Money Changes Everything

An excerpt.

Summer, 2016 / No. 37
Illustration by Matthew Daley
Matthew Daley

“If you don’t stop, you’ll lose everything.”

Karyn scanned Dan’s text message, then tossed her phone into her purse. Not now. The bank representative would be back in a minute. Karyn tapped her fingertips on his desk and waited. Her nails themselves were silent; they didn’t hit the wood surface. Unpainted, a touch jagged.

“I think we have everything we need now to review your file, Ms. Lake.”

Evan Drinkwater, Karyn’s client-services rep at mBank, was too young for the sharp, tailored blue suit he wore. The scent of his aftershave gave the cramped cubicle a medicinal scent. His skin was scrubbed. “I could see this one coming after my daughter like a shark,” Karyn thought. “Not that Bella is particularly innocent.”

Drinkwater sat. His chair creaked. He opened the paper file he had returned with and then typed a few strokes on his keyboard.

“Here we go.”

This was the first time Karyn had been called into the bank for a meeting, at least since she got her mortgage. Before today, it was letters and phone calls. Letters shoved into a drawer unopened. Her ringer turned off. This is how you make things go away. For a while, anyway.

“Ms. Lake, the automatic withdrawal of your mortgage payment failed this month.”

Drinkwater affected a neutral but pleasant tone. Karyn felt a lurch in her stomach, as if she might have an attack of diarrhea. She wasn’t sure what could come out as she hadn’t eaten in at least forty-eight hours.

“Based on the terms of our agreement, we always try again in seven days to access the required funds,” he continued. “In the past, we’ve had to do this with you . . . ”

He paused and looked up at the screen, then turned to face her again. Deep blue eyes. He was attractive, she admitted. Her stomach seized up again.

“. . . four times.”

Karyn looked right back at him, unblinking. “You can’t break me. This isn’t even happening,” she thought.

“This time, the funds were still insufficient.”

Drinkwater picked up a pen and looked down at it in his hand, clicking and unclicking slowly a few times to release and extract the ink-covered tip. Karyn’s mind felt empty, blank. Insufficient feelings. The young banker looked up at her with a solemn yet businesslike gaze.

“What are we going to do?”

“My daughter had an overnight school trip,” she said in a monotone. “It cost me more than I had expected.”

She waited.

“Ms. Lake.” Drinkwater put down the pen. “You can’t keep a house if you can’t make the payments.”

“I’m paid on Friday. Tomorrow. It goes right into my account. You’ll get the money.”

In her mind, Karyn was in a different room. One with soothing lights and sounds. Dim lights, muted sounds. Safer than here. The overhead fluorescent was hitting a blood vessel in her temple, causing it to throb. Her lips were dry. She needed to get out of there.

“Ms. Lake, I need you to understand what will happen if the payment doesn’t go through again.”

He looked up at Karyn, her long red hair pulled back tightly in a black scrunchy.

“You will be given fourteen days to acquire and submit the funds by whatever means are possible.”

He paused, reaching his hand out toward her, then stopping himself.

“If you don’t have the funds, the bank will initiate proceedings to foreclose.”

There. The word finally out in the open. “There is no way that this will happen. Not in fourteen days. Or at least, not today.” Karyn tried to remember to breathe. Her stomach made an audible noise, as if it were contracting in upon itself. She fought the urge to stand up and walk out without saying another word. What was there to say?

Drinkwater closed the file. The folder had a photo of her house stapled inside, on the upper-left-hand corner. Red bricks and a tiny front porch. She hadn’t been home in three days. Drinkwater looked up at her again.

“Your mother? A friend? Is there someone who can help you straighten things out?”

Her mother, in the ground nearly twelve months. Nothing left in her account. She hadn’t banked with mBank or Drinkwater could have checked himself. Her friends? Maybe Dan had some money. He always seemed to, even though he had a pretty shitty job. Karyn thought he might have stayed at her house the last few nights to babysit Bella. She never asked him to but he seemed to keep showing up; cooking, cleaning. Do you even call it babysitting when your kid wears a bra?

“I don’t need anyone’s help, Mr. Drinkwater. There is nothing to straighten out.”

Karyn glanced down at her purse. Her phone, on silent, made a vibrating buzz.

“You’ll get the money tomorrow. And this isn’t going to happen again.”

Drinkwater did not sigh. He stood up and reached forward to shake her hand.

“I’m really happy to hear that, Ms. Lake.” He looked at his watch.

“I want to make sure that you have my card,” he said. “If you need to reach me over the next fourteen days, I’m here for you. I would be happy to connect you with some additional advice if you need it.”

“I don’t. But thank you.”

