The Last Paper Towel

She never envisioned herself living so intimately with poverty, at certain times of the year having its skeleton hand squeeze hers so hard she couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t break.

Never thought she’d be this hard broke, this far below the line. Never in her college classroom did she plan for her career to be Scrounger of Coins in the moldy nooks between the carpet and the wall. Never, while the wedding ring was being slipped over her finger, did she think of when they’d need to hock it, didn’t calculate how many eggs it’d buy.

No, this girl from Suburbia, who acquired adult consciousness during the crazed consumer free-for-all of the 1980’s, never imagined herself afraid to look at the checkbook, afraid to pick through the mailbox, that central repository of the country’s credit card bills. She never thought every ring of the phone would echo with the anticipation of a seething, snarling bill collector riding a high horse.

And now she faces the last paper towel of the roll. Each of the last ten or so she had savored, its potential use carefully weighed on the poor person’s scale of down-to-the-last-paper-towel usefulness. Is the mess something she could just use the kitchen sponge for? Does it warrant going to the closet for a rag? Or is it some nauseating glop of sludge that she doesn’t want to have to rinse out of a sponge or rag, she just wants to throw it out carefully wadded up inside a paper towel?

Thus it goes with the last few.

But the last one, she wonders, should she save it? Should she hoard it, like when she was a child she used to keep a stash of tissues, combs, gum, pens, not because anything was in short supply, but just in case the Russians decided to push their red button?

No! she decides as she whisks off the last one. She’s going for it. She’s wealthy beyond belief as she squanders the last paper towel to swipe a small puddle of water left splashed off the counter.

Now she can throw away the cardboard roll and pretend she never had any.

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