Cost of living, p.1
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       Cost of Living, p.1

           Robert Sheckley
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Cost of Living

  Produced by Greg Weeks, Stephen Blundell and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at

  Illustrated by EMSH]

  Cost of Living

  _If easy payment plans were to be really efficient, patrons' lifetimes had to be extended!_


  Carrin decided that he could trace his present mood to Miller's suicidelast week. But the knowledge didn't help him get rid of the vague,formless fear in the back of his mind. It was foolish. Miller's suicidedidn't concern him.

  But why had that fat, jovial man killed himself? Miller had hadeverything to live for--wife, kids, good job, and all the marvelousluxuries of the age. Why had he done it?

  "Good morning, dear," Carrin's wife said as he sat down at the breakfasttable.

  "Morning, honey. Morning, Billy."

  His son grunted something.

  You just couldn't tell about people, Carrin decided, and dialed hisbreakfast. The meal was gracefully prepared and served by the newAvignon Electric Auto-cook.

  His mood persisted, annoyingly enough since Carrin wanted to be in topform this morning. It was his day off, and the Avignon Electric financeman was coming. This was an important day.

  He walked to the door with his son.

  "Have a good day, Billy."

  His son nodded, shifted his books and started to school withoutanswering. Carrin wondered if something was bothering him, too. He hopednot. One worrier in the family was plenty.

  "See you later, honey." He kissed his wife as she left to go shopping.

  At any rate, he thought, watching her go down the walk, at least she'shappy. He wondered how much she'd spend at the A. E. store.

  Checking his watch, he found that he had half an hour before the A. man was due. The best way to get rid of a bad mood was to drownit, he told himself, and headed for the shower.

  * * * * *

  The shower room was a glittering plastic wonder, and the sheer luxury ofit eased Carrin's mind. He threw his clothes into the A. E. automaticKleen-presser, and adjusted the shower spray to a notch above "brisk."The five-degrees-above-skin-temperature water beat against his thinwhite body. Delightful! And then a relaxing rub-dry in the A. E.Auto-towel.

  Wonderful, he thought, as the towel stretched and kneaded his stringymuscles. And it should be wonderful, he reminded himself. The A. E.Auto-towel with shaving attachments had cost three hundred and thirteendollars, plus tax.

  But worth every penny of it, he decided, as the A. E. shaver came out ofa corner and whisked off his rudimentary stubble. After all, what goodwas life if you couldn't enjoy the luxuries?

  His skin tingled when he switched off the Auto-towel. He should havebeen feeling wonderful, but he wasn't. Miller's suicide kept nagging athis mind, destroying the peace of his day off.

  Was there anything else bothering him? Certainly there was nothing wrongwith the house. His papers were in order for the finance man.

  "Have I forgotten something?" he asked out loud.

  "The Avignon Electric finance man will be here in fifteen minutes," hisA. E. bathroom Wall-reminder whispered.

  "I know that. Is there anything else?"

  The Wall-reminder reeled off its memorized data--a vast amount ofminutiae about watering the lawn, having the Jet-lash checked, buyinglamb chops for Monday, and the like. Things he still hadn't found timefor.

  "All right, that's enough." He allowed the A. E. Auto-dresser to dresshim, skillfully draping a new selection of fabrics over his bony frame.A whiff of fashionable masculine perfume finished him and he went intothe living room, threading his way between the appliances that lined thewalls.

  A quick inspection of the dials on the wall assured him that the housewas in order. The breakfast dishes had been sanitized and stacked, thehouse had been cleaned, dusted, polished, his wife's garments had beenhung up, his son's model rocket ships had been put back in the closet.

  Stop worrying, you hypochondriac, he told himself angrily.

  The door announced, "Mr. Pathis from Avignon Finance is here."

  Carrin started to tell the door to open, when he noticed the AutomaticBartender.

  Good God, why hadn't he thought of it!

