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Six Dollars

by Rance Denton


Rance lives in Baltimore, Maryland.  His usual diet consists of rocks, porcupines, and human teeth.  His work has shown up in
Anobium as well as in various academic journals.  When he's not feeling very courteous, he blogs at http://www.rddenton.com

            Bites into her like she was some kind of sandwich, but her bread was stale and her lunchmeat not very lunchy. Not even a good sandwich. Dry. Kind you’d trade to the kid in the lunchroom that pukes when he eats greasy pizza.

            And that was the crux of it all [cliché]—She felt thrown away like the Styrofoam in the new T.V. box, and who ever dreamed about not being biodegradable? Dead-trees-and-choking-dolphins-here-I-come kind of thing. Not worth much except as a quick bit of amusement. Sure, there were other hole-fillers she could have employed, caulked it up with some anger, maybe toothpaste-squeeze some righteous indignation in there, but you don’t put caulk or Colgate in wounds. You let them dry out like sandwiches, you cover them up when they’re rank and peely. You show off the scar. Scars she didn’t mind so much—scars weren’t all that bad.

            She commutes into the inner-city by subway. Three-dollars-something out of her purse. You don’t really need a car in New York City. You don’t really need a car as a literature major. Something isn’t very Romantic about hot gas-stink, fry-crumbs in the seat-grooves, dried old boogers hanging from the seat-bottom. 

            Let’s meet for coffee, talk things over.

            You gonna pay for the train?

            I’ll pay for your coffee.

            I can’t believe you did this to me.

            Espresso or just straight-up coffee?


            Very Coleridge of you.

            So she stood there on the corner of something-and-something, and all that bravery she’d balled up in her heart hadn’t done jack-shit. The cold air sucked more tears out of her eyes. She had on her favorite jean-skirt because she liked what it did to her hips. A big, humming wave of people swooped by. She almost leaned into them and walked with them, went to some art museum or wherever tourists go so she could feel transported. Out of herself. Study herself like, hell, some ratty biology book. One all about the right and wrong of being a girl, being strong, soft like string-cheese and hard like granite [simile].

            Coffee shop. Warm, brown lights hanging over the tables inside. 

            But you don’t know the name of it.

            Good coffee. All that really matters.

            That’s where we met.

            That’s where we met.

            It should mean more to you. To us.

            They have good coffee there. Good tea.

            She went inside and saw all the debris of society sitting over paper cups steaming like they'd been filled with dry ice. It's all a lab experiment with people and socialization and Jesus, she thinks, I'm glad I'm not one of these useless skinbags that measures their value by way of macchiatos and art-talk. Place is just a Dumpster of humanity, filled with businessmen in Saks and starving authors that think a coffee-shop is a font of goddamn divine inspiration. 

            He's sitting in the corner, reading the cracks in his skin. She wasn't a believer in tarot or prophecy.

            There's a tea waiting for her. It's a little cold but that's alright. In her purse the metal thing she'd brought with her is screaming. He doesn't see her yet, or so he plays, and she has to put a swagger on before he looks up from his nonexistent age-marks.

            I feel like I can't get through to you.

            You always could.

            Then why won't you answer me?

            We talk without talking. It's all just construction-paper cut-outs of words organized in some preschool self-expression exercise. 

            I understand how that makes you feel.

            Do you?

            This is hard for me too.

            I can't believe what you did. I can't believe--

            I have to know. It's killing me. You're killing me.

            Love the atmosphere of this place.

            You should. This is the first place we--


            Turns the cup in her hands like a horseless merry-go-round that she hopes will warm her skin, but his eyes pull her skin away and expose everything:  the inside-meat, the secret Freemason inner-sanctum geode stuffed away underneath the veil of her soul [metaphor]. Walk-your-whole-life-like-a-slasher-flick-and-you-might-just-come-out-of-it-all-with-your-heart-intact kind-of deal. It hangs like a thousand pounds of bullion in her Goodwill handbag and she doesn't know if she can find the effort to use it on him. Not in public. Not where everybody can see.  Pretty much a crime. 

            I believe we're at an impasse.

            I think that's nice.

            There it is again.


            That whole thing you do. That thing.



            If they weren't in a coffee-shop, she'd do it. She spends her whole life dreaming, scribbling down poems on wrinkled paper like all the pictures of her favorite authors on the shiny book-jackets underneath still-life photographs of trees.  Writing about love doesn't fix anything. Twists the knife harder, stirs the guts around, makes a scene. That's amateur stuff. You've got to be subtle, pepper your works all over with references to the classic writers and canon you learned about like you’re some dimestore Eliot [self-reflexive].

            But she knows it's not about writing; it's about them. The reality hangs over them both, a dead man dangling from his noose and brushing his frigid toes across their future, back-and-forth, back-and-forth.

            You're tearing me apart.

            You think it's any easier for me?

            It's got to be.

            So you want to play the victim.


            This shouldn't be that hard.

            You put enough sugar in your coffee?


            How could you do that to me.

            Discomfort isn't just a word. She knows it's something hot drinks and power jean-skirts won't help her dodge. You can armor up as much as you want but it's not going to make much of a difference. Achilles had his heel.  Beowulf had his fate.  She runs laps with her finger around the cup-rim and pours her whole mind into the indentation it presses into her flesh. Never thought it could be so difficult. The urge inside her is to maybe shoot him, get it over with fast, then run in faux-designer high-heels for the border or whatever. 

            Can't write a masterpiece with a cat between you and the monitor; can't write a work of art without a little helping of pain, hors d'œuvres before the main course. 

            I don't think this is going to work.

            I gave you all this time and this, this is--

            I don't think this is going to work.

            Explain it.

            Too much to.

            You're running.

            I'm running.

            She scoops out all of the filler she'd stuffed in the scars. The mortar and the rubber cement and the little packing peanuts. Going all out is the only way she knows how, so that's exactly what she does [understatement].

            They're in a coffee shop. She finishes her tea. Earl Gray was her favorite, a little spicy, a touch British. Ambrosia. He knows this. She brushes it off like some kind of insult, stands up to her full height, shows him one last swish of her hips and a crease of belly-skin. The encounter could have been violent. Could have been messy. But some Romanian woman would need to mop that up. Nobody wants to clean that detritus after some immature fuss. 

            Out the door. The streets are alive and the city is bright with possibilities and freedom. Her purse feels lighter. The metal isn't whispering to her anymore because it's not there. Her weapon is gone. Three-dollars-something takes her back through the subway and she's alone. And there's peace in that [resolution].

            He drinks his coffee in a world of failed artists and caffeine-high office-workers. 

            On the table: a half-finished cup of Earl-Gray-two-sugars-no-cream; a straw-wrapper snake; a few grains of cane; the engagement band he'd given her five days before to think over.

            This is more than just some experience, he’d told her. This is us. 

I don't want to become just another story for you to write about.

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