Dear Reader | A good friend challenged me to enter NPR’s Three Minute Fiction contest with him. Entries must be six hundred words or less and regard a prompt given by a guest judge- usually a notable writer of some kind. This round of the contest is being guest judged by Karen Russell, the writer of the novel Swamplandia! and the prompt is “Finder’s Keepers”.
Below is my submission.
“What’s that, ninety bucks now?” My older brother throws a flannel shirt into a pile beside him as I hold up a twenty pulled from a pair of old Levi’s.
“Eighty,” I fold my dad’s faded denim and add them to a growing stack of clothes beside me. “’Enough to add grist to your mill,’” My brother scoffs as I imitate Dad’s deep baritone.
“Enough to go fuck yourself,” he mumbles.
“You know what you boys ought to do when I die?” Dad said once. “You ought to raid my closet. There’s bound to be something in the pockets.”
So we are, if only to avoid small talk and post-funeral discomfort with neighbors we barely remember.
“You said Mom didn’t find it, right?” My brother is tearing through his part of the closet. Empty hangers fly to the floor.
“You think he had Mom put it in the coffin?”
“I hope not.”
Our father hid cash in his clothing all of our lives but it’s not money we’re concerned with. We’re scavenging our father’s pockets and silently racing each other to find his lucky coin.
“Alright, boys,” he’d say. “So you don’t want to rake the yard, eh?”
“Okay then,” he’d reach in his pocket and pull out the coin, flipping it high with a flick of his finger and nabbing it with his ham of a fist. “Heads, you boys rake the yard and I go take a nap. Tails, you boys go play ball and I’ll do it myself. Sound fair?” He’d slap one hand on top of the other and peek underneath.
He’d smile, he’d shake his head with a chuckle and he’d walk away, leaving us to our chore.
That stupid coin indentured us for months. Shoveling and mowing and pulling and sweeping. Still, we believed that the odds would eventually even out. They never did. Each time Dad flipped his coin, and each time we lost. We began to believe that he defied the odds or, even worse, that he created them.
One Saturday morning, when my brother and I should’ve been fighting over which cartoons to watch but instead were pulling weeds, it occurred to me that Dad had been grinning like a Cheshire cat well before he flipped his coin.
I waited until we were alone in the yard that evening and asked to see it.
“Oh, I’m afraid not, son. This is your dad’s lucky coin. It’s how I married your mother. It’s how I got promoted. It’s how most everything good in my life has ever happened.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
“It’s a trick,” I said. “It’s heads on both sides.”
He adjusted his shoulders, sizing me up. He scowled for a moment. When I held firm, the scowl gave way to a smile.
“Pretty smart for a half pint,” he dug in his pocket and flipped me the coin. I turned it over in my palm. Sure enough, it was heads on both sides.
“Don’t tell your brother, eh?”
I never felt closer to my Dad than I did as we kept the secret for another year.
“Damn,” my brother throws another shirt. I am digging in the pockets of a pair of slacks and keeping my head down as he reaches for a pair of jeans. They jingle as they unfold and my ears begin to thump.
Aw, please no, Dad.
Wide-eyed, my brother shoves his hand into the pocket.
“Gotcha,” he flips the coin high into the air with a flick of his finger.