My Father's Old Coin
The clock ticks just like it always has, but for some reason it just keeps bothering me. I can compare it to the feel of a rock in the bottom of your shoe. Seems like everything bothers me these days, don’t know why, just seems to be that way.
I walk into the kitchen to fix myself some lunch. Chip chop ham and mustard is my delicacy of choice. The ham smells incredible; it seems to float through the house. As I delve into the first bite of my sandwich, I can’t help but think of that old coin. I walk into the living room and stare at it, like a mosquito to a light it draws me in. There it is, taunting me as I just stand but a few feet away. I can't help but think of the old times.
He rubbed the silver stubble that adorned his face so perfectly. I was used to this, as he always rubbed his stubble when he was angry. And he was angry a lot. He sits stone-like in his chair as I waited for him to scold me. I could see it now, his slamming of the old oak table my grandfather built, and the breaking of my mother’s dishes was inevitable. He tinkered with his $3 glasses as he tried to make out the sloppy handwriting of my principal. I could see his face start to flush with redness as his eyes crept toward the bottom of the page. I could feel my body begin to overheat as sweat trickled down my back and underarms.
I clutch the keys of my ’99 Pontiac Grand Am; the poor gal needs a wash due to the cement dust from the big rigs that roll through town. I back out of my long, narrow driveway onto the side street that I live on. As I put it in gear I realize that I nearly back over the neighbor’s cat. I just can’t keep my mind on the task that is in front of me today. I slowly inch toward the stop sign and flip on my blinker, it was the left one, I always go left toward the main road. But today I don’t trust myself on a main road so I veer right, down to which I have never been.
Old houses litter the street. One can clearly see that they have seen better days; perhaps just as those who live in them. My eyes wander from left to right and right to left as I scour for more pets who would try to cross my path. I can’t help but notice these houses remind me of my old neighborhood back in Vermont. At the end of the narrow road I venture down sits a small beige house with a burgundy tiled roof. It’s kind of an odd color to pick for a person’s roof, I think to myself. Outside at the home’s mailbox stands an elderly woman, seemingly unaware of my impending advance. She gestures at me what I assume to be wave, thought I cannot say for certain as she seems to have an arthritic condition. I lift my hand off the gearshift from which it’s resting and return the favor. As I pass I can’t help but realize that she looks so much like my late mother, Victoria. Her head follows my car as I drive past, kicking up a few rocks in my wake.
As I walk through the front door of my one story, newly renovated home I see I have forgotten to clean the shards of the broken plate in the living room. I quickly disperse of the mess and put my mind to better things. I’m having a hard time with my job right now. I’m a writer, and I haven’t published anything in month. To make it worse it seems that my bank account gets smaller while my bills grow bigger. All the time I think of my problems the coin seems to just tickle at the back of my brain. I once again look over at the mantle. The coin looms over me. I think this would be a good time to get some shut eye.
After awaking I realize that I couldn’t have gotten too much sleep that afternoon. The sheets are tangled up. I rub my eyes and lethargically walk into the kitchen to make myself some food. It’s about 7:30 and I’m craving for some Sports Center. I walk over to the TV and all that is on is poker. Perhaps this is for the best because now I can get some writing done. I rock back and forth in my chair, just like I always do. My mind might as well be rocking back and forth as I can’t seem to keep in one spot. I keep thinking about the elderly woman at the end of the street, the one with the oddly colored roof. She draws me in. Something about her makes me want to go speak with her.
It is nearly noon the next day when I decide to muster up the courage to go see her. My hands become cold as I think of what to say. Why would she want to talk to me? Nevertheless I head out the door. It was a warm day, at least warmer than it has been in some time so I decide to walk. Rain from the night before has taken most of the light snow that has fallen just a few days prior. I run bits of conversation through my head. I don’t even realize how quickly I arrive at my destination, it seems as though I had left my house only seconds earlier.
I walk slowly up the path to her door, wiping my palms against my pants to remove the sweat. I can hear a dog barking from inside as he sees me from the adjacent window. I give the old, tattered door a quick knock and wait for a response, “Just a minute.”, comes the sound of a sweet angelic voice. The door knob twists and out comes the woman. Her snow white hair was in a bun, but you could tell it was very long. She wears cheap gold hoop earrings and her blouse is very wrinkled from her apparent unwillingness to wash it, or at least iron it.
“Yes, what can I do for you?” she asks. I stand there looking at her while she waits for my response.
I finally sputter out the words, “You remind me of my mother, your eyes look just like hers.”
A big smile comes over her face; I can tell she has not received a compliment like that in some time.
