This week, many baseball fans who subscribed to MLB.tv last season found that they were charged with a $125, non-refundable auto-renewal. This is completely fair, and the terms of this agreement were clearly stated in the terms of service.
"She need training wheels?"
Maria smiled. "Oh no. Just something a little bigger."
"How old is she?"
"She's going to be eight."
"Right on." The salesman gestured a to a line of bicycles, most of them pink, standing neatly on their kickstands. "You might wanna look at these ones here."
Maria knew her daughter would balk at the prospect of a "girl bicycle." One of them -- the only one without purple handlebar grips and streamers pegged to the ends -- caught her eye. "Can you hold this one in back for me? Her birthday's Friday. I'd like to bring her here."
* * *
Rosie bounded toward the door, backpack slung over one shoulder, tripping in her haste and bumping her shin on a concrete step. It didn't hurt so badly; besides, she reasoned, you can't cry on your own birthday. She burst into the modest little apartment she shared with her mother, whose face brightened. "You're in a hurry. What's the occasion?"
"You know, Mama."
"Hmm? Oh, I think it was someone's special day today ..."
Rosie laughed and dumped her backpack in a chair. "Whatever."
"Tell you what, baby. You and I are going on a special trip this afternoon."
The last time Rosie heard that, she was taken to an Astros game. She remembered the smell of the nachos in the little plastic tray she held in her lap, and the home run Jose Altuve hit, and the cans of Mountain Dew that raced one another on the giant screen. She loved that day, but baseball season hadn't started yet. This was something else.
"Go and get changed. Mama just has to check one thing." In her excitement, Rosie slammed her bedroom door, and Maria craned her neck to shout into the hall. "No slamming!"
Maria opened her laptop, an old blocky thing that always took its time starting up. It gave her time to run over the math one more time. 750 or so dollars in her account, minus 500 for rent, minus another 80 for the gas bill. And in her purse, some cash from her serving shifts that week. Grocery money. The bicycle at the shop cost $75. If the bank's website showed around $750, she could make it easily.
The page loaded. $625. A pit formed in Maria's stomach as she clicked over to the pending transactions. "125.00 MLB ADVANCED MEDIA," it read. "AUTO-RENEW."
The previous May, Maria had purchased a month-by-month subscription to MLB.tv. Her daughter, for reasons she had since come at peace with, was going to grow up an Astros fan, but Maria couldn't bear not to watch her Cincinnati Reds once in a while. She could find $25 a month to do that.
She could not find $125, and so she picked up the phone. "Ma'am," she was told, "this is an auto-renewal agreement. You were offered clear instructions if you wished to opt out of this agreement on our website. Our no-refund policy is also explained on our site. I can read it to you, if you'd like."
"No," Maria said softly. "That's OK. Thank you."
Rosie appeared from the hallway, wearing her favorite little Astros jacket. "Ready, mama!" Her mother forced a smile. "Let's go."
The two walked, Rosie's hand in Marie's, to the bus stop, and were let off a block from the ice cream store. They passed the bicycle shop on the way, and when they did, Rosie's curious peek through the window did not escape her mother's attention. Maria bit her lip. Her bicycle's too small. And soon her clothes will be too small.
Rosie sat at the table and sipped her chocolate milk shake. She understood that it was her birthday present; with every day that passed, she came to understand more about the world she lived in, and what she could expect and could not, and what she could allow herself to wish for. Her mother's face was pained.
"Mama? I ... love this milk shake. It's my favorite milk shake I ever had."
And Maria brought her server's apron up from under the table, and buried her face in it. She had never wept in front of her daughter, and she did so now with gasping, heaving sobs. "Auto-renewal." It was a term Rosie did not know, and yet in this moment she learned what it meant.