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Oh No, Mr. Bill!

By Mary Oves

It would usually start with a smirk.

Just a normal day, I would be getting dinner ready and the boys would be doing homework or watching television, and I would look up to see my husband smirking.

“What’s so funny?” I would smile back, expecting a joke or a good story. Then I would see the cell phone bill in his hand.


“You know what’s funny?” he would say. “This phone bill. This phone bill is funny.” Brandishing the bill at the boys, they would try to scatter like chaff before the wind, but he would already have them cornered.


Even though I knew I wasn’t the one in trouble, I froze too. My late Hub was an easygoing kind of guy, but when the phone bill came, he turned into a meanie-weenie version of himself. And since his eyes tended to bug out when he got vexed, we had even given him a villain name.

Optic Nerve.

With the boys secured, he would begin to saunter across the carpet with his hands clasped behind his back, like Clarence Darrow giving his closing argument. The boys sat still, hoping their father was like a T-Rex, rendered blind by lack of movement.

“This phone bill,” he would begin, “is vomitous. Do you know what I could buy with the money I spend every month on your phones?”

We all knew that answer because he asked us the same thing every month.

“An Escalade, Dad?” piped Tommy, my youngest. The twins often sent Tommy into the fray alone, hoping his youth and cuteness would soothe the savage dad beast. It sometimes worked on dad, but always worked on Mom.

Nodding, he looked at Tommy. “That’s right, Tommy. I could be driving a tricked-out Escalade instead of the piece of crap I drive.” He gestured toward the street, and we all obediently looked in the direction of his gesture, even though we knew where his car was. “I hope you appreciate it.”

“We do, Dad, thanks for everything you do for us.” John, the oldest, tried to placate his father, hoping that mild flattery would ameliorate the situation. His father turned on him, and John looked at me, worriedly. I returned a look that said, Nice try.

Dad pulled out the data usage wheel, which showed the data usage for each member of the family. Every month was Russian roulette, and a race to see who was #1, and the most in trouble.

“Well, John, I must say, you had the #3 highest data usage in the family this month. Cut your data usage down!”

John did not hear the warning, only that he was neither #1 or #2. He proceeded to strut around the living room to accolades, receiving high-fives and “Good job!"

The tension grew for the other two. I was calm, because I was always fourth in data usage, and Dad fifth.

“Dustin?” He faced his middle son.

“Yes, Father?” When in heated situations, the boys began talking like Puritan settlers. “Yes?”

“Did you buy something on iTunes by the Red Hot Chili Peppers?”

Dustin furrowed his brow, like he was trying to remember.

“Maybe,” he said. “Wait, yes,” he decided, as he crossed his arms confidently across his chest, “I did. One song.”

His father eyed him doubtfully.

“One song?”

Dustin looked unsure.


“Are you sure?”

“Um, yes?”

“Are you sure you didn’t buy the entire RHCP Compilation album? For $79.99?”

Dustin shook his head. “No way.”

Victory for dad.

“Yes, way. Here’s the charge on your data wheel.” He showed Dustin the bill.

“Oh, wow, Dad, sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

Dad nodded. “That charge is getting refunded to my account, because you didn’t have my permission. And you had the #2 most data usage in the family this past month. CUT IT DOWN.”

Dustin nodded penitently, and looked down at the floor trying to keep a straight face, knowing that at #2, he had avoided the guillotine.

And then there was one.

Dad looked away from Dustin and looked at Tommy. We all looked at Tommy. He was too young to really understand what the family meeting was about, and he also ironically happened to be playing on his phone when the twins nudged him. He looked up to see everyone staring at him.


“Tommy, you have the highest data usage of the family.”

“I do?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Oh. What does that mean?”

His father sat down next to him on the couch and gently took his phone from him. Tommy watched the movement of the phone, and looked up confusedly at his father.

“It means you’re on your phone too much. So what can we do about this?” His father looked steadily at him. “How are we going to lower the phone bill?”

Tommy looked around, and said the first thing that came to his mind.

“Take the twins’ phones from them?”

Problem solved.

— Mary Oves

Mary Oves lives at the Jersey shore with her three sons: twins John and Dustin, 22, and Tommy, 18. Oves is a widow of four years and a professor of English at the local college. She devotes all of her spare time to travel and working on her blog, The Chrysalis Collective.

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