“Come in, Come in young man! Let me get you a nice warm drink.” She hurries off to the kitchen leaving me in the foyer. I stand there, stone-like, almost not wanting to take a step without her approval. Pictures of her and a man from many years ago cover the walls of the small hallway. I begin to question my decision to come to this place; I even start to contemplate leaving.
“You can take off your shoes and come get your tea,” says a voice from inside the kitchen.
I make my way into the kitchen with the dog nearly jumping on top of me in search of attention. He seeks in vein. The carpet which I walk on is covered in small bits of fuzz and pet hair, implying she doesn’t sweep much. She has a chair awaiting my arrival when I walk into the kitchen to get my tea. Her smile meets my eyes as I take a seat at the worn table. She has a few knick-knacks on the wall, but nothing terribly impressive. She just looks at me as I cautiously put my lips to the piping hot cup.
“I think I saw you yesterday, you passed my house,” she says, trying to break the ice.
“Yeah, I was just taking a drive to clear my mind.” Her eyes widen as I say this.
“Oh, really? Well what could a handsome young man such as you have to worry about?”
After pausing for a moment, I answer, “Just some personal stuff I’ve got going on.”
She just smiles, though her smile seems to be empty this time, like she wasn’t fully into our conversation.
“Y-you know my husband, Edward, is going to be coming home soon so you should get going sweetheart.”
Her sudden hastiness to remove me from her home takes me back for a second, but I just smile and give her a nod.
“Well thank you for coming over young man, you can visit me anytime…it sometimes gets lonely when Edward isn’t home.”
“Really ma’am it was my pleasure, I hope I didn’t take up too much of your time.”
On my way out I notice something I hadn’t before. Next to the shoes is a table with a picture of Edward, and beside it is an old firefighter hat. On it reads, “Edward Bentone: RIP Ladder 33.” I look at it quizzically for a second, then look at her again.
“Is this Edward’s?”
She just looks at me, almost in a state of panic and replies, “Oh that silly man, he must have forgotten it when he left for work.”
She starts to chuckle as I begin to realize what must have happened to him. She clutches the cross that lies across her chest and excuses herself. In her hasty exit I realize that I didn’t even ask her what her name is.
My walk back home is even more thought provoking than the one there.
The next morning I pace around the house. I sit at the computer, which at this point feels like a foreign object to me. I wipe the side of my cheek and realize I haven’t even shaved yet. I run my fingers through my locks which are in dire need of a wash. I want to pay the woman a visit today, I’m worried about her. Perhaps I should be more worried about myself at this point.
Again I stand in front of that beige, red roofed house wearing my half buttoned denim jacket and my old Pirates cap. I want to find out more about her late husband. I knock the tattered door and once again the dog barks. “Now calm down, Sammie.” comes the voice from inside. I can hear her footsteps becoming louder and louder as she comes toward me. She opens the door and is taken back by what she sees.
“Yes?” she says.
“Hello again, ma’am. I know I came by yesterday but I just couldn’t get enough of that tea.” I say with a smile and a quick chuckle.
“Oh, o-okay. You can come in and I’ll make you some.”
Something is different with her today. She doesn’t have the same aura around her. Those eyes that looked like such perfect meadows yesterday now reflect a sense of emptiness. Her snow white hair is still in bun, but not nearly as well kept. Her ears rest hoopless on her head, which seems full of turmoil.
We sit at the same table as the day before, though today I feel uncomfortable with my surroundings. She seems to just stare into her cup of tea, perhaps hoping it to turn into an ocean and sweep her away. I feel compelled to break the awkward silence of our meeting. Perhaps too compelled as I didn’t even think through what I was going to say and blurt out, “How is Edward doing?”
Her eyes rise from the cup to my face. She waits a moment and replies, “He’s a little tired. He gets like that sometimes.”
“Oh.” is the best I can muster as I am completely bewildered by what she just told me. I notice that she is beginning to fidget with her wedding band. It is just a simple gold band that encases her plump finger.
“Edward was a great man, the best man I ever met. He was a firefighter you know, he was chief of the town department.”
“That really is something. He must see a lot of work since he’s the chief.”
“He’s not home much these days. I feel like the only time I ever get to see him is when I look at these pictures.” I can feel the dog resting his head on my leg; I give him a quick pat on the head.
I begin to realize that this was eating her up inside. The fire that burned her husband to his death has seemingly moved inside of her and is killing her from within.
“Those pictures must give you some comfort though.”
“Oh I suppose they do. Young man, I really believe it’s time you get going.”
“I hope I didn’t offend you in any.”
