Living on the Edge

Ronnie closed his eyes and started to count to himself slowly.

One … two … three … four … five …

His lips formed each number, spelling out the words as though to get any of them wrong would be a disaster.

six … seven … eight …

He breathed through his nose. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

nine … ten …

Ten. At last, ten. Ronnie opened his eyes, wondering how much the world had changed since he had closed his eyes. Were robots inexpensive now? Had people started to cross-breed with an alien species of humanoid? Was everyone he had known dead and buried? He blinked several times, waiting for everything to come into focus.

The bill was still there on the kitchen table. The amount on the bill was the same as it had been when he had first opened the envelope.

His available funds were still nothing.

Ronnie wondered how he was going to get out of this one. Was there anything in his flat left to pawn? He couldn’t afford his rent, or his phone bill, or to pay off his payday loans. He had spent his last penny, which had been squeezed out of a rude salesman in exchange for his television, on electricity. It would have sounded funny, had it been somebody else’s problem.

Normally, closing his eyes and counting to ten provided Ronnie with enough time to calm down and think up a solution to all of his problems. Not this time.

He scowled. He scowled as hard as he could without hurting his face. This did not help, either.

The only things he had left that were of any value at all were his clothes. Ronnie couldn’t sell those. He wondered how much one of his kidneys was worth. It was a tempting way to temporarily alleviate his financial problems …

But then that was the issue, wasn’t it? Ronnie did everything he could to relax the financial pressure on him, but he could never make it permanent. How did other people manage it? He often wondered how many people he walked past every day were in the same situation as him, masking their difficulty with smiles and second hand clothes. Ronnie worked, he earned just about enough to keep himself afloat, and he did his best to avoid unnecessary purchases.

And yet …

He sighed, closed his eyes, and began counting again from one.

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