“Okay, by morning,” Ben said, taking the papers and closing the door. His back to the tiny room, his eyes all but overflowing with tears, he gazed down into the empty lot below where a disheveled soul picked through a trash bin, eating something he had found. Ben crushed the papers.
“Bad news?” April’s eyes didn’t leave her remodeling program where yuppies debated the wisdom of a steel sofa.
Ben nodded. Four steps later, he closed the bedroom door and sat staring at a Salinas print Hill Country Bluebonnets. The sun in his face, he could feel the grass on his toes and smell the fragrance of sage and distant cattle. A warm breeze caressed his cheeks and made him long for the time when he could afford the original. Over the last year, each treasured piece of art he was forced to give up tore at him as if he was selling himself, a piece at a time. The tired, fading print was his last, and barely worth the price of the frame.
He had long since given up trying to assign blame for what he called “his state.” It wasn’t his fault — that much he knew. When corporate said he would have to retrain, he resisted. Until now, there was no problem he couldn’t solve, no challenge too great, but the world had changed overnight, as if by an emergency act of Congress. Suddenly, everything had to use “user friendly” graphical user interfaces. Given no alternative, Ben he begrudgingly attended the mind-numbing courses. Jealousy cut him to the quick as he watched most of the others, the kids, soak up the new concepts.
“You’ll get it. It just takes time,” the instructor, twenty years his junior, whispered to him over lunch.
Ben left the table unconvinced. He never finished his lunch, or the course. He cleaned out his desk a week later — it was a month before he told his wife. Trying to find a job at fifty with obsolete skills was like trying to sell sand to Arabs. His interviews ended abruptly after they all asked the same question: “Can you program Windows apps?” His thirty years of practical experience seemed of no interest to the children behind the hiring desks. When his unemployment benefits expired, Ben stopped paying rent — but he kept his wife’s beloved cable TV service.
Today, his fat landlord had come by, shoving eviction papers into his hand. By tomorrow morning, they had to be out of their squalid apartment. He had no place to go. Ben reached into the bottom drawer of his bedside table and felt the cold steel of a 9mm pistol warm in his hand. It was his most valuable possession. He chambered a round and flipped off the safety.
Suddenly, April was sitting beside him on the bed, putting her arm around him. “Good idea. We could probably make a new start with what that gun will bring.”