Lifetime Credit by Russ Porter

“Now George, don’t forget to check your credit docket before you go out. You and I both know you haven’t balanced your account for some time,” Lisa warned in her usual patronizing tone. “Maybe you should wait until we get our monthly stipend, or better yet, I could go.” Lisa thought for a moment and offered the suggestion again, “Why don’t I go George?”

George stopped, just as he was about to open the front door, his eyes still rolling and head tilted back, looking up at the ceiling as he replied, “Don’t worry dear, I’m sure I have enough for the few items on our list.” My goodness, George thought, when had Lisa become such a nag. He turned and yelled back in the direction of the living room, “Look at old Mr. Donnelly,” pointing a thumb towards the general proximity of his neighbor’s doorway, two units down the hall on the right. “The guy’s pushing a hundred and eight and he still hasn’t had to apply for a credit extension.”

“Yes George, but he’s been very thrifty through the years, unlike you who spends his credit on foolish things instead of sticking to the necessities.” George shut his eyes as he listened, wishing Lisa would stop her nagging, wishing that he had left a minute earlier. “Why don’t you apply for an extension while you’re in the city dear? I’m sure you’d get one with no trouble. It’s not like you’re in a wheelchair or anything.”

George could feel his face getting warm, his cheeks turning a deeper red than their usual rosy pink as he stepped away from the door. “Why would they give me an extension, Sweetie?” George always referred to his wife of seventy three years as Sweetie, especially when he didn’t think she was being sweet and especially when he wanted to call her something else. “The world has no use for an airplane pilot anymore. The only planes I’ve seen lately are in museums!” George turned to leave, but decided he wanted to add more. “And don’t suggest that I become a baby sitter to those brats at the learning academy. They couldn’t care less about anything I could teach them! That jobs not worth all the credit in the world.”

George realized he’d been shouting. Looking down at his shoes, for he was ashamed of the way he had talked to his wife and did not want to look into her eyes. He turned to leave again, but instead, stopped and looked back at Lisa with a look of regret. “I’m sorry dear; you don’t have to worry yourself about this. We’ll be fine. But, if it will make you happy, I’ll stop and fill out an extension application,” George smiled. He truly loved his wife and sincerely intended to do as she had wished.

Lisa quickly made her way to the door and gave her husband a peck on the cheek, gently stroked his face with her hand and looked deeply into the blue eyes that had stolen her heart many decades ago. She hated it when they argued. She had made it her mission that for the last seventy three years, there wasn’t a night that went by without telling George how much she loved him and then kissing him goodnight. He generally responded with an “I love you too!’ or an ‘I’ll love you till the end of time, Lisa,’ if he were feeling a little amorous. They had a wonderful life together, he and Lisa, but lately the credit issue had put a strain upon their relationship. George carefully closed the door behind him, still smiling as he started down the hallway. His smile slowly faded away as he thought about the task at hand and muttered under his breath, “I’ll be in line for an eternity filling out that extension form.”

George left the apartment complex and headed to the shuttle, pushing his new Walker 300 which came equipped with a shopping tote and cup holder. Today was shopping day, one of only two days per month designated by the government which allowed George and Lisa travel within the city. The travel policy was enacted by the government nearly a decade ago to help reduce crowded conditions which had in the past contributed to many rebellions and civil unrest. More regulations had followed in the years to come. The city’s population was allowed travel outside their home blocks for purposes other than work, two to ten days per month, depending on age and importance to society. George and Lisa used their two day allotment to shop for groceries and visit friends and relatives living outside their home blocks.

George removed the credit card from his zippered pocket as he approached the shuttle line. The ‘Tube’ as it was referred to by the citizens, serviced the entire city and was the only means of transportation into and out of the city: another well planned device to control crowds. George handed his card to the gate attendant that then examined the identification picture and quickly swiped the card into the Tube’s entrance computer. This procedure seemed archaic to most, especially since an eye scan was also required, but it was necessary to enforce government’s policy confirming a citizen’s right to be there. It also helped to keep track of each citizen’s movements and automatically recorded on their credit docket records. These records were permanent and unfazed by computer viruses and outside hacking attempts to destroy any citizen’s records. Failure to comply resulted in the loss of all credit.

George exited the Tube at the supply center. He had given thought about going to the government offices first, to apply for his extension, but decided he’d go to the supply center first to avoid the lunch time crowd. He also had a sweet tooth and it was reminding him that he could get his fix on some old fashioned bakery, regardless of its health risks.

George activated his personal pocket aid and viewed the list Lisa had prepared for him. It wasn’t a long list for there wasn’t much an older person could consume. It began with thirty out of the thirty two instant, ‘Palate Pleaser’ meals using home made recipes. George didn’t care much for the two meals that contained dried broccoli. The list also included protein pills, blood thinners and energy boosters; plus a few different organ maintenance pills. This was all that their diet and the government would allow.

George first picked up Lisa’s lung supplement pills. He had been purchasing these for her for nearly 20 years, ever since she had one lung removed due to cancer. That was of course before they found the cure. He had always used his credit to purchase these pills, still feeling guilty for having introduced the nasty habit to Lisa when they first dated. George then picked up some heart supplements. Although he didn’t have heart trouble, he always took a few for precautionary purposes. Emergency heart treatment was very costly to someone in George’s age class.

Nibbling on a freshly baked cookie and feeling very content, George headed toward the checkout line. He readied his card for the attendant whose job was not only to check for proper identification, but to make sure each citizen swipe their card and only their card into the check out computer. Old people were notorious for conveniently forgetting these regulations. The young attendant took George’s card and feed it into the computer without giving George a glance. She appeared to be preoccupied, apparently flirting with another attendant who was servicing another line of shoppers.

Abruptly, the red light on top of the check out scanner began to blink. The scanner omitted no sound, but the glaring red light pulsated, drawing the attention of attendants and nearby shoppers, as was its intent. The citizens in line stopped moving, stopped talking, and for a moment, seemed frozen. Then movement began, quick glances followed by hushed chatter. Slowly each citizen pushed forward to sneak a peak at the lonely old man with the walker, holding a half eaten cookie. The red light stopped blinking once the attendant pressed an unseen button. George stood motionless, his mouth hanging slightly open, cookie crumbs still hanging on the corners of his mouth.

“I’m sorry sir, you’re overdrawn.” The attendant’s impatient voice broke the silence.

“But I’m only 98!” George pleaded, after an awkward period of silence.

He looked to the line of citizens behind him for support, but they looked away, training their attention on some far away matter, some spot on their clothing or item in another part of the store. Eventually, their eyes drifted back towards the old man with the walker, still holding a half eaten cookie.

“I’m sorry sir. Once your credit has expired, it cannot be renewed. Please be so kind and stand in there!” The attendant pointed towards a nearby corner of the center. There, a small room was erected, making use of two solid walls of the center for its inside walls and two outer walls made of thick glass and one glass entrance door. Shoppers seem to make a wide path to avoid going near it. A row of chairs lined one side of the room and all were empty except one. The lone occupant was an old woman who sat bent over, her hands covered her face and it appeared she was sobbing; her body gyrated in big swells as she did so.

“A collection unit will be here shortly sir. They’ll see to it that your family receives word of your death. Thank you for shopping Z Mart, please...” The attendant stopped short, catching her mistake. Using her hand to cover her mouth, a half smile of embarrassment formed as she glanced over at the other attendant who was smiling back.

Russ Porter lives in Richfield, Ohio with his wife Vicki. He has written several short stories, all slanted towards the supernatural and macabre. The short stories are considered a fun pastime, but his real aspiration is to complete his first novel entitled, Peninsula, a thriller.