“I’m just feeling a little tired. That’s all.” She says. She looks disoriented and almost unaware of her surroundings. “I’m not sure I caught your name, young man.”
“Ben, my name is Ben Martin. And yours?”
She reaches her frail, arthritic arm out in search of a handshake. I oblige her and as I do I can’t help but notice that her skin is cold and dry, maybe that is how she feels inside too. I make my way down the small hallway and we part ways at the door.
My walks home are becoming progressively more difficult.
As I make myself the usual ham and mustard for lunch, I can’t help but think of how similar we are. I am exhausted from the lack of sleep from the night before so I lay out on the couch after lunch to rest my eyes for a bit
I could tell he had just lit up one of his Marlboro’s as the faint trace of smoke could be detected from my room upstairs. It was one of the few instances that my father showed he cared as he didn’t want me around him when he was smoking. I sat in my cheap, wooden framed bed and listened to my parents argue. I was never able to make out what they were yelling about. Talking became yelling and yelling turned into a fight that always ended the same way, my mother getting hit.
The sound of the rain smashing into my house and the whipping wind wakes me the next morning. The rain might as well be pounding on my head, as I wake up with a splitting headache. It’s one of those days my sinus problems are going to be torture. I can thank good old Dad for that. I inherited those problems from him. I walk into the kitchen and pop a couple pills to take the edge off. As the pain starts to melt away my mind goes back to the coin. I walk into the living room and pick it from its perch high atop the mantle. “It feels so heavy.” I think to myself. The once shiny brass has become dull with age and negligence. I haven’t held this coin since I placed it up here years ago. Still don’t want to clean it, I almost want to toss it into the trash. I reluctantly put it back up top and then jump into the shower. The hot water feels relieving to my sore body. It’s a strange kind of pain; it just seemed to come out of nowhere. I just stand there, my mind going from the coin to Emma, then back to the coin.
“Why didn’t you just leave him, Mom?” I ask myself. I know the answer already. She stayed with him so I could grow up with both parents, as bad as he was sometimes I think he did love her. Maybe that’s why she stayed, she wanted to recapture the love they had lost in the beginning, as fleeting an idea as it was. I guess I’m still that kid in some ways. My father never loved me, or if he did, he didn’t show it. That kid inside just wants my father to love, too bad it’s too late for that.
I sit in my car with the key in the ignition, although it isn’t turned on. I just sit there thinking of poor Emma. I turn the key over and listen to the engine start up, just like the motivation inside me to pull her out of this. It’s hard to see as the rain hasn’t let up all morning. I back out of my car just has I had two days prior, although this time the neighbor’s cat wasn’t even within eyesight. My drive down the road feels like an eternity. I pull into the roughly paved driveway that is Mrs. Bentone’s and walk to the door. Emma comes to the door just as my foot hits the doorstep, as if she knew I was coming. The door opens and she seems happy to see me.
“Oh hello again, Ben,” she says with a smile. “Won’t you come in?”
“Of course, Emma.”
We walk into the kitchen to get some tea. It’s the only room I have ever seen in her tiny, cramped home. The dog just rests in the corner of room, trying to get some sleep on this dreary day. I feel a heaviness resting on my shoulders, not in the sense of a tangible weight, but from an emotional standpoint. She sits there quietly, sipping her tea as usual.
“You know Emma; I know about Edward, I know that he died.”
“I know he is dear, some days though I just can’t bring myself to believe it. He was my world.”
“I know what it’s like to lose a loved one. Not a spouse, but I lost both of my parents.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You know…I’ve spent the last 25 years grieving over Edward. I’ve wasted some of the best years of my life, my golden years. I can’t get that time back as much as I wish I could.”
We just sit in silence, neither of us knowing where to go from here.
“I think I need to go lie down, now, I’m feeling a bit tired.” is all she says.
“Emma, I’m so sorry for bringing this up, I just wanted to help you.” I can feel tears welling up in the corners of my eyes.
“You didn’t do anything wrong.” she says with a smile. “I just hope you don’t spend your life worrying about things you can’t change, like I did.”
I think about my father at this point, and all the turmoil I have been through since his death.
“I promise Emma, I won’t let my past prevent me from enjoying what I have now.”
She just gives me a smile, that smile I have come to adore in what little time I have known her. We part ways for the last time at the old, tattered door for that is the last time I ever see her. She passes later that night of heart failure; she goes peacefully in her sleep. This gives me little comfort.
I walk over to the mantle in the middle of my living room. In between some old books and a decorative lamp sits that old coin. I pick it up and begin to shine it up with a rag and some polish. “It’s just a little something, really.”