A nickel in the road
Copyright: Jim Penny, 2009
Word count: 501
A version of this essay was published 27 March 1996 in The Collegian, the student paper of Greensboro College.
How that nickel came to lie in the middle of the left turn lane, all scuffed and scratched but still smiling, calling to me as I sat in the go-straight lane, waiting for the light to let me go-straight, is a mystery to me. I doubt it fell from the pocket of a pedestrian; a pedestrian would have left a body somewhere on these six busy lanes. Perhaps a workman noticed his door ajar, and eased it open for a quick slam, with just enough crack and pause for an errant bit of fast-food drive-through change to tinkle out, falling into harm's way, to lay in wait to distract me this sleepy morning.
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 the headache he deserved and dropped the change that he should have left on the table for the waitress whose failing language had produced wrong order that he ate anyway. The nickel rolling faster than his overweight self could react, escaped through the parking lot, across the drive, down the road, and through the intersection where the Smiling Fates of Nickels Lost introduced a wobble and then a teeter, ending the roll with a rattling fall that no one heard.
Now that nickel called to me, sitting there, third in the go-straight lane, and I wanted to pick it up, to take it home, to drop it into my jar of foundling coins, to revel in the accumulated quart of 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, unbuckle, get out, fetch the coin, and get back in before the car approaching behind me crested the hill, entered my lane, and crushed the life from my greedy body.
I knew it was so. I looked in the mirror, and the car that taunted me in thought wasn't there in fact, but I knew it was coming. I could feel the deep rumble in the pavement. I squinted at the imagined glare of the morning sun glinting off the polished hood ornament. I dared not act, dared not risk life and limb for the five cents that would hardly buy the bubblegum that I could already smell, dusty, untwisting from the wrapper, that I could feel crunching, cracking, hard edges turning soft, and that I could taste turning stale after only a minute of chewing satisfaction. I waited, and the hated, feared, car arrived, taunting me in fact as it had in mind, coming to rest at the front of the left turn lane.
I sat still, safe, knowing, not admitting, that I'd had all the time I needed.