Two Dimes and a Penny

Flash Fiction by Bill Richter

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Two Dimes and a Penny


 I’ve been struggling the past few months, hardly a unique situation. Being quarantined in the apartment most of the time I can handle, but after being laid off and using all my unemployment to cover food and rent, it’s getting harder. Harder to know what’s coming next. Harder to know what I want to come next. I want to talk to people, I don’t want to talk to people. I want to move to somewhere I’ve never been before, I want to be somewhere familiar. But today I found twenty-one cents, and it’s going to be a good day. “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck”. And today I found two dimes and a penny, twenty-one cents, and it’s going to be a good day. One dime in the grocery store, another in the parking lot, and a penny on the way home. Things are going to get better, at least today’s going to be better. On a day when I find a single penny it’s usually a better day. I’m not superstitious, but I believe in this. Maybe merely finding them puts me in a more hopeful mood and that opens up possibilities in my mind, but maybe there is some magic involved and who wouldn’t want to have that? I’ve got some luck with me today, twenty-one times over, and it’s going to be a good day.

            What I really need is a legit job, but I have a job to do for Dixon today, getting paid a hundred dollars to deliver an envelope to someone I don’t know somewhere across town. Dixon’s told me he likes using young innocent looking women like me for these jobs. His jobs make me nervous, but times are tight and today I can reach into the front pocket of my favorite jeans and feel the twenty-one cents and it’s going to be a good day. I stare at the manila envelope on my kitchen table. I have strict instructions not to look at what’s inside, but I know it’s a bundle of cash, money I wish I had to calm my eviction fears. A post-it note has the address and a number to text when I arrive. I don’t have a car anymore, I’m taking the bus. Public transportation in the middle of a pandemic. But I’ve got the twenty-one cents and it’s going to be a good day.

            I leave with the envelope tucked inside my bag, along with my keys, wallet, and phone. I keep the twenty-one cents in my pocket. The bus is only a block away when I get to the stop, but I remember I didn’t grab a mask. Dammit. I dig and dig through my bag, finding one in a side pocket. I don’t remember ever putting it there. The bus is mostly empty and I find a seat close to the front. So many more people rode this bus just a few months ago. My fellow passengers and I are all mandatorily masked up and I’ve got the two dimes and the penny in my right front pocket. It’s going to be a good day.

            I’ve got a twenty minute ride and I flip through a magazine I took from my neighbor a couple of days ago. I put in my ear buds to listen to the song that’s been stuck in my head the past few days, an old Beck song. “There's no map that could tell you where you are. You're in between things that only go halfway. Your tangled brain, a tired old refrain. You'd be singing it in the tired old silence”. The spare arrangement and the plaintive, lonely piano notes that come in toward the end haunt me. It is sad and beautiful. I touch the two dimes and the penny through my jeans as we roll in to my stop.

            I text as soon as I’m off the bus. It’s a five-block walk and I see I’m probably headed to one of those new modern generic-looking buildings with tall windows and lots of security. The neighborhood’s full of them. Waiting for the text back reminds me that I’m working as a low-level criminal accessory just so I can cover my rent. I’m not proud of it, I’m not ashamed of it. I still have the twenty-one cents and it’s going to be a good day.

            The streets are mostly empty, but I’m relieved that the people I see are all wearing masks. I don’t want to get infected because of this job. I get to the entrance and the door opens before I can tap the entry code into the keypad. A tall man around thirty years old, with black hair, a beard and a face with sharp features lets me in. No mask, but he keeps his distance. He asks for the envelope and points me to a couch in a small greeting area just inside the door. I’m to wait there, he’ll be right back. I touch the coins several times, and take them out and look at them twice as “right back” becomes twenty minutes. I’m nervous. I want to get up and walk around, but I also want to stay seated like everything’s cool and no big deal. I smile at the few people going in and out of the building and then I remember I’m wearing my mask. Finally he comes back and thanks me and hands me a fifty-dollar bill. For my troubles, he says, and walks away. I’m out the door and headed back to the bus stop. If I hurry I can still use my transfer ticket to get home. I check my front pocket, and silently thank each of the coins, two dimes and a penny. Today is good day, and I’m thinking that maybe there really is a little bit of magic in the world. Who wouldn’t want that?