The Money Exchange

When I was seven I stole some money that my brother had been saving to buy a boy's play set, a mountain with army men and tanks and all that. One night I heard my mother and brother talking about how he had almost saved enough, and I was right next to my mother's purse, and I could see the packet of money. It was right there, all this fortune that would never be mine because I was the youngest and couldn't mow the lawn to earn cash, or anything else handy like that. We earned a quarter or two every Saturday for helping to clean the house, but it was always spent on the ice cream man. It really burned me, that need, that desire to have some of his money. So I took a five-dollar bill from the packet and ran upstairs.

For a week or two I was a cursed child. That money had a hold on me; it taunted me, kept me awake at night, singed a place into my thigh through the very fabric of my jeans. As much as I had wanted it, I now was desperate to erase it from my life. I couldn't put it back because Mother had noticed it being gone from the packet, and to produce it would put immediate blame on me.

One day after school, we headed up to Main Street to Kuhn's old-time grocery store. Kuhn was getting on in his age; his freezer bins were full of half-defrosted chicken, his dry goods sometimes had worms. Near the front register was a bin full of stale penny candy: taffy, gum, jaw breakers and candy cigarettes. I thought about buying some of that candy--five dollars worth. That would get rid of the money, and I would have a lot of candy. For the longest time I squatted in front of that bin, deciding. Finally, after getting yelled at by my siblings, I decided against the plan and followed them to the register where they each bought candy with good, clean, guilt-free money. My stomach was so sour I couldn't have eaten anything anyway.

Mr. Kuhn had his eyes on me. Marshall and Cathy were already outside the store opening wrappers with a ravenous fervor, and I had lingered at the register. "Can I help you with somthin' little girl?"

In silence, I reached into my pocket and produced the five. I aked him if he could give me five ones in exchange. He gave me a strange look and said he could, opening the register too loud. He counted the money with a slow deliberance.

"One." Where did you get all this cash little girl?

"Two." I know your mother, she works just across the street.

"Three." Ain't I seen you around here, lookin' at all my candy like you might take some without buyin'?

"Four." You know what happens to kids that takes things that ain't theirs, dontcha?

"Five." But you couldn't be one of those kids. You just couldn't.

"There you go. Sure you don't want to buy somethin'?

I shook my head and ran out of the store.

Back home I found my sister's toy safe and, having gotten the combination from her in earlier times, opened the lock and shoved the money inside. Then I hid the safe under a bed and tried to resume what could have been such a happy life, but it wasn't happy anymore. Every second pulsed, every day crept by slowly.

One morning, just before heading off to school, my brother and sister began a witch hunt. They had found the safe, and the five ones inside. I ran to hide under the piano bench, and listened with a wild beating heart as they rambled through the house, yelling, "Oh whooooo could have taken this money? Someone who lives here, that's who. I wonder where they are? We'll find the little thief, we'll find her and wring her neck."

My ears were flooded with the sound of my own blood swooshing and swirling like river in a rainstorm. My chest was tight. I couldn't think, couldn't swallow. A hot blush colored my skin fire-red, and my hands were cold like a dead fish. I wanted them to find me, to get this over with. But I was so terribly frightened that they would find me, and then what? Shame, horrible shame. That I had been so greedy and so evil. That I had taken what was not mine. That I had had the guts to defy them, and God, and even my mother.

Finally the axe dropped and they were standing near the bench. I could see their feet, tapping with impatience. All of me shook, but I made myself stand to face them.

"Did you do this?"

"Yes. Yes, I did it. I took the money."

They both looked at each other in disbelief, because they hand't really thought I could do such a thing. My brother cocked his head, "I'm just curious, how did you change the five into five ones?"

I never answered. It was time to go to school anyway, and, perhaps I needed that secret. It was true, I had been a thief, but not a happy thief. Telling the tricks of that lifestyle would be gloating and all I wanted was to forget.

That night I ate dinner, and for the first time in weeks could actually taste the food. I slept and did not toss and turn the whole night through. I was cured--no more stealing, ever. No more lies or false living for me.

Comments

  1. I think we all have our story about THAT lesson. Maybe some day I'll share mine.

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  2. Just, a story, or an autobiography? Whatever, that was beautifully written!

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  3. I'm intrigued, mbj!

    Thank you Cro, and yes, it's autobiographical.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Been there, done that - I was 5.

    Is there a little bit of a theif in all of us?

    Well written! Brought back memories and a still guilty conscience.

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  5. Oh Amy - that was such a great story! All right - so you took the money, which you shouldn't have done - but you did something else as well - something which is so hard to do - you owned up and that takes a lot of courage from any one of us. Molly xxx

    ReplyDelete

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