by Cathy Beaudoin
Sara’s eyes bulged as she watched the deliverywoman unload six medium-sized boxes from the back of her truck. In a voice meant to convey her distress, Sara yelled, “Jack, what did you do now?”
She heard Jack come up the basement stairs. “Hon, you need something?”
“What,” her finger aimed at the living room window, “what is that?”
Jack squinted and saw the source of her anger. “My stuff’s here! Wow, that was fast.”
“Stuff? What stuff?” Moisture collected on Sara’s upper lip. After five years of marriage, she still couldn’t accept Jack’s propensity to acquire new hobbies as often as he got a paycheck. “What did you buy now?”
“Hang on honey. Let me help this lady.” Tall and lanky, Jack was across the room and out the door in four easy steps. Sara followed but watched from inside the garage. At the bottom of the driveway, Jack picked up his merchandise and carried it to a spot next to his car. As the truck pulled away, Jack turned and smiled.
“It’s computer equipment, babe. Remember I told you I wanted to set up a crypto mining rig? Well, this is some of the equipment I need.”
Sara’s face twisted like a pretzel. “Some of the equipment you need? How much? How much is this costing us?”
Sara watched her husband wipe his brow “It’s all the hardware, hon. I still need some racks and track lighting.”
“How much, Jack?”
“Um. Maybe two thousand dollars. But the racks’ll be a couple hundred more.”
Sara wrung her hands. If he said two thousand dollars, it’d likely be closer to three thousand. Vintage Jack, she thought, kind, attentive, doting, and a propensity to tell little white lies. It was the fibbing about money that infuriated her most. She closed her eyes and tried to meditate. Though not what she’d been taught, Sara focused on the twenty-six hundred-dollar bills stuffed between the pages of the dictionary in her desk drawer. The first was paired with the word AFFORDABLE, the second with BARGAIN, the third with CAPITAL. It was her way of coping, to have her own pile of cash.
Sara loved Jack and knew deep in her heart he was a good man. But she didn’t trust him when it came to money. It was the only fissure in their marriage, him unwilling to live on a budget, her unable to control her rage after his excessive, or unplanned, purchases. She knew about his schemes, buying things like the electric trains, cars, and trucks he liked to refurbish and having them delivered to work instead of the house. When he resold the tricked-out toys, she knew he used the cash inflow to finance new interests. To his credit, the computer equipment was something they briefly talked about. Though she thought spending money on a crypto mining rig was frivolous, she agreed to the purchase if he provided an estimate of the cost before placing the order.
“Not to worry, babe. I got it covered out of my slush fund.”
“What?” Sara kept her tone dull and measured. “Did you just say your slush fund? You mean the one I set up for us? You mean that slush fund?”
Jack stalled, fumbling for words.
“My slush fund…Our slush fund…What ever happened to what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine?”
Sara remained silent.
Jack wet his lips. “Why does it matter? Sometimes I really don’t understand you.”
Sara felt vulnerable, and at fault. She watched as Jack towered over the boxes, arms spread wide. “You don’t have to worry. I can grab enough overtime to cover all this. It’s going to be fun. You’ll see.”
Sara shook her head. “I don’t like this.”
“Come on. What’s the big deal? You know I love to tinker. This’ll give me something to do when you’re out training for your marathons.”
Sara straightened her spine. But at five feet three inches, she still had to tilt her head back to lock eyes with her husband. “Yeah, and when you get bored it’ll be junk sitting in the basement.”
Jack hesitated, then grabbed a straight-edged blade. He sliced open the first box. Tearing away a layer of bubble wrap, he pulled out a carton sealed in clear cellophane. Sara leaned in and read out loud, “ATI HD 7950. What is it?”
“A graphics card. Kind of like portable brains. It supplies the intelligence to run the algorithms needed to mine.”
Sara grunted and Jack conjured up a brusque tone of his own. “You know, running races isn’t exactly cheap. The registration fees, travel, hotel. We both know you running the Boston Marathon last year cost more than this stuff.”
