by Elliotte Rusty Harold

The phone woke James up. His head was pounding, one too many margaritas at his birthday party last night. He noticed the distinct lack of anyone sleeping next to him. That new girl Sally might have been game; but she was in town visiting her family, and he couldn’t see bringing her back to his parent’s basement. Did anything spell ‘Loser’ more clearly than living in your parents’ basement at 31?

By the time James located his phone, it had stopped ringing. He dialed voicemail.

“James, this is Richard. Where are you? This is the third time you’ve been late at the job site this month. Old man Higgins is royally pissed off and I’m catching shit for it because we’re short staffed. I vouched for you, man. You know what? Don’t bother coming in. I’ve had it up to here with you. You’re fired. And don’t expect another paycheck either. You still owe me from your last two advances.”

Ah, unemployed, broke, and living in your parents’ basement at 31. That spelled ‘Loser’ more clearly. He dragged himself to the shower. He finished just in time to hear the phone ring again. He pressed the green button before he looked at the caller ID. Mistake. It was his ex.

“James, it’s Allison. Your child support check bounced again.”

“Look, I’m sorry. Things have been a little tight lately; and I just lost my job—”

“You lost another job? What the hell is wrong with you?” Her voice was rising. “That’s what, 3 this year? When are you going to grow up and start taking responsibility for your life?”

“I can get you the money by Friday,” he said, trying to think of where he could possibly get $400 by Friday.

“I can’t wait till Friday. I need to pay my rent, and little Robbie’s school fees. Get me the money today. Cash too, no more bounced checks. And I want an extra $50 for the returned check fees.”

“Allison, I’m sorry but I just don’t have any money right now. If you can wait till Friday—”

“I’m done waiting,” she interrupted. “This afternoon, 2:00 PM, or I’m calling my lawyer. And you can forget about seeing Robbie until you’re caught up.” She hung up.

James looked around the room. He hardly had anything left to pawn. He might get $50 for the XBox, maybe another $50 for the games. That left his truck and his tools, but if he sold those he really was stuck in his parents’ basement with no way out.

Well, maybe one way. He picked up his pen and a pad of paper and began to write.

His mother found the note seven hours later, when James didn’t show up for dinner:


A carpenter put all his tools in a bucket.
He jumped in his truck and said Fuck It.
Into the sunset he rode,
Too much money he owed.
And his wife and his life can go suck it.


◊ ◊ ◊

Elliotte Rusty Harold
When not laboring in his secret identity of a mild-mannered software developer, Elliotte Rusty Harold lives in a secret mountaintop laboratory on a large island off the East Coast of the United States with his wife Beth and dog Thor. Find him as @elharo on Twitter or at http://www.elharo.com/blog/

3 thoughts on “31

  1. A gritty witty little ditty. The use of “31” in Arabic numbers jolted me a bit. It reminded me of the journalese convention of ending a news report with “30.” The dialogue is a strong point here, and the italicized limerick at the end provides a nice astringent ending. A couple of thoughts: Maybe use “Thirty” for a title….and end the poem with “30?” And maybe reserve italics for James’ thoughts?

  2. Very short but the story ends in a witty limerick.
    Funnily enough the F word seems out of place to me and I do not have any idea why, even after 22 years in the Canadian navy where, of course, our dialog was NEVER (well hardly ever!) offensive. Heh, heh, heh!
    It is no fun being broke.

  3. Al,
    The intense impact of this story is a reflection of the depth of your emotions even if doggedly denied.

    Not trying to be punny.

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