Fiscal Cliff

“I think we’re headed off the fiscal cliff,” Betty said.
“I know,” said JJ.  “That’s all you hear about.”
“No, I mean we.  I mean us, me and Barry”
“I want to write a story about a guy named Clifford who handles people’s money, tells them how to spend,” JJ said.  “People would call him Fiscal Cliff.”
“This is serious,” Betty said.  “Everything’s a big fuckin joke to you.”
JJ looked around the coffee place.  Mid-morning in mid-December.  A few college kids with laptops, a few twenty-somethings with laptops, and a group of young moms holding babies at a big table, three of them clustered around a laptop.  JJ did a quick count:  six Apples, three Other. A newer Bruce Springsteen song was playing, his voice strangely polished but buried in the music.
“I thought you guys had a lot of stocks,” JJ said to his sister.  “Barry’s always talking about his Google, his Apple, his tech…”
“Barry’s full of shit.”
“Plus you got that house on the Cape.”
Betty looked away.  She got the look that JJ called her “Camel Trader Look” and he could see his kid sister, years ago, thinking of the best way to get $20 from their mom.  Now, in her late thirties, Betty’s cunning could not hide an impatient desperation.
“Look,” Betty said and turned back to JJ.  “I don’t want to get into it but it’s not what it seems.”
“Go on.”
“Look at how fuckin smug you are,” she said.  One of the moms glanced over.  “You won all that money and now you sit there like some fuckin Don.”
“It wasn’t as much money as you think.”
“It was the fuckin Lotto!”
“We’ve been down this road…”
“What are you doing with your life, JJ?”   Betty stood and gathered her coat and purse.  “You sit there all alone and judge me and Barry from your fuckin perch.”
“I gave you…”
“You’ve always been the lucky one, JJ,” she said and stomped away.  JJ saw all the moms turn their baby bundles away from Betty as she rushed past, a mom’s instinct to place herself between baby and bitterness.
“I don’t feel lucky,” JJ muttered.  He finished his coffee and Bruce sang, “Is there anybody alive out there?

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