As Karyn stood up and leaned forward to accept Evan Drinkwater’s firm corporate handshake a second time, she passed out and fell forward onto the desk, tumbling quickly to the ground.

When she came to, a woman she’d never seen before, wearing a lavender suit, sat next to her, wiping her forehead with a cool cloth.

“Please have a sip,” the woman gestured toward a glass of water in her hand.

With a meekness she rarely ever felt, Karyn bent toward the cold wet glass and complied. For a moment she was confused. “Where even am I?”

Looking around, it all came back. The interior design of this bank—the cool grey and blue hues, the modern lighting, the large touch screens and moving pictures everywhere—like a cross between some kind of artisanal whisky bar and the Apple Store. But a bank is a bank, no matter how they try to disguise it. Banks exist to take power away from you—to suck away your money in fees instead of letting you decide for yourself what to do with it. Like a Sunday school teacher or a parent drunk on authority.

The lavender business lady. According to the name tag, her name was Ruby. She spoke to Karyn gently.

“Are you feeling O.K., honey? Do you want a Coke or something? You must be a bit light-headed.”

Ruby put her hand on Karyn’s shoulder, where it felt like a dumbbell.

Karyn needed to get out of there. She said what she figured she needed to say.

“Yes, dear. I would really appreciate that. I’ve just been running a bit ragged lately, trying to get my daughter ready for tennis camp. She’s a natural talent. It’s been so hard since her father died. I stopped by here on the way to pick up her outfits for the camp. I’ve just been a bit tired lately. I could use some Coke.”

Ruby smiled and walked over to the vending machine.

“I hear you, honey. I’ve got two girls, six and ten, and it feels like my day is never done. I hope your daughter does well in tennis camp. And I’m sorry about your husband.”

Ruby pressed a button and Karyn heard an aluminum can clunk into the dispenser at the bottom.

“Yeah, my non-existent husband,” Karyn thought. She stood, took the Coke, smiled at Ruby, and headed toward the bank’s entrance, purse in hand. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Evan Drinkwater sitting at his desk. His eyes traced her figure as she cut a path straight out the door and picked up the pace. “This isn’t happening. I need to come up with a plan. And I will.”

Standing outside near the car, she took her phone from her purse and responded to Dan’s text from earlier. Dan. Her best friend. Her ex-lover.

“Nothing 2 worry about. Everything good. U around? On my way home. Maybe I’ll see u.”

Then she got into the car and went right back to the casino.

Dan’s phone buzzed. It was a notification from the Grindr chat app. He’d hoped it was Karyn getting back to him after the thirteen messages he’d sent her over the past two-and-a-half days. It looked like Bella needed tampons, and he didn’t really think he should be the one to have that conversation. He wasn’t Bella’s dad, though some days it sure felt like it. He sat in front of Karyn’s TV, watching sports and waiting for Bella to come home for dinner. She’d gone to the mall with her best friend, Tina, and new boyfriend, Diego. At least he thought Diego was her boyfriend. It was a little hard to keep track of what Bella was up to these days. He just wanted to make sure she was getting at least one square meal into her. His condo building was just around the corner anyway. Yes, a thirteen-year-old could probably cook for herself—but she might not make the best choices.

Dan belched before getting up from the couch, then farted on his way into the kitchen. Standing in front of the fridge to grab another beer, he pulled his phone out of his shorts and tapped on the Grindr notification. He skipped through to the message as the app launched, the orange background flanking its weird black logo. It always reminded Dan of a skull.

“I would pay ca$h to give you a blow job. PayPal?”

Dan stared at the message, not sure how to respond. He scanned the profile of the man who had sent it, someone with the screen moniker “Submit2u”—not bad looking, mid-thirties, nice beefy build, had obviously spent time in a gym. Dan doubted this guy would ever have to pay. Dan scratched at his five o’clock shadow, cracked open a can of Coors, and took a slug, heading back to the couch.

As he plunked himself back down in front of the game, Dan took at closer look at the man’s profile. He lived 1,458 miles away. What he was suggesting—at least the oral sex part of it—was a physical impossibility. Dan had received compliments on his endowment before, but it measured in inches and not acres. And PayPal—that’s the program you use to pay for T-shirts and underwear and DVDs you order over the Web. What was up with that?

Dan assumed the guy had some kind of fantasy about paying for sex, but didn’t want to actually do it or he’d be hitting up a sex worker in his own hometown. Although two of his good friends originally met on Grindr and were tying the knot in a couple of weeks, Dan understood that apps like this were, for most, a means to fulfill their cyber fantasies. Dan was handsome and well built; he attracted attention with very little effort, on-line or in real life. He toyed with these kinds of apps in idle moments but didn’t have a lot of time for them. Working as a nurse could be pretty draining. When he wasn’t at the hospital, he needed a bit of mind-numbing entertainment.

