Can You Spare a Dime?

Pearl Watley Mitchell

© Copyright 2005 by Pearl Watley Mitchell

     The light was disappearing and a cold blanket began to envelope the couple. He held her hand tightly, gave it a squeeze and was gone. She hated to see him go, her childhood friend who had just told her that he loved her. She just couldn't consider getting involved with someone, considering her circumstances, even though her husband, her children's father, had been gone for almost ten years.

        She stood up from the front porch swing, fluffed out her ruffled skirt and went into the house. She picked up her purse from the lounge chair and searched for a dime. She couldn't find one. It was getting late and she began to get nervous.

        She had to find a dime. It was imperative for her to find a dime. There was a little slot in the front door and she had to find the dime that needed to go there. The slot was directly under a rectangular glass, probably 3x4 inches. Nothing was visible in the glass, just a little metal hand that resembled a clock hand, just standing straight up at a 90-degree angle.

  Neither of the children ever knew what the contraption  was. All they knew is that their mother had put a dime in that slot every day of her life since their Dad had died of a heart attack. Before Dad died, he always put the dime in. Melissa was 16 years old now and Joel was thirteen. They had watched their Mom quietly put that dime in that slot for a long time, and they wondered what it was. They thought at first that it was a bank and Mom went along with that idea. “Sure, it’s a bank,” Mom said. “It buys you a parent every day for the rest of your life. “ They never knew exactly what that meant, but they were happy that Mom was still alive, since Dad had died almost ten years ago.

        At ages six and three, the children were devastated to lose Dad. Melissa remembered much more about him than Joel did, but Joel could recall a lot. He could recall the smell of his shaving lotion and the way he could wiggle his ears. He remembered Dad reading bedtime stories and kicking a soccer ball back and forth on the living room carpet. He remembered knowing that when Mom started cooking in the kitchen, Dad would be home soon.

Melissa was the oldest and had more time with him than Joel did. She was a “daddy’s girl” and she clung to him when he was around. He kept saying to Mom that Melissa was going to be “the first woman president – if someone didn’t beat her to it before she got grown. Dad was really proud of her school and academic performance, all of her art awards and honor rolls.

But, one day Dad was gone. The family had been gone to the amusement park and returned home about 11:00 pm. Dad had reminded Mom several times that day that he had forgotten the dime. “The dime, Dad, what dime?” Melissa had inquired. “Oh, just one of our quirks”, he had answered, “how about some cotton candy?”

When they got home, Dad was looking for a dime. He couldn’t find one anywhere. Mom remarked that they should have gotten change at the park. They looked everywhere, but they found no dime. Mom began to get frantic about 11:20 pm and told the kids to check their piggy banks. Neither one had a dime. They had dollars and nickels and pennies and quarters, but no dime. They checked the couch and the chairs, and even the car seats, but no dime was to be found. Dad even got desperate and put a quarter in the slot just for safe measure. They could find no dime.

“Well,” Dad said, “It’s OK. Let’s see if the quarter will work. Now is a good time to try it”.

“No”, Mom was adamant! Go over to the Walker’s and see if they have a dime.

Dad looked at her nervously and said, “It’s almost midnight. It’s too late now. We’ll see what happens. Maybe we’ll be free after all these years.” Mom begged but Dad shooed us to our bedrooms and they went off to bed.

In the morning, Mom found Dad dead in the bed. The coroner said that he took his last breath about 12:10am. The cause of death was unknown. It was so strange. An autopsy had revealed that several of his organs had shut down all at one time - around midnight. To answer the kid's questions, they just said that dad had a heart attack.

Melissa remembered that when they walked into the door coming from the funeral home that day, her Mom had dropped a dime into the slot. Melissa had never seen her Mom put the dime in herself. Usually Dad slipped the dime into the slot. But, after that, Mom was there every morning to drop that dime into that slot. She kept a handful of dimes in the cookie jar at all times to make sure that she did not run out.

Melissa was sixteen years old and was tired of her Mom being tied to this old tradition. She was baffled by what happened to the dimes. She and Joel had examined that door carefully and evidently the dimes went down between the panels. She wondered how much money was there. But this specific morning, Melissa was really peeved at her Mom and her obsession with that dime. What did it matter? When they were all gone, she thought, there would be a wooden panel full of dimes for someone to claim.

Melissa and Joel cooked up an idea. The coins from a video game were purposefully made to resemble a dime. They were the same size and weight and almost the same pictures. The name of the arcade was “Dime Time”. That’s why the coins resembled dimes. Joel went to the cookie jar when Mom was getting ready for work. He removed Mom’s dimes. He put several of the “Dime Time” coins into the jar. They were thinking that it would be like giving sugar pills to a person who only thinks they’re sick, a hypocondriac. Then when they discover that they were only taking sugar pills to keep them well, they realized that they weren’t sick in the first place. This is how they would cure their Mom of putting dimes into the slot. They would make her see that whatever the obsession was with the dimes, that it was foolish.

Sure enough, that morning, they saw their Mom take a “dime” from the cookie jar and put it into the slot. She hurried them to the car and took them to school and then went to work.

Later that day, Mom picked up both of them from the comprehensive high school they attended. Mom remarked that she wasn’t feeling well that day and she needed medicine for a headache. She stopped at the store and got Ibuprofen and took it home to take it. Still, she did not feel well enough to cook supper and she decided to lie down for a nap. Around 10 pm, Melissa went in and tried to wake her Mom. It was if she were in a coma and she was not coherent. They called an ambulance that took her to the hospital, but it was too late. Around midnight, the nurse and doctor came in and told the children that their mother had expired. She had passed on and there was nothing they could do.

 Knowing that their mother was a woman of faith, the children felt that she was in Heaven, but the whole affair was overwhelming. The grief was so terrible that they just wanted to shut down their brain. They clung together and comforted each other. An aunt came and went home to stay with them for a while. The next day they would have to go make funeral arrangements and she would help them, she said. They were hardly aware of the aunt's presence because all their minds could think about was a dime. What had they done?

The car pulled into the driveway at 4 am and the aunt tried to comfort them, but they just ran into the house and looked at the slot and the glass. It was the first time they had ever seen the hand move. But - the metal hand had moved over to a 30-degree angle and a big red circle sat at the 90-degree angle. It said, “Time Expired”.

The next morning they got the aunt to take them to the police station and they confessed to the killing of their mother. The policeman passed the wild story off as psychosis brought on by grief and the policeman told the aunt to take them home.

They never spoke about the dimes ever again. The aunt took them home and did all she could to make them feel better. They pulled into the driveway. As they walked into the house, heartbroken and grief-stricken, Joel handed Melissa a dime and she dropped it into the slot.

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