Kathryn Lynch

Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch

Photo of two old ladies.

What could possibly destroy a friendship of almost 60 years?

At first glance the old ladies appeared to be twins because they were so alike. Both were uncommonly tall. Time had added too many pounds to their frames, and slowed their gaits, so they walked with canes.

Both shared a love of reading, music, pets, and making fun of themselves to make the other laugh. They were retired now; one from years of teaching, and the other from the practice of law. Neither had been married, so in their sunset years, they enjoyed each other's company, even while doing the most routine tasks.

The old ladies were not twins, sisters, or even related, but they had been friends for almost 60 years.

Early one morning, on their way to the grocery store, they caught sight of a large box, swaddled in tape. It lay by the side of the road, rain pocked sides leaning toward the ditch. Curious, and excited at the prospect of "free stuff", the old ladies pulled over into the bike lane to retrieve their find. The box was surprisingly heavy, but with effort they managed to drag it to the car and lift it into the trunk. After some discussion, they decided to drive to a quiet area behind the stores in town, where they could open it in relative privacy.

The old ladies parked by a dumpster intending to dispose of anything they couldn't use. The top of the box was heavily secured by the tape. Using scissors from the glove compartment, they opened the carton cautiously, totally unprepared for what they would find. A human hand, covered in blood, lay on top of a pile of blood smeared papers. Closer examination revealed that the papers were $100 bills. The contents of the box smelled of death.

Using paper napkins left over from a fast food meal, the old ladies grabbed the hand, tossing it into the depths of the dumpster debris. They didn't know if the hand would ever be discovered, but they were sure that its owner had come to a violent end, and they did not want to be connected with it in any way.

Stuffing the napkins inside the box, they headed for home.

The first order of business was to dump the cash into a plastic bag so that they could burn the napkins and the box, piece by piece, in the wood stove. The old ladies worked silently, fatigue soon overcoming them both. When they were finished, they sat down to rest, breathing heavily, their old hearts straining to keep up with their endeavors.

After much discussion, they decided to wash and dry two bills. Each would take a bill into different banks and ask for change. If the bills were counterfeit, or if they appeared on a stolen bills list, they would slip into "Old Lady Mode", playing dumb, upset, and confused. They would claim receipt of the questioned bill from another bank where their Social Security checks were deposited. In preparation, each would first withdraw a one hundred dollar bill from their accounts, so the stories would check out.

By late afternoon, it was done. Each had five, new twenty dollar bills. The old ladies were certain that the money would pass freely. It was probably gained from some illegal activity, but neither the money nor the hand would be traced to them.

They were in business!

The work of cleaning the money was tedious. Washing the bills without soap on the permanent press cycle, the old ladies bantered back and forth about the concept of "laundering" money.

Each load of newly washed bills was transferred to the dryer. Neither had ever seen so much money as that circling around before their very eyes. It delighted them to think about the changes all of this cash would make in their lives because each now lived on a Social Security retirement check. They would be talking about this for years, if only between themselves.

When a load was dry, the bills were somewhat wrinkled. The old ladies laid them out on the kitchen counter covering them with books to press them flat. When finished, the money was neatly stacked and placed in a new box they had secured for that purpose.

After two days, they were done.

The excitement of counting the money surged through them as they dragged the box over to their favorite chairs... They counted $188,300.00! Unable to believe that they had counted correctly, they counted once again.

There had been no mistake. They were rich! Dreams of the good life filled their thoughts...

The problems began slowly; small disagreements over whether or when the money should be used to pay the monthly bills. After the bills had been paid, the old ladies were quiet for several days, speaking to each other only when necessary.

One thought they should purchase new cars. The other argued for a trip around the world. They raised their voices frequently, then brooded in silence.

During an afternoon, one old lady lost $200 in the slot machines at the casino. The other screamed and shouted, calling her "wasteful", "greedy", and “addicted". Her hollered response was that her companion was "petty", "stingy", and "close-minded". They did not speak again for four days.

While both loved to eat, they could not agree on the purchase of expensive steaks, or how often they should eat in restaurants, let alone how much they would spend on a meal once they were there.

The arguments took a toll on their health. One old lady ended up in the hospital for three days. Once there, she demanded that half of the cash be brought to her room. That done, it was pointed out to her that the money might easily be stolen. Only then did she allow the funds to be placed in the hospital safe. The other old lady drove home in disgust.

As the days passed, most of the money remained in the box, largely unspent--in the box because both old ladies knew that large deposits of cash into a bank would draw unwanted attention to themselves,--unspent because they could not agree on the most basic expenditures.

By the end of the first month, the music had gone silent. New books lay unread on the coffee table. The old ladies no longer found humor in every day living. Each began to speak about taking half of the remaining money and moving away...

In the middle of the night, two foraging rats slipped under the house in search of food. For a time they dug in the earth for seeds ungerminated in the darkness. Driven by curiosity, they nibbled on the wires hanging down from the structure.

Freed from their insulating bonds, two star-crossed wires sparked and ignited the insulation under the floor. The fire started slowly, festering like an open sore before spreading to the joists, creeping the length of the structure before burning through the floors

Both old ladies awoke to the screeches of the smoke alarm and the sight of flames climbing the walls and claiming the structure, as the fire became more intense.

Opening the front door, they were about to flee to safety, when one cried, “The money!" It was then that they argued for the last time--before one old lady headed for the box...

In a matter of moments, the home had collapsed inward, rubble falling down to ground level. Winds blew around the foundation, coating the surrounding area with a layer of ashes.

The other old lady watched silently from the safety of the trees, mourning what she had lost. She was consumed with thoughts of the money and the amenities it might have purchased. There would be no new car or trip around the world. She would not be eating steaks or gambling in casinos. The music collection and all of the books were gone. She was poor again...

Thoughts of her friend did not enter her mind.

Epilogue: A garbage truck driver caught sight of the hand as it plummeted from the dumpster into the bed of his truck. Using a digging pole, he brought the appendage to the surface and called the police. Fingerprints identified it as belonging to a local drug addict who peddled dope in exchange for keeping himself loaded.

The dealer who supplied the addict was tried and convicted of murder. He was, in fact, guilty. For years he wondered, but never understood how the hand, which was the chief evidence against him, ended up in a semi-public dumpster.

It was never determined how the box with the money made its way to the side of the road.

The surviving old lady went to live with relatives, where shortly afterward, she was disabled by a stroke. She babbled constantly to anyone who would listen about a bloody dismembered hand, and how she used to be rich. Those who heard these accounts dismissed them as the rambling, confused thinking of a demented old woman. They avoided her whenever possible.

The other old lady was buried quietly in a pauper's grave. Wildflowers grew in abundance around the stone and on the gravesite, a telltale sign that the landscaping fees had not been paid. No one ever came to visit.

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