Sara tensed, sending more blood flow to her already reddened face. “Don’t start, Jack.”
He grinned. “Getting feisty, are we? When you spend money it’s okay. But when it’s me…Besides, you’re the one who started it.”
“You don’t get it. We budgeted for that race. You don’t budget for anything. You just spend, spend, spend.” Spit flying, Sara turned her head away.
He tried again. “You’re being irrational.”
Sara tired of the bickering. “Okay, okay. You’re right. Let’s not do this anymore.” She quickly changed the subject. “How about firing up the grill? We’re having barbequed chicken and roasted vegetables for dinner.”
“Sure thing, babe. I’m on it.” And with a spring in his step, Jack headed outside.
Later, at their four-place dining room table, Jack asked Sara how work was going. Always eager to talk about her job as the director of domestic scheduling at a major airline, her dour mood seemed to lift.
“It was a rough week. Anytime the Feds ground a fleet of aircraft for maintenance, we’re the ones under pressure. But the new set of analytics we built really paid off. I think we eked out an extra seventy-five flights using the new data set.”
There was a lull in the conversation. Sara glanced at the faux chandelier with its’ perfectly symmetric points of light. The eggshell-white walls, blonde wood floors, and lack of curtains gave the place a transient feel. Looking out the only window in the room, she watched as the breeze sent a single oak leaf off into the distance, then out of sight.
Jack waved his hands. “Hello, are you there?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.”
“Can you please pass the salad?”
Sara passed Jack a bowl of mixed greens, then asked, “Why’d you decide to get into mining?”
Jack took his time, forking half the salad onto his plate. “A couple of production line techs at work set up rigs in their basements. They’ve been making a couple hundred dollars a month mining blockchains. So, I figured, why not give it a try.”
Sara frowned, and felt a bit estranged at her end of the table. “Production line techs? I thought you said those guys were a bunch of weirdos, all secretive every time you walked in the break room.”
“Yeah, well, one day I overheard them talking about building rigs and started asking questions. Once we got talking, one of the guys invited me over his house and showed me his setup.”
“A couple of weeks ago, when you were out on one of your long training runs.”
“Oh.” Sara fought the temptation to feel excluded. She remembered the day he wanted to do something together and she brushed him off, going for a two-hour run instead.
Jack stabbed at a chunk of squash. As soon as he swallowed the coin-sized disc, Sara asked, “What exactly are you mining for?”
“Transactions that pay off in bitcoin, ether, stuff like that. Bitcoin to start out with though.”
Sara dropped her fork, clapped her hands, and laughed. “Bitcoin? You mean cryptocurrencies? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s a scam. You just flushed our money down the drain.”
Jack scratched his forearms. “What do you know about this stuff? It’s not like I’m trolling on the dark web. This is legit.”
“I read the business news. Investing in cryptocurrency is nothing but a speculative gamble.”
Jack shook his head. “No. No. You don’t get it. I’m not buying bitcoin like we do with stocks and bonds.”
Sara’s sat back and folded her arms across her chest. But Jack wasn’t deterred. “You need to think of mining as renting out my equipment to people trying to conduct business on the internet. The algorithms I’m running validate a transaction between two parties. So, those people are basically renting my computer and I’m being paid in cryptocurrency. How cool is that?”
“What, the part about getting paid in fake money? Or that someone thinks they can create money out of computer code? A bitcoin is no different than a baseball card. You might as well be getting paid in baseball cards!”
“Hah,” Jack chuckled. “You wouldn’t complain if it was a ’55 Roberto Clemente card!” Jack leaned over his end of the table. After a pause, he continued. “You don’t get it. People understand the value of dollars, euros, pesos, you know, the kind of money you can touch.”
The words dangled between them for a couple of seconds, then Jack continued. “Cryptocurrencies, blockchains, they’re a different way of conducting business. You need to open your mind, that’s all. Besides, it’s the technology I’m interested in.”
“Seems like an expensive way to learn about a technology. You could’ve just bought a book. Now you’re involved with a bunch of hacks.”