  The Automatic Bartender was manufactured by Castile Motors. He hadbought it in a weak moment. A. E. wouldn't think very highly of that,since they sold their own brand.

  * * * * *

  He wheeled the bartender into the kitchen, and told the door to open.

  "A very good day to you, sir," Mr. Pathis said.

  Pathis was a tall, imposing man, dressed in a conservative tweed drape.His eyes had the crinkled corners of a man who laughs frequently. Hebeamed broadly and shook Carrin's hand, looking around the crowdedliving room.

  "A beautiful place you have here, sir. Beautiful! As a matter of fact, Idon't think I'll be overstepping the company's code to inform you thatyours is the nicest interior in this section."

  Carrin felt a sudden glow of pride at that, thinking of the rows ofidentical houses, on this block and the next, and the one after that.

  "Now, then, is everything functioning properly?" Mr. Pathis asked,setting his briefcase on a chair. "Everything in order?"

  "Oh, yes," Carrin said enthusiastically. "Avignon Electric never goesout of whack."

  "The phone all right? Changes records for the full seventeen hours?"

  "It certainly does," Carrin said. He hadn't had a chance to try out thephone, but it was a beautiful piece of furniture.

  "The Solido-projector all right? Enjoying the programs?"

  "Absolutely perfect reception." He had watched a program just lastmonth, and it had been startlingly lifelike.

  "How about the kitchen? Auto-cook in order? Recipe-master still knocking'em out?"

  "Marvelous stuff. Simply marvelous."

  Mr. Pathis went on to inquire about his refrigerator, his vacuumcleaner, his car, his helicopter, his subterranean swimming pool, andthe hundreds of other items Carrin had bought from Avignon Electric.

  "Everything is swell," Carrin said, a trifle untruthfully since hehadn't unpacked every item yet. "Just wonderful."

  "I'm so glad," Mr. Pathis said, leaning back with a sigh of relief. "Youhave no idea how hard we try to satisfy our customers. If a productisn't right, back it comes, no questions asked. We believe in pleasingour customers."

  "I certainly appreciate it, Mr. Pathis."

  * * * * *

  Carrin hoped the A. E. man wouldn't ask to see the kitchen. Hevisualized the Castile Motors Bartender in there, like a porcupine in adog show.

  "I'm proud to say that most of the people in this neighborhood buy fromus," Mr. Pathis was saying. "We're a solid firm."

  "Was Mr. Miller a customer of yours?" Carrin asked.

  "That fellow who killed himself?" Pathis frowned briefly. "He was, as amatter of fact. That amazed me, sir, absolutely amazed me. Why, justlast month the fellow bought a brand-new Jet-lash from me, capable ofdoing three hundred and fifty miles an hour on a straightaway. He was ashappy as a kid over it, and then to go and do a thing like that! Ofcourse, the Jet-lash brought up his debt a little."

  "Of course."

  "But what did that matter? He had every luxury in the world. And then hewent and hung himself."

  "Hung himself?"

  "Yes," Pathis said, the frown coming back. "Every modern convenience inhis house, and he hung himself with a piece of rope. Probably unbalancedfor a long time."

  The frown slid off his face, and the customary smile replaced it. "Butenough of that! Let's talk about you."

  The smile widened as Pathis opened his briefcase. "Now, then, youraccount. You owe us two hundred and thr
ee thousand dollars andtwenty-nine cents, Mr. Carrin, as of your last purchase. Right?"

  "Right," Carrin said, remembering the amount from his own papers."Here's my installment."

  He handed Pathis an envelope, which the man checked and put in hispocket.

  "Fine. Now you know, Mr. Carrin, that you won't live long enough to payus the full two hundred thousand, don't you?"

  "No, I don't suppose I will," Carrin said soberly.

  He was only thirty-nine, with a full hundred years of life before him,thanks to the marvels of medical science. But at a salary of threethousand a year, he still couldn't pay it all off and have enough tosupport a family on at the same time.

  "Of course, we would not want to
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