Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Copper Redemption

Three weeks had gone by since she dug up the old coin in her muddy front yard on the day it had rained. She’d been looking for earthworms to lay out for the robins before her five-year-old fingers unburied their treasure and the feeding of birds was forgotten. She rubbed off the dirt in a puddle nearby, but even mostly-clean it was much darker than the rest of her collection. She put the piece in her mouth and carefully removed the stubborn lumps of earth with her tongue. The taste of it was unfamiliar, unpleasant and lingering but children are dedicated archaeologists and she noticed every possible detail before removing the coin to examine it with methods more palatable to adult sensibilities. 

The edge was round, but imperfectly so, with straight parts she could feel but not see. It was brown, mostly, with a tint of turtle-green… the same colour as the stuff her mom sometimes put in their garden to make sure it grew only nice flowers and no grass; the colour of real Christmas trees after Christmas when people leave them outside to die, and get covered up by falling snow. And there was a picture of somebody’s Nana on one side, playing dress-up like a princess. The little girl carried it protectively, cupped between both hands with the instinctive knowledge that it was something both precious and rare.

“It’s a penny,” said her mother with a note of surprise in her voice. “I haven’t seen one since I was a kid. They stopped making them before I was born, but you could still find one from time to time back then, hiding under dusty old couches or in the pockets of coats people hadn’t worn in a while. I think they’re supposed to be lucky. That’s a pretty special mite of metal you’ve got there my girl.” 

Later that evening she took the penny upstairs. She put it into a brown paper bag with great care and wrote her name across the top with large, wobbly letters; she put that parcel into the front pocket of a retro Magic School Bus backpack her grandfather had picked up at an auction many years ago. It was a struggle to get the antique zipper moving, but she persistently worked the slider over a few rusty places along its length and at last secured her prize. Very few things were made to zip anymore, so the technology was a trial on its own. She slipped the straps over her small shoulders and tugged them tight. 

For three weeks she wore that backpack like a shell, only taking it off in absolutely critical moments. She wore it to school on the days she had to go; she wore it to the grocery store when she traveled out to shop with her mother. She even wore it to bed, and after a few restless nights learning to sleep on her side, she began to feel it quite a comfort. It was like wearing a hug, laced with magic and mystery. On occasion, when she thought her memory of the coin was beginning to fade and blur, she would sit off in a quiet corner of the world and pull the penny out of its hiding place to stare at it. The copper coin was a delight and a marvel to the little girl every day she had it, and it stirred in her thoughts even months after it left her possession. 

Three weeks after discovering the coin, the girl and her mother took a winding path on their way to town for the afternoon. At his usual place on the third bench from the gate sat the man she knew only as Mr. Dundurn, so called after the name of the park where he spent so much time. He was always polite and smiling, and had built up an unspoken acquaintanceship with the strolling pair, but he wasn’t quick enough to hide his tears before they passed him this time. Her mother looked on with pity and apology, but those are not the first instincts of childhood. The little girl quietly stopped walking, removed the brown paper bag from her pack and set the penny gently on the seat beside the man. “It’s a penny,” she whispered. “It’s old and nice like you, and I think it’s a lucky one. I hope it’s lucky for you too.” His eyes continued to steam as he whispered his thanks in reply, but the source of their flow had changed. The girl took her mother’s hand once more and left one lost man and one found coin sitting together on the bench by the oak.

Worth restored to the fringe and forgotten. And luck had nothing to do with it.