This story is by JL Wilson and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Sorry, sir. That account’s been closed.” a salad fragment peered out from the woman’s incisor, a commando morsel from lunch.
“What are you talking about…” replied an impossibly thin man, and added, “…Ruby?” after a quick glance at her nametag. “I had over $2500 in that account two days ago. Where’s my f-f-fucking money!?!” he slammed his fist on the counter, catching the rim of a basket filled with hard candy, multicolored meteorites rained down upon the faux granite expanse of Ruby’s workspace.
Take note, this is how to get a bank manager’s attention.
A plump, balding man whose huge head was a one-fifth scale replica of his pear-shaped torso scuttled over. With the voice of a chainsmoking spinster, he said “Good day, Mr…” he leaned in closer to catch the name.
“…Pfennig” he bellowed.
He shuttered, then pasted a plastic smile across his face, “Mr. Pfennig, I’m Mark, the branch manager. Kindly lower your voice and clean up your language. This is a place of business.”
“Gladly. When Ruby KINDLY FINDS MY MONEY!”
“I understand your frustration. Let’s get to the bottom of this. Miss Ruby, what’s the problem?”
Miss Ruby explained all to manager Mark. After saying that the account had been closed, the manager relaxed and the tension in his countenance faded away.
“Problem solved, Mr. Pfennig.” the plastic smile returned to his face, this time with a hint of gloating. “Your wife has the money, I helped her close the account this morning.”
“Ex-wife, you putz.” Pfennig quipped.
“Terribly sorry, sir?”
“Ex-wife…” he muttered.
The manager grimaced, “hmm. She didn’t mention divorce.”
“Obviously.” he sneered. “Now what? My money’s gone?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Pfennig. Her name was on the account.” Manager Mark pointed at his monitor, presumably at the former Mrs. Pfennig’s name.
Manager Mike’s gesture was to reassure himself that he didn’t screw up. Pfennig knew he had no recourse against this diabolical coupling bureaucracy and self-assuredness.
Silently, he turned and started for the exit. Ruby bellowed, “Thank you for being a valued customer of Liberty Bank. We’re always here for you!”
Without regard for his surroundings, Pfennig’s right arm shot up, a bony middle finger stretched toward the ceiling. Instantaneously, his hand connected with a low hanging “Liberty to Choose – put your money to work in a LibertyAdvantage CD today!” sign.
He exited without further incident and got in his car. Fearfully, he watched the gas gauge jerk with the turning of the engine, but quickly settle back on ‘E’. He wondered if he had enough gas to get home. The low gas chime hadn’t sounded so he’d make it across town…probably.
The low gas chime started dinging at the first light after the bank, but he made it home.
He understood why he’d been so fortunate when he reached his door. A pink notice flapped listlessly in the summer breeze. Below his name and address, a box read –
THIS IS THE third NOTICE REGARDING VIOLATION(S) OF THE BUILDING CODE(S) LISTED BELOW.
THE FOLLOWING PENALTIES HAVE BEEN ASSESSED –
FIRE CODE CITY ORDINANCE PENALTY
NFPA 1 EFC 2.1.2 $92
NFPA 80 EFC 2.2.16 $18
NFPA 220 EFC 2.3.1 $58
NFPA 350 EFC 2.3.6 $18
NFPA 5000 EFC 2.1.1 $193
PLEASE REDRESS THE ABOVE PENALTIES BY Thursday, August 4th. FAILURE TO DO SO MAY RESULT IN FURTHER PENALTIES.
IF YOU CHOOSE TO APPEAL THESE CHARGES, YOUR COURT DATE IS – Monday, August 1st
REPORT TO COURTROOM #4 AT 9:30 am AT THE FOLLOWING ADDRESS…
All this over some crates and bins? Is it a hazard if I can move about and come and go as I please? He unlocked the door and pushed. The opening was big enough for his foot when the door thumped something on the other side. He bore his shoulder into the door. Slowly, the opening widened to the sound of the carpet’s refrain from being stretched and scraped.
At length, the opening was large enough for him to squeeze into a hallway lined with plastic bins.
The landlord complained about the clutter, but these bins held treasures of incalculable value.