Dan was down for chat and little else. That said, some of the chat propositions he received could be a bit over the top. Like this guy. Well, then again, there was the one guy who wanted Dan to dominate him in an on-line chat session while pretending he was Willy Wonka of the infamous Chocolate Factory. That was a weird one—though Dan actually went along with it for almost a half-hour, mainly because he was lying in bed bored, waiting for Karyn to call him back about brunch with her and Bella.

That was a while ago. He hadn’t shared a meal with Karyn—or seen her and her daughter together at the same time—in months. So no, he guessed, someone who wanted to talk about making an imaginary payment for an imaginary blow job was not all that bizarre. Just some lonely guy, needing a little fantasy material to help make his life a bit better. Dan imagined the guy tapping away while lying in bed. Maybe he was a potato farmer living in small-town Idaho. Dan was used to being perceived as a dominant in the queer world of tops and bottoms. It had always been that way with certain women as well. People who liked to explore their submissive sides were drawn to Dan and his conventional good looks, not unlike those of a stereotypical cop or fireman.

With the football game blaring away in the background, Dan reopened the app and started a conversation with Submit2u.

“Of course you’d want to pay for this. Feast your eyes”

Dan, of course, had the requisite penis pic, with angle and lighting design to enhance, if not outright exaggerate, its natural impressiveness.

“Thank you for the pic, Sir. That’s quite the specimen. I’d pay ca$h to worship it.”

“That goes without saying. And I’d take every penny from you.”

Dan thought this was what the guy wanted to hear, even though he had neither paid nor been paid for sex in his life. The closest he’d ever come was selling his blood and sperm during a low point in university when he really needed the money.

“yes sir thank you sir”

“You know you want to service a real man like me.”

“Yes Sir. I am low and weak. I am born to serve a Superior male such as yourself. Please let me pay you Sir.”

“Damn right you would pay for it, low-life.”

“Please let me pay you now. PayPal?”

There it was again. What was this guy even talking about?

“What are you asking me, cock slave?”

“Please tell me your PayPal address and let me give up my cash for you?”


“How much Sir?”

What was the going rate when someone random wants you to allow them to give you money for free, apparently in exchange for nothing? Dan made a guess.

“You must pay me $50, lowlife.”

“Thank you Sir. Are you really going to let me pay you, or do I have to beg you for the privilege first?”

“beg me.”

“Sir, I am low and weak and I exist only to give up everything I have to Superior males. I am inferior to you. The only way my life has meaning is if I take everything that I have earned and surrender it to you. I am too stupid to have my own money. Please let me start by paying you $50. Please Sir, I beg you.”

“Go ahead, you inferior little worm.”

“yes sir, thank you sir.”

Dan heard the ding of a text-message notification go off. Could that be Karyn finally getting back after all those texts. When would she get home? They really needed to talk. He quickly switched over to see the message.

It wasn’t Karyn. It was a message from PayPal, letting him know that fifty dollars had just been deposited into his account. Dan returned to Grindr.

“Good little pig. You did what you are meant to do.”

“Sir, I just came Sir. Thank you, Sir. I hope I can worship you again Sir.”

Dan watched as Submit2u’s profile status changed to inactive. He contemplated what had just happened. It was one of the strangest things he had experienced in recent memory. Even weirder than the Willy Wonka freak. The guy wasn’t really after Dan’s peen at all. It was the act of paying someone—Dan—that had triggered his orgasm. And then he was gone. Dan had never heard of such a thing, but he did have to admit the horny talk had gotten him excited. Making the submissive man beg. Ordering him to pay. Hearing the ding of the notification from PayPal that money had been placed in his account. Dan hadn’t even known that you could receive money using PayPal unless you were a store.

Dan dug into the sofa, between two cushions, to haul out his phone from where he had dropped it after chatting with Submit2u. He was hungry all of a sudden, so he called Jet’s and ordered a pizza. He splurged and got an extra large, in case Bella or, fat chance, Karyn, actually showed up. He was almost nervous about her coming home. Anyone else might have called Children’s Aid by now. He ordered six toppings, twice as many as usual, feeling flush with cash after his PayPal experience. The guy at Jet’s told him that the pizza was forty dollars, but it felt like it was free. In fact, he’d come out ahead.

As Dan hung up the phone, he heard a car in the driveway, followed, shortly thereafter, by a key turning in the front door. He braced himself for what he might see.

Shawn Syms is the author of the short-story collection Nothing Looks Familiar, which was seized by the Michigan Department of Corrections for its potential to “encourage criminal activity.” Last updated summer, 2016.