“Ouch, did you just call me a hack?”
“Well, maybe not you…” She blew a kiss across the table.
Though the banter was more contentious than usual, it was typical of their nightly round of intellectual sparring. Not quite ready to retreat, Sara took another jab at her husband. “There are lots of stories about how guys running the algorithms never get paid. Or their coins get stolen.”
“Oh, holding out on me, are you?” Jack made eye contact with his wife and grinned.
“Where’s your secret stash of tech magazines? Under the bed?”
Sara giggled. “I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in this relationship keeping secrets. Who are your new cronies anyway?”
Jack ignored the dig. “People get paid, as long as their rig is the first one to validate a transaction. The risk is that more than one computer is working on the same transaction.
Sara tossed her napkin in front of Jack’s plate. “You always have an answer for everything.”
“Yum, yum,” Jack said after he stuffed the last piece of chicken in his mouth. Sara watched him mime his satisfaction with dinner and then drain the last of his iced tea. She decided it was time to bail. She rose and grabbed her plate. But Jack insisted he’d clear the table and wash the dishes. Sara acquiesced and slunk away to the back bedroom where she changed into black, form-fitting tights and a snug pink tank top. At a hundred and ten pounds, she ran her hands down her fit, trim body.
Sara walked back through the kitchen, “I’m headed to the Yoga studio. Love you.”
Jack intercepted his wife before she reached the door. He kissed her on the crown of her head. “We okay?”
Sara didn’t answer. Instead, she buried her face in her husband’s chest. He smelled like smoky barbeque sauce, sweet and sharp with a tinge of hickory. She warmed to him, her irritation fading. When she finally stepped back, she fingered his belt. He bucked forward, then mouthed, “I’ll be here waiting.”
A half hour later, in the Warrior I position, Sara was far from a Zen state of mind. Despite the rhythmic chants, the lilac oil, and the view of the river, all she could think about was the money Jack spent. And the stupid lies he told. What kind of married man buys a set of fifty-two matchbox cars, hides them in the trunk of the car, and then lies about them. She wondered what else he lied about, then visualized the hundred-dollar bill paired with the word INVESTMENT.
A master of spreadsheets, she tracked their savings like a hound on a scent. Cash flows in, cash flows out, she tracked every single penny. Jack thought the spreadsheets were absurd. When he saw her projections went long into retirement, he questioned whether they’d live to be ninety. Besides, he told her, she didn’t need to be planning for the worst-case scenario. Between them, they’d always be able to figure things out. Easy for him to say, she thought. His parents paid for a car, his college education, and a vacation to Mexico when he graduated with honors. He knew they’d always have his back.
Holding her yoga pose, Sara stewed. He didn’t see the flexibility she built into the numbers. Her thoughts raced. She visualized the hundred-dollar bill paired with the word DIVIDENDS, then the one with EARNINGS. Her core muscles ached. He didn’t understand. Even if she couldn’t predict the future, she was going to be prepared for the possibilities.
A delicate chime went off in the far corner of the room.
“Warrior II,” a soft voice called out. Sara rotated her hips, repositioned her arms, and audibly exhaled.
“That’s right. Deep exhale. Let it all out.”
Sara silently calculated her next bonus. The extra seventy-five flights in the schedule were a big deal, probably worth an extra thousand dollars. With Jack’s overtime pay, she felt like things were manageable. Eighty thousand dollars. That’s how much money they had. Not bad for a couple in their early thirties.
Sara thrived when it came to tangible measurements. A cross country and track athlete in college, her spirits were buoyed by her impressive race times. She got the same feeling from tracking her net worth. No, no, she chided, our net worth. Ours. Mine. Whatever. Sara shut her eyes and reached her fingertips forward. Discipline. Stay disciplined. It was the foundation for good performance. Why can’t he be more disciplined?
The chime pinged again.
“Both feet to the front of the mat.” A pause, then, “Mountain position.”
