My daughter-in-law Circe buys three lottery tickets on the first of every month, putting in her birth date—though why the God of Lotteries should think that number lucky for anyone, I do not know. She certainly hasn’t “won” more than $52 in the twenty-six years she and Jim, Jr. have been married. Oh, how she crows if her five-dollar waste on tickets gets her a two-dollar return.
Does that sound sane to you? Of course not. Yet this Circe snips at me when she stops in to bring me leftover stews and casseroles that she and Jim and the back-home-again, unemployed grandson didn’t eat.
“You need counseling, Mother,” she may say. Or on an extra-bleak day in our relationship, it may be, “Jim ought to put you in a lock-up home.”
You see, I rescue money. It’s the one-dollar bill left inside an old book, or the secret little cache of bills in a chipped teapot, or the loose change that’s slipped down into the linings of old clothes. If I try to pass by the second-hand book shops and thrift stores where those lonely bits of money lie abandoned and concealed, their tiny magnetism pulls at the iron in my blood and touches my heart.
I have to stop whatever journey I’m on. I have to rescue that lost coin or bill. There’s a time-limit I’ve had to impose on myself—thirty minutes for the search, flipping pages in old books, squeezing the pockets and hems of old clothes. If I stay in a shop too long, the clerk gets suspicious. She’ll ask, “Are you looking for something special?” Then I must buy useless items that pile up in my garage until Jim, Jr. lugs them away to somewhere else—the dump, I suppose.
Even an unsuccessful search gives hope to the money that reaches out to me. If I walk or drive on by, my soul grieves in the night. It makes up stories about how those particular hidden ones, once proud of being valued and popular, lost it all. But a successful search—oh how can I convey that ta-da moment? The tingle of intimacy when fingers touch those bits of cash, the feel of recognition and gratitude.
It may sound crazy to Circe, but over the years I’ve rescued more than $800 and returned it to circulation. I’m the EMT of cash, getting it pumping again in this wonderful commercial world.
Last week, Circe’s scorn for my hobby, vocation, rescue-routine—call it what you like—crested. “How can you be such a nut?” she screamed. I had in fact missed my flight down to Houston’s M.D. Anderson cancer diagnostic program where I had an appointment. Missed it because on my drive from home in Fort Worth to the airport ten miles away in Arlington, I was running a little late, took a shortcut, and therefore drove too close to the great Half Price Book Barn. Magnetism from somewhere inside its 60,000 books pulled me off course.
To Circe, I patiently replied, “My rescue of $40 from an old Moby Dick beats your winnings for the past decade. But you can’t stop throwing money away can you, dear? So who’s the nut?”
“You. Loony. You need a head doctor more than a cancer doctor. You fake symptoms to make an excuse for hitting thrift shops in Houston, don’t you? It’s because Jim, Sr. walked out on you with all the money and status, isn’t it? You didn’t have what a big CEO needs in a wife, did you?”
She went on like that for a while, bitter—I suppose—because Jim, Jr. won’t inherit much from me or his dad. The trophy wife will get it all. Circe’s anger bored me, so I proposed a challenge as a change of subject.
“Let’s see which of us can drop our hobby for a whole month, Circe. Even more fun, let’s trade hobbies for a month. Wouldn’t that be something! You look for money in second-hand shops, and I’ll buy lottery tickets.”
Her face paled. “I don’t know. That’s what I do on the first of the month. Buy a Mega Millions, a Boomer, and a Lotto.”
“You can’t skip a month? Too hooked?” I was forming plans to stay inside my house for a whole month, or maybe out in the Big Bend country far from thrift shops. Could I do it? Would Circe actively cover the Dallas-Fort Worth-Waco-Wichita Falls circuit of shops for me?
We negotiated. We agreed. Circe had wanted me to buy tickets using her birth date, but I insisted on making my own choice. Last Tuesday, the first of October, our challenge went into operation. And of course, you know what happened. I won $9000 on my very first Boomer ticket on October 5th. Circe found not a penny willing to be rescued by her.
“Well, let’s split our winnings,” she said.
I had to laugh in her face. “My dear, you will never win money. It feels zero attraction to you. No affinity whatsoever. I’ll pay you $15 to drive me to the airport tomorrow. A noontime flight.”
“You got the cancer appointment rescheduled?” There’s a bloom of hope on her cheeks. I do believe poor Circe loves me, in her way. So I lie to her.
“Of course, sweetie. I’ve scored an appointment in Seattle, on the 12th. Pick me up at 9:00 tomorrow, okay?”
I’ll be off, business class. The vibes from those great west coast locations have grown stronger and stronger. Magus and Mercer Street Books in Seattle, Powell’s in Portland. They’re in my blood. Coming. I’m coming.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2019 / MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #29 / RITUAL & ROUTINE
Sylvia Bowman has written poetry for twenty years, with a volume of poems published by Irenicon Press. Now she finds short stories a nifty form for exposing character and interaction, so works and studies how to write satisfying short-shorts before tackling the longer prose form.
* This is the author’s first literary award for flash fiction. *
* This is the author’s first flash fiction story to appear in print. *
Musepaper Story Prize #29