Pay Us Money
Pay us money! said the bill that was taped to the door of Frida’s apartment.
“But what if I don’t want to?” Frida said to her door. The door was silent. The bill on her door still said the same. It was as unwavering as the door, till Frida remembered she could open the door with a key, and she could remove the bill with her fingers.
“So that’s that? Yes. That is that,” Frida told the surrounding silence inside of her apartment, after she’d gone inside.
But the next day there was a new bill, which said: PAY US MONEY! Entirely capitalized but otherwise the same as the previous note.
“I already told you. I already told you I’m not paying you. I’m not paying money.” To be safe, Frida decided to rip up the new bill. She went feral and gnashed it to shreds with her teeth. A neighbor woman and her child hurried past down the hallway. The neighbor woman was pretending not to notice the gnashing but really noticing it a lot. Frida sensed this and kind of barked at the neighbor woman, spitting big flecks of paper at her. Then Frida stopped, realizing her behavior. She called an apology to the neighbor woman, whose child was now definitely crying but maybe for other reasons, like maybe the father. Maybe the child’s father was a bad father.
Regardless, that was the last Frida saw of the neighbor woman and her child.
It might have been the last she thought of the bill, too, were it not for the fact that the bill returned every day. And so her routine continued every day—somehow dispose of the bill. She did not usually resort to gnashing it. She had come to her senses about that. But she did throw it, crumpling it into a tiny paper ball in her clenched hand. She pictured herself crushing it so tightly that it would fuse into a ball of paper that could never be uncrumpled.
She came home one day ready to crumple the hell out of her bill but there wasn’t one. There was only door.
That night in bed, Frida had a conversation with her bed.
“Oh bed, it’s nice to be done with all that business about paying money. Obviously, there’s no chance of it ever returning. You saw for yourself. No bill. No bill at all taped to my door. The door saw it too. I have a great many witnesses to this. I have witnesses who will vouch. If anyone comes and attempts to prove there was a bill they’ll have to contend with my long list of witnesses, who will say quite the opposite.”
The phone called. The phone called and called. It was a horrible sound. No one ever called, so Frida had forgotten the horrible sound.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hey, pay us money, ok? Pay us money, ok? Pay us. Pay us with money. You got any? Ok?”
Frida frowned. “Hey you, you guy. You sound like a guy. Hey, you, listen to me. For about five seconds? I don’t owe you money, so I’m not going to pay you money.”
Then, she hung up her phone, feeling satisfied. The phone rang again and again and again, until she finally disconnected it and went to sleep dreaming of it ringing again and again and again.
She went to the park the next day. There was a part of her that thought time away from her home would be cleansing and would therefore keep the demands for her money at bay. Maybe they’d forget about her paying them money. Maybe she wouldn’t have to pay at all.
But they didn’t forget. They remembered. And they had some more words to say when they called her again that night.
“We would like you to pay us money for a very specific reason. We want you to pay more money for services you have already had rendered. We want you to pay us more than you did previously. We want more than we got. Don’t you see? We want more so we can have more than we had. We want happiness like we didn’t have before, when we didn’t get the larger amount of money that you didn’t pay us then but will fix by paying us now. That’s all we’re asking for. More.”
They just wanted a little more happiness. A little more than before. They wanted a little more from her than before and, to get it, they were prepared to make their pleas last an interminable time if she wanted that instead. They were clear that Frida had choices, and those were her choices.
Frida didn’t understand it. She’d given them a lot, right? She didn’t know who, but whoever it was they were clear she’d given them money previously, plenty of it, seemingly. She had paid them money, was true. It was wrong that they’d ask for more? But they also weren’t stopping their hounding. They were really resilient and incorrigible.
She went to the park, again. She thought about payment. She thought about other nice things having less to do with payment of any particular sum. She thought in particular about those things that don’t cost money, those things people invoke as not having a price tag, or a price tag so big that the number is without quantifying. Things like birds in the sky, and those golden sunsets that bleed red, even those things that are less spectacular but still oftentimes beautiful: broken glass twinkling like exotic stones in the moonlight. A sight you’ll find in the grass of poorly kept urban lawns, those true diamonds in the rough. And no one would attach any value to it, maybe rightly so. Maybe twinkling broken glass is just blight. Maybe those birds in the sky just pigeons. Without value, as in worthless.
She began to think that maybe everything of value had value, and not abstractly. The things without monetary value were things that people were kidding themselves about. It was better this way. It was easy to see.
Answering one of their hundreds of calls, finally, “Hey all right I’ll pay you money,” Frida told them, “How much do you need?”
“We need more than before,” said the voice.
“Ok, I’ll pay you more than before,” She said.
“Great, we’ll be waiting for it,” they said.
Then when she was about to hang up the voice on the other end said, “Wait.”
“Remember,” they said. “Send us more than before.”
“Yeah, yeah, ok, yeah.” She hung up, even though they’d said wait again.
She went to a store right after that and bought a potted plant. She placed the plant on her favorite windowsill. The one with all the sun. She put all of her payment in that. Nourished the interest. And if a paltry metaphor, she found she grew with this effort. She paid it money, and she paid it all sorts of stuff.
She was becoming adept at ignoring the print materials that wound up on her door and hearing the phone ring.
Matt Rowan lives in Chicago, IL. There, he inhabits a dwelling with his wonderful fiancée and two terrifying, albeit small, dogs. His work can be found in PANK, Booth Journal, Gigantic, Another Chicago Magazine and Hobart, among others. He co-edits Untoward Magazine and is author of Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013). More at literaryequations.blogspot.com.