As Sara’s praying hands settled in front of her chest, the thought of money was replaced by an awareness of the space being created in her hips. The instructor led the class through a couple more poses, and finally to Savasana. The corpse position was Sara’s favorite, and the only time she felt she could truly quiet her mind. Drifting in and out of an altered state of consciousness, she saw the words it’s only a hobby float through space, and then disappear. Her burden lighter, when Sara got home, she eschewed any small talk and got right to the point with Jack
“Want to go check out my spicy tech magazines?”
“You betcha,” he responded with crazy enthusiasm. Together, the couple made their way to the back of the house and on to their cushy, king-sized bed. Neither ever held a grudge for long.
As promised, Jack picked up extra hours at work at the production facility. Meanwhile, Sara was deep into a training block for a local marathon. One Sunday morning, when she labored up the driveway after a twenty-mile run, Jack met her at the door
“Hi babe, how was the run?”
“Pretty good. I hit all my targets, but my legs feel dead.”
He handed her a recovery drink.
“Aw..” She took a long swig. “Thanks, Jack.”
“Hey, you gotta come downstairs and check out the crypto rig. I finally got it all set up.”
“Sure.” Sara expected to see a computer set up on a desk in some dark corner of the basement. Instead he completely refinished a ten-foot by ten-foot workspace.
“Wow, Jack, the new lighting looks great. And the rig. It’s nothing like I thought it would look like.” The rig was an open box of motherboards and circuits, and who knew what else. There were six slots for the graphics cards, and lots of additional wiring.
“Why all the fans?” she asked.
“They guys from work warned me that the rigs can run hot. So, I replaced the power supply and some other components that don’t generate as much heat. The fans will circulate cool air around the machines. That’s why the unit is open, and you can see all the internal parts.”
Sara nodded, impressed with Jack’s ability to build anything he wanted. “Pretty cool stuff. So, I get the that the graphics cards run the algorithms you talked about, but how do they work? Don’t you need a software program, or something like that?”
“Sure do, babe. I downloaded a hashing miner program. It’s easy to work with, Plus, I was texting back and forth with the guys to make sure I was doing everything right.”
“Well, I like what you did with the space. It’s time for me to take a shower. Lunch at the pub today?”
“Sounds good to me.”
The two went to lunch and spent the rest of the day doing household chores and yardwork. Then, every morning for the next week, Jack got up earlier than usual. He told Sara he was checking on his rig. On the fourth day, Sara noticed he emerged from the basement with a look of concern.
“Everything okay down there?” she asked.
Jack hemmed and hawed. “Yeah things are working. I’m don’t have any way of knowing if the rigs are running at optimum capacity, that’s all.”
Sara knew this was the fun part for Jack. Troubleshooting, fixing, rejiggering, he could spend hours perfecting his projects. It never surprised her, his attention to the smallest details. She knew as a kid he’d loved his set of Tinker toys and his erecter set and developed a deep love for building things.
Later in the week, Sara sat at the desk in their home office, updating her spreadsheets and paying bills. When she logged in to pay the electric bill, she scanned the screen and stopped on the amount owed – three hundred and forty-five dollars. She blinked, then blinked again. What the heck? Something had to be wrong. She called the customer service center.
“Ma’am, our records indicate the usage was eight times more than last month,” a polite voice said.
“That can’t be,” Sara insisted.
“Are there any new appliances in the house? Maybe someone else in the home plugged in some new appliances?”
“It’s not right,” she pleaded.
“The only thing I can do is schedule an appointment to get the meter tested. Do you want me to transfer you?”
“Sure.” And when the service center representative transferred the call, Sara hung up. She heard a car pull in their driveway, and thirty seconds later Jack came bouncing into the house.
“Hi babe,” he yelled out. “Sorry I’m late. I picked up an hour of overtime. Every little bit helps – right?”
Sara felt herself go stone cold.
“Hon, you here?”
His footsteps muffled at first, they grew louder and louder until he was standing in the doorway of the spare bedroom, where she continued to stew at her desk.
