Sunday, June 9, 2013

Loose Change

(If you haven't heard of it, NPR's All Things Considered hosts an occasional contest called Three-Minute Fiction. The premise is simple, write a story that can be read in three minutes - about 600 words. They provide the prompt, give you a week to write, then dribble out finalists until they announce the winner. The winner gets a prize, generally the book(s) of the guest author/judge, and publication in The Paris Review. Which is huge. HUGE. For this round, the prompt was to write a story in which a character finds an object that they have no intention of returning. This is my entry, which neither won nor placed, but was fun to write nonetheless. If you'd like to see the winner and finalists, check outThree-Minute Fiction on NPR, and be sure to read my personal favorite, Picked Clean.)


She ran fast; her bare feet chewed up by the dirt road, hair stuck to her sweaty face, right hand jammed deep into her pocket. She knew he was right behind her, but she didn’t dare turn around. She just kept running. 

In her pocket she felt the coin pressed deep into her palm. She imagined that when she finally pried it loose, George Washington’s face would be burned into her flesh.  Maybe forever. She’d seen his sharp profile staring at her from under the porch and wiggled her arm through a crevice in the wood, all the way up to her shoulder before she managed to pinch it between two fingers. She’d pulled it out and licked it clean and had admired Mr. Washington for only a moment when the boy had yelled,

“Hey! That’s mine!”

And she’d started running. 

Turning the corner tightly now, almost running into the building. It was kind of hard, running with one arm pumping and the other stuffed into the pocket of your dress. Don't turn around, she thought, and then, falling victim to the jinx, glanced behind her.

He was right there. Right there, so close she didn’t know how she hadn’t felt his breath on her neck. So close that he could reach out and push her lightly, just enough to make her fall. She felt tiny pebbles dig into her knees and the palm of her hand. She rolled over in the dirt onto her back and he jumped on her, sitting square on her stomach. 

She kept her hand in her pocket, elbow locked, George safe in her closed fist. 

“That’s mine,” he growled, pulling at her arm. 

“Is NOT!” she yelled between clenched teeth, “Finders keepers, and ain’t no way you dropped that dumb quarter under the porch! If you’d lost a quarter, the whole town would’ve heard you crying about it!”
He grew still and leaned down, his face blotting out the sky. 

“Don’t you do it!” she squealed.

He stuck out his tongue. Fat and pink and wet, he let it dangle there, spit sliding down the sides. “Beware the Tongue of Dooooooooooooom!” he slobbered, and moved closer to her face.She screamed and jerked her knee up hard, slamming his delicacies into his pelvis and making his whole face go white. 

Oof,” was all he could manage to say before he rolled off of her and into the dirt.

She didn’t wait to see if he was okay. She was up and running again, fists closed tight, arms windmilling, feet scraped all to hell, but the end in sight. The drugstore stood tall and gleaming at the crossroads. Through the glass doors she could see people smiling and laughing, clean and cool and safe. No one in there had been chased in.

“Give it to me!” she heard him yelling, recovered and in pursuit. But he was too late. 

She pushed open the doors and made a hard right. Her hand had cramped up around the quarter and, for a minute, she was afraid it wouldn’t open. But it did, and she held the coin between trembling fingers. She could see him through the window, storming towards the door. She carefully placed the quarter in the slot and turned the handle once, twice, and back again. 


She closed her eyes and made a quick wish.  


Her favorite. His favorite, too.

He threw open the door and she gave him a long look before popping the gumball into her mouth. She smiled, and began to chew.