The Coin Machine

Jack Benson, if asked, would say he felt pretty good about himself. Had never much bothered about money. Though looking back, he might have. But he hadn’t and that was that. His wife, if she were alive, would differ with him on that point.

He takes off his shoes by the door, hangs his heavy coat on the hook and drops his key on the counter. He lights the stove under the morning coffeepot.

Late afternoon light slants low through the window. He sighs and sits down at the table. The wicker seat stretches and creaks. His hands are still cold from the walk. The sun is too weak to coax the stiffness out of his bones.

He’d walked to the bank when it opened this morning. They’d be closing the branch on Main Street at the end of the month. The ATM too. Next month, he’ll have to walk half a mile more from his new place on Broadway to the other branch out by the top of King Street. At least, he figures, the walk back home from the new branch will be down hill and he could stop by the Dunkin’ Donuts, sit for a few minutes, get warm, maybe buy a coffee and watch the townies in their war-time caps retelling stories around the table in the corner by the customer-only bathroom.

The line at the bank’s coin machine had two women ahead of him talking about the bank closing. “More town politics,” the short one said. “Nobody cares about ordinary people anymore.’

“All’s I know,” said the other one, “is someone’s making money off of this, and no one’s sending me a check.”

After the women were finished he emptied his zip-lock onto the machine conveyor belt. Someone had taped yellow and orange leaves on the wall behind it.

By habit, he checked coin reject slot like with the old pay phones. Thirty-three cents in nickels and pennies. He’d have called to the two women if they were in earshot but they’d already gone out into the street. He slipped the coins into his jeans, thinking he’d likely run into them later.

He used to roll up the coins he’d collected throughout the month, pennies mostly, checking for old ones. Like the 1909 s-vdb that was up to near to $2500, last he looked.

Nowadays, the tellers seem annoyed when he brings in the rolls and hands them across the counter, like coins don’t count anymore or maybe it means more work for them. The rolls were solid; proof somehow of hard work in a way that he found hard to explain.

At the teller’s window, Jack handed the woman the slip from the machine. Like cashing in winning tickets at the track. Up in Saratoga watching the trotters with his uncle Fred before Fred moved to Palm Beach and turned to betting on the dogs.

He pocketed the seven dollars and fifty-seven cents; what was left after the bank took its cut. Where’d they get off doing that? Why’d he have to pay for that? Like the one woman had said, someone’s got to be making money off of it. Seven ninety in his pocket now, counting the rejects the women had left.

At the Rite Aid, he waited while the clerk went back to get his blood pressure pills. A pretty girl with a long brown ponytail. He used see her over in the park riding her bike before she graduated. He glanced at the candy bars below the counter. They cost a dollar nineteen each. In ‘55 they’d cost no more than a nickel.

Jack once had taken his daughter and her friend to visit Hershey Park. Her twelfth birthday. The year after he and her mother had split. The girls rode the spinning peanut butter teacups, clutching each other, screaming, letting go of their pre-adolescent guardedness for a few hours, and falling asleep together in the back seat on the way home.

He put two singles down for the pills. And when the girl turned away from the register, Jack slipped one of the Hershey bars into his coat pocket. He hesitated a moment, counting his change again, and dropped the ninety cents on the counter. “Happy Thanksgiving,’ the girl called to him. ‘You, too!’ he called back.

He sits at the kitchen table now, in the little bit of sun left of the day, sipping the bitter coffee he heated up. The thin paper receipt and the string of useless coupons and the Hershey bar are on the table in front of him. The five-dollar bill folded there too. It’s all that he has. Until Wednesday next when the Social Security check comes.

Money dogs him each day. It wears on a person. Saps everything out of you. But, no excuse though for stealing. He feels small. Worse than small. He’ll make it up to the girl. Pay her for the money shorted in the register.

At Hershey Park that one day, money was no problem. He had a job. Thought he always would. He’d have given every penny he had then to make his daughter happy. “Daddy,” she’d said to him, “This is the best day of my entire life.

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