bed with a grunt. It was Saturday - neither of them had to work that day.

“Ben!” she hollered. “Breakfast is almost ready!”

“Coming,” he answered. He entered the kitchen and with another grunt sat at the table. Mary served the poached eggs on English muffins and they tasted good and warm in the belly, like comfort food.

“I want to know,” she began, “what you’re going to do if the government comes after you? They’ll come after me, too. We’ll be audited and we’ll have huge fines, maybe even go to jail.”

“They’ll never guess. Lots of people cheat on their income tax.”

“Hmph. That’s what you think.”

Mary savored her eggs, and the butter on the muffins melted slowly in her mouth. But she was nervous. She didn’t know how Ben could be so cavalier.

“I don’t know if I should report you or be grateful,” she said, disgruntled but with love - after all, she’d been married to Ben for almost 40 years and they’d seldom had disagreements until now. “By the way, I bought a lottery ticket yesterday.”

Ben grunted again.

“You said you’d never waste our money on such things,” he said, annoyed.

“I only spent two dollars, a buck apiece for each ticket,” she answered, smug in her thriftiness. “I stand to win $20,000!”

Ben shoved a bite of food into his mouth and picked up the newspaper she’d laid down.

“Waste of two dollars,” he said tersely, reading the news. “...So we may have a new President and a new VP next year. Biden’s doing better. Good,” he answered, “maybe the economy Trump inherited will continue on an upswing.”

“And maybe I’ll win the lottery,” Mary smiled. Ben shook his head in disbelief.

He finished his meal and got up to take a shower. While he was gone, Mary checked the paper for the lottery wins.

“Ben!” she shrieked, “I won the prize! $20,000!” She checked her tickets against the newspaper’s report and made sure, but Ben hadn’t heard her. Full of wonderment, she decided to keep her big surprise to herself for the moment.

That afternoon, she drove to the next town over to collect her winning check. She still hadn’t told Ben after their contented and homey breakfast, Ben was still guilty as far as she was concerned, and she’d resolved to do something about it even if he never found out the truth.

That night, pulling out her checkbook from the kitchen shelf after depositing her winning check, she wrote a check to the IRS for $10,000.

“I hope this will make it up to you,” she inscribed on the letter to them, “We were temporarily hard up but this should make up the difference on what we owe.” She walked to the mailbox and dropped off the letter and the check. The IRS would be sure to repay anything she’d overpaid. Then she walked back home and balanced her checkbook to show an increase of just $10,000 in her savings, not the $20,000 she’d won. Her husband would never be the wiser.

“Ben!” she exclaimed to him while he watched football on TV that evening. “I won $10,000 today in the lottery and you thought I was wasting my money! But now we’re suddenly rich! I’ll have you know I’m buying you a new velour bathrobe to replace that old, ratty terry cloth one you’ve had for decades. And tomorrow night we’re going out for a lobster dinner.”

Ben’s jaw dropped as if he’d just seen a ghost.  

“Really and truly?”

“I already picked up my winner’s check. Just wanted to wait ‘til after dinner to spring the news on you.”

“You’re joking!” he exclaimed with a grin. “You really won that much? Smart woman. And I thought your tossing two dollars at them was a waste.”

“Yes,” she said triumphantly, knowing he’d never guess her secret, “and I’m not so worried now as I was, about the government coming after us. One way or another things will work out.”

She served Ben some guacamole and tortilla chips while he, still in pleased surprise, watched the game, where his team was winning.

She laughed to herself and felt good about tricking her husband back for the trick he’d played on the IRS.

“Just remember, don’t be a cheater and things will turn out okay. I didn’t think much of how you treated the IRS but I’d be even more upset if you were unfaithful!”

“Aw, Mary,” said Ben, kissing her in congratulations. “I’d never cheat on you. You’re my rock!”

And, satisfied with that, Mary went back to her bookkeeping to figure out how else they might spend their newfound cash - maybe a vacation? She was already imagining a cruise and how Ben would enjoy golfing on the island of Bermuda. But she quickly changed her mind -- instead of wasting that extra money, she’d invest another $250 on lottery tickets next week and sock the rest away into retirement funds.  

“You never know,” she said to herself. “It happened once, it could happen again. And after all, who really needs a $3000 cruise to Bermuda?”

One day she would tell Ben what she’d done, paying the IRS back for what she and her husband really owed, but for now her secret was safe and she felt wise, and secure, and confident about her marriage.


November 09, 2020 22:54

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