Chapter 1 ~ Aspen Curio

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Aspen Curio sat down at the glass-topped table, a new box of high quality "linenesque" stationery in one hand and a cup of hot Sanka in the other. With its smoky gray top, oak border, and chrome legs, this table had been beautiful five years ago when she got it from Marshall Field's. Topped with a wreath of faux bayberries and a trio of maroon candles, it had been the focal point of her dining room. A focal point that, she imagined, could have rivaled any of her favorite movie stars' dining rooms. Sally Field's dining room. Farrah Faucet's dining room (that's how Aspen was fairly certain the star's name was spelled). Shelly Long's.

When she first got it, the table had looked to her like something from the showcase part of Wheel of Fortune. Classy. Two big men in coveralls had delivered it. They'd treated her like Little Miss Big Deal. She never had any cash, so she'd tipped them with boxes of Fannie May Pixies.

"Those guys loved me," she remembered aloud, talking to the high, paneled walls of her river-view penthouse. "And they tore right into those Pixies. They were eating them before they even drove away. I made their day. I made their year. Those guys are probably still talking about me."

Now the table was covered with scratches and crayon marks. Blobs of dried mashed potato were crusted to the wooden edge. Still, the table and its accompanying china hutch and bar cart were likely nicer than anything she'd ever own again.

She slid her stationery and coffee aside and completed the newspaper advertisement form she'd started working on that morning:

For Sale: One Marshall Field's glass top DINING SET, includes HUTCH filled with "Ancient Wheat" china set. Retail value $2200. Asking $200 now. In good condition.

Also For Sale: One mint green velour SOFA and LOVESEAT. Oak trim, coordinating throw pillows and matching COFFEE TABLE and END TABLES included! In very good condition. Retail value $1950. Asking $200.

Also For Sale: One round cherry-finish queen size WATERBED, several nice silk sheet sets included. New heater. Also peach sateen bedspread with eyelet dust ruffle. Retail value $2800. Asking $250 for bed + accessories.

Call Aspen Curio at 312-555-3254. Serious inquiries only.

She sighed, took a sip of coffee, and changed all uses of the word "good" to "fair." Then she wrote a check for $29—the cost for the ad to run for one week—mentally noting that she now had one hundred seven dollars to her name. She put the form and the check in an envelope, sealed it, stuck a postage stamp on it, and set it on the corner of the table.

She went into her kitchen, opened her refrigerator, and removed a Tupperware container from the crisper drawer. Written in black magic marker on the lid of the container were the words 'Mom's hardboiled eggs. Keep out!' To Aspen's disappointment, her children were a rather dull, uncurious pair. This kind of move was all it took to hold them back.

She peeled off the lid and took out one of her last Virginia Slims, rolling it listlessly across the countertop. The telephone rang. Aspen's heart accelerated. Maybe he'd changed his mind. Perhaps this nightmare was about to correct itself.

"Hello?" she gasped hopefully into the phone.

"Hello. This is Regina from Chicago Gas and Electric. Is the bill-paying adult of your household available?"

"I'm not a little kid," said Aspen. She couldn't believe her years of smoking, drinking, and hollering at the top of her lungs hadn't done her any good. "I've been known to drink whiskey straight from the bottle," she told the woman from the utilities company.

"So you're the bill-paying adult of your household?"

"I don't have time for this."

"Ma'am? Are you aware you're nearly two months behind on—"

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