Cheapskate in Love - By Skittle Booth

Chapter 1

The Thursday evening in June had begun well enough, Bill thought, but now it seemed to deteriorate.

“Get out,” Linda yelled at him.

They were standing inside her large, three-story house. Immediately, she rudely cleared the way for his passage by yanking open the front door, which was painted a fire-truck red, a shocking contrast to the house’s white exterior, and pointed sharply and peremptorily in the direction he was to go. There was no doubt about what she wanted him to do. After a few microseconds in which he still had not moved—he was pondering his options, staring at her, perplexed at what was happening—she lost the rest of her small store of patience, grabbed his overnight bag, ran with it a few fiery steps outside, and hurled it toward his car parked on the street. Although she looked remarkably like a child’s doll, with a form-fitting silk dress that was brightly patterned with yellow, pink, and blue twining flowers, and had soft, gentle features that made her appear much younger than forty, Chinese-born Linda had enough yang to balance her yin and maintained an aggressive exercise routine. She could throw like a professional softball pitcher. Bill’s bag flew through the air.

It was the same worn nylon bag that he would take to the gym on the rare occasions he actually went there. It didn’t contain much. When it landed thirty feet from Linda near the sidewalk, the shapeless, sagging form was clearly visible to anyone looking, since there were nearly two hours of daylight left. The bag looked distinctly out of place on the perfectly green lawn, which was cut short and intensely tended to. Not a single weed, not even a small one, could be seen amid the grass. The lawn almost seemed to bristle with indignation at having an object such as Bill’s bag thrown on it.

“But why?” Bill asked, coming outside to where she stood. “What’s wrong this time?”

“Everything,” Linda spat. Like a bull, which sees red, she was determined to be displeased with anyone and anything in her way, particularly if they had some connection to Bill.

“You don’t mean that. We had a lovely dinner. I paid. We were talking and laughing,” he replied.

To call the dinner lovely was a stretch. Bill knew that to some degree. There had been more silence and arguing than talking and laughing. But as a fifty-six-year-old divorced man with aging looks, rounded shoulders, and a visible gut, who had been married for only five years decades ago, he had developed the habit, through years of dating many women, of putting things in a positive light. He tried to create an imaginary, flattering semblance of reality that might convince her-of-the-moment to continue together with him, for as long as the mirage could be made to last, despite obvious, unbridgeable differences. There were always going to be some differences, he reasoned. In his experience, there always had been. His habit of inventing romantic fantasies had become so engrained from frequent practice that now he mostly ignored—sometimes he didn’t even try to perceive—the actual differences. He thought that whatever he said or imagined about his relationships and the objects of his affections was true—no matter how fictitious—at least for a while.

Linda, however, was not in the mood to be pacified by any lover’s rubbish, especially any from Bill. “Get out,” she yelled even louder than before, shaking her beautiful, shiny, black, shoulder-length hair and flinging her right arm and thumb into the air like an umpire, the prettiest umpire ever, calling a man out who had failed to reach home base before the ball.

A young, conventional-looking couple, who were walking on the sidewalk in front of her house with a baby stroller, looked at Bill and Linda, dumb-founded with wide-open eyes, and slowed their pace unconsciously in an attempt to hear more. Their baby in the stroller had better manners and minded her own business, sucking on a pacifier and gurgling contentedly, perfectly oblivious to the hubbub nearby.

“We can go to a Chinese restaurant next time,” Bill suggested as a fair compromise, although he had no idea what the problem was that had stirred her passions. He didn’t have much insight into her thoughts, emotions, or behavior on any occasion; his understanding of women was quite limited. “We always eat Chinese food. You said you wanted to try something different. Didn’t you like the risotto? That had rice in it. My grandmother made better risotto, but it wasn’t that bad.”

Linda was too upset