A lone briefcase sitting atop a glass table

Wisteria’s Short Story #4: If Only

Norman stared at the silver briefcase on his table, wondering where it had come from. His mind was a bit fuzzy, and he couldn’t recall what he had been doing before he spotted the odd object. He looked down at his right hand, which was holding his cell phone with a precariously loose grip. He stashed the phone in his pocket, noting with curiosity that he couldn’t remember the last time he had received or placed a call.

Crossing over to the mysterious item, Norman reached out a hand and tentatively touched the case. For whatever reason, he expected it to move, or blow up in his face, or do something extraordinary. Much to his surprise, the case remained where it was, stationary and motionless. He wondered if he dared open it, as there was a chance that it could have been filled with dangerous items like explosives or live animals.

“Might as well find out,” he said quietly to himself, slowly opening both latches and watching as the briefcase snapped wide open.

He reached a hand out to catch one of the papers inside that had been caught in the updraft from the rapid movement of the case, and brought the item closer to his face to inspect it. He knew what it was after one glance, but wanted to take a closer look to make sure he wasn’t imagining things.

In his hand was a large denomination bill – one that he himself didn’t come across too often. His finances had been a bit lacking lately, what with losing his job nearly a year ago and being unable to find a suitable replacement. Looking past the large bill he held in his hand, Norman saw that the briefcase was filled to the brim with identical denominations.

“Are you serious?”

He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. There was more money on his table than the entire apartment building he was currently residing in was worth. There was more money on his table than he had ever owned in his entire life. There was more money on his table than-

“Yeah, it’s a lot of money,” Norman said to silence his thoughts.

He didn’t need to compare the amount of cash he had lying in front of him to anything else to know that it was ridiculous amount. He racked his mind thinking of how he could have possibly come into possession of the small fortune, wondering if he had found it somewhere or even earned it doing something. Nothing came to mind, and in the end Norman preferred to think that however the money had come about didn’t matter.

It was his now.

Quickly grabbing as many bills in his hand as he could, Norman began hiding piles of currency around his tiny apartment, afraid of what would happen if someone found the briefcase. When he had finished hiding the last of the cash, Norman closed the briefcase and left it where it originally was on the table, not wanting to touch it anymore.

“It’s mine now. Mine,” he said quietly, thinking of all the things he could do with the money.

His thoughts started to race as he pictured the things he was dying to purchase with his newly acquired funds: a house, a car, a pedigree dog, a state-of-the-art gaming system, a new business suite, and more. He had to stop himself for a moment, realizing that using such funds so quickly might arouse suspicion. He reasoned with himself that he’d take it slow.

First, he’d put a down payment on an affordable house in a middle-class neighborhood. Then, he’d lease a new car that wasn’t overly luxurious or expensive. After that, he’d find an online breeder and pay in cash for a purebred puppy. He’d browse suit shops and electronic stores, but didn’t have to purchase those items right away. The rest of the cash he could hide around his new house and use for daily necessities until he landed another job. There were other expenses he could tend to as well, of course, but those were the main priorities he would focus on first.

He realized that he should probably start writing down his thoughts while he was still thinking clearly. If he let the fact that he was sitting on such a monumental amount of money bounce around in his head for very long he’d stop being reasonable and start throwing parties. Grabbing a notepad from the table, he flipped to the first page and stopped in his tracks.

Written in the notepad was a note in his handwriting, though he couldn’t recall writing it.

Caterers, florists, morgue, casket, family plot…

Norman looked at the note in bewilderment. Why had he written such words down? What did they mean?

As he struggled to comprehend what was happening, his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and answered it without looking to see who was calling him, his heart beating faster in his chest for reasons he wasn’t certain of.

“Norman? Are you there? We got disconnected, I think. We were talking about the arrangements for the funeral. Norman?”

“The what?”

“Funeral, Norman. I know this is a lot to put on you, especially with both of your parents passing so suddenly – which I’m very, very sorry about, once again – but we need to get their finances in order as quickly as possible so none of it comes back to you.”

“Their finances?”

“Yes, Norman. We liquidated everything so we can pay off the majority of their debts, remember? If we didn’t, you’d be stuck with the entire total instead of just what’s leftover. It’s still a sizable amount, but at least it’s not unmanageable.”

Norman was silent. He looked back over to the briefcase, his head throbbing in pain. Slowly moving to the table, he pushed aside the now empty container to see a legal document underneath it stating which of his parents’ assets had been liquidated and the total amount of funds in the briefcase. The number at the bottom of the paper that deducted the liquidated funds from the debt was bright red, which Norman understood was the balance still due.

“There’s still an amount due,” Norman said quietly, his mind clearing and memory coming back to him.

“Yes, we talked about this. You don’t have to pay it right away, of course. I’m sure I can give you some time for that. But it will have to be replayed eventually.”

“Their insurance didn’t cover it?”

“Not all of it. The made some bad investments, I’m afraid. Not only did they lose everything, they actually lost money they didn’t have – don’t ask me exactly how, their finances are screwy enough and the accountant hired for this case isn’t exactly forthcoming with information. Don’t worry though, I’m pulling every sting I can to see if there’s any way we can squeeze a bit more out of the insurance company, for your sake.”

Norman let the phone fall out of his hand and clatter against the kitchen floor. He dropped unceremoniously next to the device, putting his head in his hands as the illusion what shattered. He was worse off than before. His parents were dead and he had to pick up their tab. All thoughts of dogs and cars and houses swirled around a drain in his mind until they left him with nothing but the realization that he now had an even larger monetary burden on his shoulders.

“Norman? Norman? You still there?”

Norman peeked out from between his fingers at the phone as the lawyer shouted on the other end to be heard.

He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t face the reality of his situation. The pain in his head continued to grow until he began to scream, his hands pressed against his temples while his mind felt like it was on fire. He leaned forward and smashed his head against the floor once, the pain leaving him after doing so.

Rising to a sitting position, Norman hung up his phone and held it in his hand before standing and heading to the bathroom. He took a small towel from a rack next to the sink and began to dab at the wound on his forehead. As he did so, he noticed something peculiar sticking out his medicine cabinet. Pulling the corner of the bill, he took the note in his hand and stared at it dumbly.

Reaching up, he opened the cabinet and watched as a small pile of cash fell into the sink. He had no clue how or why such a massive amount of cash had found its way into his bathroom, but the sight of it brought a smile to his face as his mind began to race with purchasing possibilities and relieving himself of his personal debts. Looking towards his bathtub, he saw that the rug on the floor had a small mound in the center, which he hoped was evidence of more hidden cash. Everywhere he looked in the room he saw signs of stashed currency. His smile continuing to widen.

“Are you serious?”

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