“Hey hon, I’m home.”
Lips quivering, pupils contracted, she looked up at him and shook her head.
“What’s the matter, babe?” He kneeled by her side.
Jack’s ability to take life in stride no matter what was happening added to her ire. “This is insane,” she said through clenched teeth.”
“What? What’s insane?” He caught a glimpse of the computer screen. “Oh, yeah, I probably should’ve warned you about that.”
“Warned me? You should have warned me?” She was beyond angry.
“Aw, hon. It’s a misunderstanding, that’s all. You only see the cost side of running the rig. I’m getting a bitcoin deposit for every transaction the algorithm verifies. It’s just going in my virtual wallet.”
“Oh. How much?”
“Um, well, right now, about twenty to twenty-five dollars a week. But…”
“Great, so your little hobby is only costing us two hundred dollars a month! And that’s on top of the initial investment.”
“Hey, that’s not fair. If it was up to you, we’d go to work, come home, sit in a chair and count our money until we died. What kind of life is that?”
“One with security, that’s what kind of life it is.”
Jack sighed. “You gotta believe in yourself, babe. And you gotta believe in me. We’ll always be able to take care of ourselves, and our kids if we ever have any. I know saving money is important to you. But life is about having experiences, too.”
A timer went off in the kitchen. Sara stomped off in a huff, made her way to the oven, and removed two baked potatoes.
“Fuckers are hot.” She tossed the spuds from hand to hand until they landed on the counter. After slamming the oven door shut, she grabbed some vegetables out of the refrigerator, a knife from the butcher’s block, and a cutting board from the lower cabinet. In a frenzy, she peeled and chopped, peeled and chopped.
“Damn onions,” she stammered, then cupped the medley of onions, peppers carrots, and celery and deposited them in a bowl. Dinner prep done, Sara went out to the garage to grab a couple bottles of sparkling water. And there it was. Another box of merchandise. Her knuckles went white.
I’m going to be okay, she thought as she struggled with her demons. It’s a surprise but we can afford whatever it is. Jack is a good man. He works hard and deserves to have a hobby. I need to be comfortable with this. Life is never going to be predictable.
Jack came up behind his wife. “Sara?”
“I’m fine,” she said after a deep breath.
“Yes, really.” Her tone softened. “It’s not about the money, Jack.”
“Hon, it’s never been about the money.”
It was one of the few times Sara saw disappointment in Jack’s eyes. She thought back to when she was a kid. For years, her mother horded every nickel, dime, and penny she got her hands on. The bucket that held the coins was stored under Sara’s bed.
“Our secret,” her mother used to say, finger to lips.
Though a child, Sara sensed the importance of keeping their secret. She watched her mother pilfer single dollar bills from the weekly grocery allowance her father doled out every Thursday. At the time, Sara had no idea her mother was planning an escape from her father, a man who eventually went to prison for beating a man unconscious. When Sara, her mother, and two siblings left, they drove to the Mississippi River, through the plain states, and north to a corner of the country Sara never knew existed. She thought about the hundred-dollar bill placed on the page defining FREEDOM and couldn’t resist the urge to touch it.
“I’m okay.” She made her way back to the spare bedroom and grabbed the dictionary from her desk.
Right behind her, Jack’s voice was barely audible, “Go to the S’s. You’ll find a five-hundred-dollar bill paired with the word SECRET.” He gently touched her hand. It’s the one thing that’ll kill a marriage, babe.”
“Sara flushed with embarrassment.
“It’s not what you think…,” her voice trailed off.
“It’s not what I think? You mean that you don’t trust me to take care of you, because right now, that’s what I think.”
Sara tilted her head back and looked Jack straight in the eyes. “Sit down, Jack. There’s something I need to tell you about my father.”
Bio:Cathy Beaudoin’s fiction has been published in literary journals including Angel City Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Freshwater. Her nonfiction writing has appeared in Triathlon Magazine Canada, the Reader’s Choice award-winning anthology: Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities, and literary outlets such as Five on the Fifth.