Just a Quarter

The smoke from Lisa’s cigarettes, the smell of cheese puffs and simmering chicken wings filled the air as the four of them–Veronica, Lisa, and Trica, who had been best friends since middle school, and Veronica’s Becca–began their traditional Saturday card game at Trica’s house. The older ladies’ husbands and Becca’s boyfriend watched college football in the basement leaving the women to gossip about their lives and the tiny town they lived in.

“I found the most amazing looking coin in my cash drawer at work yesterday,” Becca said as she discarded a seven of diamonds.

“Is it better than the peso you had last time that you were positive was some kind of ancient pirate gold?” Lisa laughed tapping the end of her cigarette on the large, yellow, heart-shaped ashtray Trica’s oldest son had made in art class.

“This one has an Asian guy on it. So… it’s definitely better than the peso.”

“Let’s see it then,” Trica said as she laid an Ace, King, and Queen of Hearts on the wooden table.

Becca took out her coin purse, filled with the exotic treasure she had found mixed with the change from her cash drawer at the grocery store. She pulled out three euros, the peso, a ten pence, and finally a coin about the size of a quarter but a slightly different shade of silver.  One side was the portrait of an Asian man in what looked like ancient Chinese clothing, but Becca wasn’t sure. She handed the coin around the table until it reached Trica.

“I’ll ask the bartender at work. He moved here from China when he was little, he would know the coins of that area. I’ll give it back to you next week.”

“Sounds good to me, but don’t lose it.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Becca,” She laughed. I’ll keep it separate from everything else, so I don’t spend it on accident.”

 

A week later the ladies gathered at Veronica and Becca’s house: nachos cooked in the oven as Trica entered through the screen door with bags of cheese-flavored popcorn and pretzels. She seemed to be avoiding Becca, but it could just have been Becca’s imagination.

“So Trica did you find out what kind of coin Becca found?” one of the women asked as Lisa lit a cigarette and Becca shoveled cheese puffs into her mouth.

“Yes, I did,” Trica said smiling. “It’s a Korean five dollar piece. The bartender said that it’s a rather new coin and it’s very strange to find them over here.”

“Awesome!” Becca said licking her fingers. “I finally have a coin that’s actually worth something.”

“However, sweetie, I do have some bad news about it.”

 

“I can’t believe that you lost it, Trica!”

“I didn’t lose it, Becca,” Trica corrected staring at the floor. “I spent it, on accident.”

Becca sighed loudly and fell into her mother’s fluffy sofa. “It doesn’t even look like any other coin you could have possibly had in your wallet.”

“It actually looked a lot like a quarter,” Trica replied taking a seat in an armchair opposite of Becca.

“It had an Asian guy on it. All you were supposed to do was ask the bartender at work what country it was from. I can’t believe you, Trica, you promised!”

“I know, I know, I’ll get you a new one.”

“Where are you going to find a Korean five dollar piece?” Lisa asked from the screen door, blowing smoke outside, and sipping a Coors Light between inhales.

“Korea,” Becca said.

“I’m not going to Korea to get you a five dollar coin.”

“You promised me you wouldn’t lose it, and you went and spent it, Trica, you owe me a new Korean coin. I’m just going to be mad at you until you get me a new one.”

 

Every week for years the four of women assembled for the weekly card nights. Trica would bring the cheese puffs and a new foreign coin for Becca: one week a nickel from the Bahamas, another week an old French franc from Trica’s own trip to France when she graduated college. At Becca’s wedding, she gave her a Brazilian five dollar piece. But Becca could never forget Trica for losing the coin. It wasn’t that she’d really cared all that much. It was more of a principal of the matter thing than anything else. Becca joked about Trica’s upcoming trip to Asia every time she saw her, a trip Trica’s husband got mad about the first time he heard Becca mention it.

“Why would my wife be going to Korea without telling me?” Trica’s husband would yell from Lisa’s basement on Saturday night. The women laughed and ate their cheese puffs.

It became somewhat of a joke as time passed, to everyone except Becca. Then, in the blink of an eye, Trica got too old to take a twenty-hour flight to Korea. Becca and her mother’s friends watched as Becca got married and her children grew up and started collecting things.

“Don’t let Trica get a hold of that, Molly, you’ll never see it again,” Becca laughed when her youngest showed her a foreign coin she found at school one day. It became one of those jokes they all told for a laugh. There was never any heat behind it, not anymore, but it was something that Becca would never really let go of. There was always a piece of Becca that was bitter about it. It was something special that was supposed to be hers. Something promised to her that she’d never get to have. Decades passed before their eyes, and still, in the back of her mind, that silly coin would be always lurking.

Even after Trica got cancer and slowly started drained away. It was such a stupid thing to hold a grudge over. Something silly and pointless, but still it hung in the air around them every time they visited Trica.

 

As the three of friends stood around Trica’s hospital bed on the last day of her life, Trica pointed to the side table. Lisa opened it and pulled out two objects: one, a small box the size a necklace would come in, and in the other, a deck of cards. “I’ll save a place for you at my table,” was written on the box of cards. Trica took one last breath, holding onto Veronica and Lisa as Becca stood at the foot of the bed holding the other box. The nurses rushed it as the buzzers sounded. Veronica turned to her daughter, standing there, at the end of the bed, peering into the little box. A flood of tears rolled down her face. She let them fall off and wet her shirt and hit the floor.  Becca brushed her mother’s arm and showed her and Lisa a coin, slightly smaller than a quarter with a little Asian man on it.

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