Not exactly “incalculable”, being full of pennies. According to Pfennig’s ex-wife, an 18-gallon bin was worth about $260.
Pfennig ran his fingers over a lid peppered with pennies to uncover the words 2007 – HOUSING CRISIS, VT SHOOTING, HP7, IRAQ, BAILOUT, PRES OBAMA… scrawled on the lid.
Before proceeding, know this about Frank Pfennig –
At age 13, he discovered a unique talent. He was plundering the house for change to buy a soda; a bounty of mostly pennies. About $0.40 into the quest for $1.07, he heard a series of small voices from his pocket. He pondered long and hard about where the voices might be coming from. Finally, Occam’s razor forced him to conclude that the pennies were “talking”.
Nothing like Lincoln’s head orating “four score and seven years ago…” A better description might be the pennies were “transmitting” thoughts and emotions.
It’s easy to insert an emotion or longing into a penny – hold the coin, swim in a feeling, then get rid of the coin. There are billions of pennies, each laden with the hopes and dreams of the desperate tramps, the forlorn lovers, and the whimsical passers-by, in wells and fountains around the world to testify to this.
The emotional power behind simply spending a penny imbues the coin with the convictions of the caster.
Each bin was a time capsule of human struggle.
He discovered his talent around 1994. They spoke of hurricanes, government abuse of force and the second amendment (even then, concerning assault rifles).
September 11 caused such an uproar that he decided to collect them, like an audio recording only he could hear.
It blossomed into an obsession. At first, Lyrah, his wife to be, found his penny collecting to be a quirk, it made him unique.
Shortly after they married, he started hoarding pennies. She’d open a tin of coffee to find that Frank had replaced the coffee with pennies. The dryer would have dozens after a load of laundry.
They call out to me, they need me. No one appreciates them like I do. He hears their frustration at having to forgo a new AC unit because gas went up to $3/gallon. The lament from the penny spent on candy for a Mexican boy, crying hysterically after being separated from his parents at the US-Mexico border.”
That’s why bins full of pennies crowd his hallways, overrun his kitchen cabinets and even stay fresh in the freezer
Lyrah didn’t understand. The landlord doesn’t either.
*BZZZ* *BZZZ* *BZZZ*
He snatched his phone from his back pocket and glanced at the screen. He inhaled deeply and twisted his face. Looking like a deranged psycho clown as he exhaled, he slid his finger across the screen, brought it to his ear “Yes, dear?” he chirped.
“Sorry, Frank. Talking to your pennies?” asked the voice on the other end.
“Why, Mrs. Pfennig, no penny is more important than you.”
“Not anymore, just got my name change certificate from the social security office.”
“Is that why you called MISS TODD? If so, please excuse me, I must conjure $400 to pay a citation from the city, and as you know, I’m completely broke.” Pfennig spat.
“No, Frank. I called because it turns out that the back pain OUR daughter was having was cancer wrapping around her spine, and you don’t have a job and mine doesn’t offer insurance and YOU didn’t want to enroll on the healthcare exchange this year. We’re $13,000 short for just the surgery. Your bank account was a down payment…” she paused.
“The cheapest plan was $1700 a month for all of us. What was I supposed to do?” he replied.
The response was quick and calculated, “Get a fucking job. Realize that your daughter is priceless. What if she were one of your precious pennies, Frank? Would she be worth something to you then?”
Frank thought for a moment. “Why didn’t you talk to me about this first? I don’t appreciate going to the bank and being told I’ve no money.”
“No money? Seriously? You have a kajillion pennies. They’re still legal tender, Frank.” she replied. “This is your chance to redeem yourself for letting those pennies run your life.”
Frank didn’t think of the coins as legal tender. They were voices of the forgotten; common denominators of humanity. Entities whose “legal tender” was thought to be void. But was his daughter’s life void?
Either way, she was right. This lowly currency, most common of all common denominators, and the power in them, would be his salvation.
Without further contemplation, he loaded two bins, 250lbs of pennies into his trunk, counted out 1,000 pennies for $10 in gas, ruined the gas station clerk’s day and went to see Miss Ruby – she was there for him, anyway.