Abyss & Apex : Third Quarter 2006

SMALL CHANGE Illustration

Small Change

by Mikal Trimm

 

“Brenda.”

He tried again, sure of the outcome and yet making sure of it.

“Brenda!”

His wife walked in, her hands covered in flour, her face washed in her mask of patience, the one she’d worn for too many years now. “I’m busy, Donald. Is this so important?”

Donald nodded. “Watch. Just…watch.” He took the penny up again, an old Indian-head from his collection, flipped it into the air. “Heads,” he said.

The penny came to rest on the table, heads-up.

Brenda wiped her hands on her apron, two more streaks of white on an already-dusted field. “Well, that’s very nice, dear. Do you want rolls or not?”

Donald didn’t move, didn’t deign to raise his head or his voice. “No. Watch.”

Three flips. Then five, seven, twenty, thirty. With each flip of the coin Brenda wiped her hands on her apron, the powder-white of flour turning the angry red of chafing. Heads. And heads again. And again and again and again.

“Stop it.” Brenda never yelled. Forty years of marriage tended to soften voices so that they were heard. “It’s some trick. I don’t have time for this, Donald, the dough is rising.”

“Trick?” Donald’s voice stayed even and low, and yet Brenda heard the echoes of his younger tones, thunderous and unmitigable. “Give me a coin. Any coin!”

Brenda, her hands now mummified in her apron, faltered. “Why does it mean so much to you, dear? What — ”

“Get me a coin!” Donald, screaming, after all these years.

She ran to find her purse, fumbled in the bottom where the change came to rest. Pennies, dimes, flotsam heavier than jetsam…

A quarter. Heaviest coin she could find, and somewhere inside herself she found enough youthful defiance to think, play your trick now, smart guy.

She immediately felt guilty for the thought, then remembered her dough lying untended in the kitchen and rethought her position. She went back to the dining room, plopped the quarter down in front of her husband. No words, but the hint of flour on the coin’s surface spoke volumes.

Donald grabbed it, still hunched over the table. He held it between his fingers just long enough to get a grip, then flipped it.

Heads.

“Do it again.” Brenda couldn’t believe she’d said it, even after the words came out.

Heads. Heads. Donald shifted his glance her way without changing his posture, then flipped again. Heads, heads, headsheadsheads —

“Stop it!” Hands to her face, apron wrinkled and forgotten around her waist, Brenda felt the first hot trickle of tears. “Donnie, oh, Donnie, what does this mean? What does it matter?” She hadn’t called him Donnie since they were dating, and Brenda realized she was frightened.

Donald, his shoulders still hunched, his attention still riveted to the chipped and discolored dining room table they’d bought years ago, whispered, “More coins. Bring more, and I’ll show you a thing…”

Brenda looked. She searched. Not because of forty years of marriage, not because she stood beck-and-call at her husband’s service. None of that. You don’t survive a lifetime of marriage playing the servant.

She’d seen his eyes. Something glowing there, something not to be trifled with. She knew and loved her husband. This deserved respect or fear. Utter fear of a man, ten years her elder, who might just have lost it, gone spiraling into the Great Beyond.

She chose respect over fear, ransacked the house, found a neglected piggy-bank left behind by their oldest daughter years ago. She’d left it in place, knowing Samantha would never come back for it or even remember it. Still, it meant something.

Now it meant something else. She brought it down from Sam’s old bedroom, yanked the plastic plug from its belly, and watched as a stream of pennies, nickels and dimes poured from its innards.

Donald nodded. “Yes. That’ll do.” He spread the coins out, took them one at a time, flipped them away from the pile.

None fell from the table. None landed on the pile of untouched coins, only to be buried, unreadable.

Heads. Heads, every one.

Stop it. Brenda didn’t say it out loud this time. She wanted this to end, yes, but she wanted it never to end, as well. Donald was Donnie, alive and well after all these years. He had a purpose, whatever it was.

“Donnie — ” Too late, it slipped out again, and Brenda tried to cover by grabbing her apron and shaking it. Flour puffed out, reminding her of the rising dough left in the kitchen. Not that it mattered now.

Donald raised his head, his eyes glittering with tears. “You flip one.” So sure of himself and yet so fragile.

“All right.” Brenda’s hand trembled. She tried to grasp a penny, a dime, lost them immediately. Finally she scooped up a handful of coins and managed to pick one out from the mass. “Now what do I do?’

“Just flip it.”

Brenda closed her eyes, not sure why. This seemed like a wish, like throwing a coin into a fountain, but she had no idea what to wish for.

A ping on the table, the whir of a coin spinning.

“Heads.”

She opened her eyes again when she felt Donald’s hand — his old, papery hand, covered with nothing more than the verdigris left behind by old coins — slip into hers. Chapped, red and cracking. Flour driven so far into the wrinkles that it could never be washed away. A lifetime of voluntary servitude, defined by the creases in her hands, her face, her history. She looked down, unable to do otherwise, and saw her coin — her coin? — lying heads-up on the table.

“Why, Donald? Why is this happening now? Why is it important?”

He looked up for a moment, just a glimpse of a moment. She saw his face, his jaw clenched, his eyes, finally his eyes. She expected tears, found joy instead. “I always wanted to do something special.”

He filled his hands with coins, his eyes never leaving hers. She could never tell, afterward, if he threw them up willingly or if they flew from his hands in some final convulsion, but by the time the coins landed, some clacking against the table, some hitting and bouncing on the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, he lay face down on the dining room table, breathless, dead.

And the coins — pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters — lay scattered around him.

Heads up, all heads up.

__________

Mikal Trimm has sold numerous works of speculative fiction and poetry in the last few years. His most recent sales include stories appearing (or forthcoming) in Weird Tales, Black Gate, Postscripts, and many others. He lives outside of Austin TX, where his plans for world domination are foiled only by the intolerable heat. 





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