A nickel in the road
Copyright 2008, Jim Penny
Word count: 547
How that nickel came to lie in the middle of the left lane, all scuffed and scratched, still smiling, still tender, calling to me as I sit waiting at the light is a mystery to me. I doubt it fell from the pocket of a pedestrian; a pedestrian would have left a body on these six busy lanes. Perhaps a workman had noticed a door ajar, and eased it open for a quick slam, with just enough crack and pause for an errant bit of drive-thru change to rattle into harm’s way.
Perhaps an overstuffed, ill-mannered, residually angry middle management patron of the Chinese food restaurant some half-mile up the road staggered from the first twinge of a deserved headache, and dropped the change he should have left for the waitress, the one whose failing language produced the wrong order, the nickel rolling faster than the reaching hand, escaping through the parking lot, across the drive, down the road, and to the intersection where the smiling Fates of Nickels Lost introduced a wobble and then a teeter that ended the roll with a rattling, spinning fall neither heard nor seen.
Now, that nickel called to me, sitting there, driving to work, third in the lane, and I wanted to pick it up, roll it in my hands, not for the five cents of commercial value, but to add it’s luck and wealth to my jar of foundling coins, to revel in the accumulated quart of now claimed luck, but I sat tight, still, hands gripping the wheel, eyes mostly forward, peripheral vision denied. There wasn’t time to shift to neutral, set the brake, open the door, hop out, fetch the coin, and undo it all before the car approaching behind me crested the hill, entered the lane, and crushed the life from my greedy body.
I knew the car was coming. I could feel the rumble in the pavement. I squinted at the imagined glare from the polished hood ornament. I dared not act, dared not risk life and limb for the five cents that would hardly buy the bubble gum that I could already smell untwisting, dusty, from the waxed paper wrapper, that I could feel crushing, cracking, hard edges turning soft between my amalgam-filled molars, that I could already taste turning stale after only one minute of chewing satisfaction. I waited, and the hated, feared car arrived, taunting me further in fact as it had in mind, coming to rest in the nickel lane. I sat still, safe, knowing, not admitting, that I’d had all the time I needed.
The nickel sang to me. I didn’t move. The light would change before I could complete the task, and the car behind me would honk in righteous anger. The nickel screamed it’s final chorus across the car-filled lanes. Space, time, life curled before me, urging me to leave the lane, turn around, left or right, return the other way, park by the road’s edge, sprint through the traffic, kneel briefly on the morning’s warming asphalt, seize the bright shiny, absorb it’s five-fold gift of God-sent luck and wealth, feel the weight in my right pocket where it would spend the day before it settled into the jar with all the other lucky money, our fates merged.