The Unpaid Invoice: A short story

The unpaid invoice

His hot coffee in the nasty takeaway cup was starting to burn his hand as he reached his desk. He plonked the steaming drink onto a tattered piece of paper that somebody had dumped next to his computer.

The accountant stared absentmindedly at the steam meandering through the small hole in the black plastic lid. He reached out to remove the lid from the cup. He hated how the scorching heat of black coffee singed his lips when he sucked it through the minuscule hole. He swore as the lid stuck to the cup and the whole container of boiling black liquid spilled out onto his desk and trickled into his lap.

Grabbing the piece of paper next to his computer, he smirked as he spotted the heading ‘INVOICE’ sprawled across the top of the page in urgent looking capital letters. Somebody wouldn’t be getting paid this month. He used the paper to mop the worst of the spilled drink from his desk, before unceremoniously slopping the sodden parchment into the bin.

Across the sprawling, smog-ridden city, the writer cradled her morning brew. Her day had started well, she’d walked the boy to school, kissed him goodbye and strolled home through the park. The leaves were just starting to change to autumnal reds, and she had imagined the school run in a few weeks time. They would be able to put on their wellies and crunch through the leaves.

The Unpaid Invoice: A short story

As she sat at the table savouring every sip of the lukewarm, milky liquid, she flipped open her laptop. Today was the day all her hard work was going to pay off.

Everyone had told her dropping all her other contracts in favour of one big one was foolish. She knew she was putting all her eggs in one basket, but the new project was for a huge company. They were lovely to work for when she’d done some smaller commissions for them in the past. And they always, always paid on time.

As the laptop whirred into life, she excitedly opened up a browser and hit the shortcut to view her bank account. It was a sorry sight, she was well beyond her overdraft limit. She wasn’t looking forward to yet another unfriendly letter about the extortionate charges. But the new contract would solve all her problems. And she knew that by lunchtime, she’d have been paid and she’d be one step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel.

The ageing laptop made an ominous clunking noise and cut out. The writer chucked it into her battered bag. She’d take it to the repair shop again this afternoon. For now, she finished her brew and grabbed her phone. She’d have to use that to keep checking whether she’d been paid.

But as the day wore on and her bank balance remained the same, she had an ominous feeling. By the time she picked up the boy from school, it had turned to full blown panic. The repairman took only a moment examining the laptop before he returned, shaking his head. This time it was beyond repair.

And something told her that her bank balance wouldn’t be changing today. She made a decision. The payment wasn’t late, but as she needed it so much there was nothing for it but to phone the plush offices of the company she’d been working for. She’d apologise for bothering them, but explain that she really did need that money today.

An icy wind swept through her as she walked back across the park, with the boy clutching her hand. She picked up her mobile and nervously dialled. She spoke to reception, then to the department that had commissioned her. Eventually, she was put through to a grumpy sounding man in accounts. Her voice trembled as she started to explain for the third time why she really did need the money today.

But before she’d even told him who she was, the call cut out. Her phone was dead, she’d been cut off. She knew she hadn’t paid the phone bill, but she’d hoped it would last until her money came through.

So what now? The writer picked up the boy and cuddled him tight. They’d go home and wait it out. There was enough food to last a few days and the boy had school dinners. They’d manage.
Perhaps the big company would pay her when they realised they couldn’t get hold of her for their next assignment.

Sighing, she unlocked the faded blue door. As she went to hang up her bag, she sensed that somebody was watching her. Glancing into her tiny lounge, she jumped a little when she saw the landlord.

He’d always been a reasonable man, but she knew she’d stretched his patience too far this time. They were already two months behind, he couldn’t wait any longer. Didn’t want a fight, understood her situation but it was time to go.

She packed them a bag each and grabbed the food from the cupboards. That night, the writer and the boy wandered the streets looking for somewhere to stay. She had no family to speak of and the council offices were closed for the weekend. She couldn’t even declare herself homeless. She had nowhere to turn.

In desperation, she trudged towards the plush office of the big company who she had so naively thought were the answer to her prayers. Clutching the boy’s hand, she stood quietly in the shadows and watched the man in the suit wrestle with his briefcase as he closed the heavy exit door behind him.

The accountant had forgotten about his appointment. He hated that his employers tried to improve their reputation by basically forcing him to do voluntary work. When he’d agreed to work at the soup kitchen in return for an extra day off once a month, he hadn’t realised it would be like this.

He knew there were homeless people living in the city but there were hundreds of them. Stinking, whining and usually drunk. Sometimes there were even children, standing in line with their mothers waiting for a measly bowl of tasteless soup.

He thought of his kids back at home. They’d probably be nagging his wife to take them out to play Pokemon GO after dinner. He looked back at the line and for a moment, he felt a pang of guilt when his eyes landed on the boy. Still in his school uniform, frightened, clinging to his mother and complaining that he was hungry and was usually in bed by now. What the hell did that mother think she was doing dragging the boy to a place like this so late at night? She was probably a dirty smack-head.

But this one looked different. Her puffy eyes were full of fear. Maybe she did care about the boy. The accountant handed over the soup. He never spoke to his customers, he didn’t want them to know that he was nervous in this environment. For once though, he met the woman’s eyes. With as much compassion as he could muster, he asked what she was doing there. She didn’t look up as she answered.

“I’m having a bad day Sir. There was this invoice you see…”

Update: After several requests for another instalment of the story, Louise from Pink Pear Bear has written part two!

For another fiction post from me, check out this festive story.

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  1. Brilliant post.

    Thankfully I’m so small I don’t have the need for invoices yet.
    It’s a shame that large companies seem to think they can pay freelancers and small businesses whenever they feel like it. To them it’s peanuts, but to the freelancer it could be the difference between eating or not eating.

  2. So beautifully written, I was captivated to the end. Please tell me this is fictional and not based on a true story, it makes me sad xx

  3. Absolutely stunning story which I hope is 100% fiction but I do know that it can and does happen. I hope big companies are reading this and know that sometimes even $50 will make a whole lot of difference to someone which is probably peanuts to the company.

  4. Brilliantly written and so moving. Probably the best piece of fiction I’ve read on anyone’s blog.
    And I have a company who owe me 3 and a bit invoices, stretching back to March. It’s been nearly 2 months since they last paid me anything. Thank goodness I have a) a husband and b) other clients.

  5. Oh gosh, this actually put a lump in my throat. That poor woman, I hope she had the invoice paid. Will there be another part? 🙂 Brilliantly written!

  6. Glad I popped back and reread this. It’s a good story and, being nice here, you should do more creative writing. Even if that means writing from experience. Probably better than a lot of dribble you write