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Image by Bram Felix

‘A Lucky Two-Dollar Bill’

Frequently, Joe forgot he couldn’t walk unaided anymore. Remembering infuriated him. In his eighties, with papery skin and alert, piercing eyes, he also didn’t remember how long he’d been at the facility, but he suspected it had been many years. Conversation passed the time. 

“How are you today? We’ve met, but I can’t recall….”

“Seth.” He pointed to his clip-on badge.

What a coincidence! His son’s middle name was Seth. Joe wanted it for his first; his wife wanted Robert. She won.

            Seth was in a body cast in a reclining wheelchair; his face swaddled in bandages covering his many injuries. It was hard to discern his age, but he sounded to Joe like a man in his early forties. He was intelligent and affable but contained. Though he couldn’t retain his name, Joe remembered liking him from their first meeting, whenever that might have been.

 Seth’s eyes closed.

“Not feeling sociable today?” asked Joe. His smile created deep vertical wrinkles on each side of his face. He’d slept well the previous night and felt sharper than usual. Joe’s memory had gone bad along with everything else, leaving his recollections until his forties clear as day, but later years were spotty or gone altogether.

            Joe’s chair wheels were locked, so he’d be facing this dour young man until he could get one of the attendants to drift into his vicinity and move him. 

            Seth spoke. “Hemingway penned an observation for us in our current state, ‘the world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are stronger at the broken places.”

            “You lay out a challenge, bud. Goddamn, they’re going to have to wrestle me out of here, kicking and screaming. My sole aim is to raise hell and leave this earth with nothing left on the table. Broken or not. I’ve got a few good years left.” 

            “My dream is the same as yours, except for minor details like remembering my old life and what it was like,” said Seth. 

“You talk like an academic. What do you think your livelihood might be?”

            “Don’t know, maybe a literary critic or a teacher. I remember whole passages of prose and poetry but nothing else.”

            “Relax, it’ll come back in time. I remember the oddest things on the even days.”

            “Funny, Joe. How about you?”

            “I was an attorney.”

            “You enjoy it?”

            “Despised it. I never took the time to enjoy life or my family. I recall a huge fight with my son, who wanted to be a writer. I knew how brutal the world was and wanted him to be practical and study business.”

Joe ached for something intangible he couldn’t name. His thoughts were like gnats, annoying the hell out of him, then gone.

            “Why are you here?” 

            “The guy rolled me here,” said Joe. “Sorry if I’m wrecking your morning.”

            “No, I mean ­– why are you in this rehab center?”

            “I’m not exactly sure. My wife’s been dead a while. My kids are gone. I have a couple of bum knees no doctor will touch, bad hips, and plantar fascia on both feet. My conditions have conditions. I expect I’m guilty of living past my expiration date. I’m probably dead, but no one’s bothered to bury me.” 

Joe scoured the sterile dayroom for signs of life. The residents appeared like a still-life tableau against the sunlight streaming in the windows. It seemed that Seth was the only one semi-willing to chat. 

            “What happened to you if you don’t mind my asking? Seth, right?” Joe asked.

            “Right. The cops guess I was knocked out, robbed, and rolled off the subway platform onto broken glass. I can’t remember anything. If I’d lost my ID, they wouldn’t even know my name. Apparently, I live in Chicago.”

“What were you doing in New York?’

            “Not a clue.”

            “Some people aren’t human! When did it happen?”

            “Fifteen days ago, they said. A dishwasher on his way to work spotted me unconscious on the tracks at three in the morning. Amazingly, I wasn’t crushed by a train.”

            “A godsend. What about family?”

            “They’re working on it. All I had on me was my driver’s license, a two-dollar bill, and a couple of red and white pinwheel mints.” He shook his head. “Sounds like the clues for a cheesy mystery, doesn’t it?”

            “I remember those candies, my boy’s favorite. Haven’t seen them in years.”

            “He lives nearby?”

            “Who knows? I misplaced him long ago. A­­­­­fter we disagreed about his future, he left. I said things I shouldn’t have. I’ve regretted that conversation for twenty years. My sole ambition is to find him and say how wrong I was.”

            “Sorry, Joe.”

            “Two-dollar bill? I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. I used to put one in the Valentines I gave my kids every year. I stopped after they grew up.”

            Joe could recall the faces of his daughters, though they’d died years ago, his son’s not so much. 

            “They found my two-dollar bill in a secret compartment in my belt buckle. Pretty ingenious. It’s all the money I have in the world.” 

            “I think they’re supposed to be lucky. No wallet or phone?”

            “Probably stolen. My license was in my shirt pocket. I guess the mugger didn’t have a sweet tooth.”

            The clock’s minute hand shuddered and advanced. Another hour until lunch. 

Joe sensed something rattling around in his head. He pictured his brain as a chunk of Swiss cheese with top-secret hidden passageways. Suddenly, one of his leg spasms struck, making him forget everything but the shooting pain.

Until the lunch gong rang, both men dozed intermittently. 

An attendant unlocked Joe’s wheelchair, and he headed for the dining room. A second attendant pushed Seth near him.

            On an impulse, Joe asked, “What’s your last name?” 

            “My license says Williams. It’s really common.” 

            Something shattered in Joe’s chest like a baseball hitting a windowpane. There was something about that name. He wished he could remember what. 


I envied Leslie. Her life seemed perfect.

She was the first of us to break her arm or anything bone-wise. It was a miracle it hadn’t happened before. We were wild and indestructible, daring each other to jump from ten feet up the oak tree and transverse the creek that sliced, like a deep scar, into the ground behind my backyard. We built ramps for our bikes out of boards with rusty nails and sailed no hands into the air without padding or helmets.

One morning, Leslie crept into our seventh-grade homeroom, cradling her arm like it was her baby. Us girls rushed to admire her cast, half hidden by the scarf her mother tied around her neck to swaddle it, perfectly matched her outfit, navy, and cream.

Leslie’s clothes fit perfectly. Her mom worked at a department store and got a discount. She never choose a random item from the clearance rack for her daughter that she had to share with her little sister. Leslie, the oldest with four brothers, had a bedroom with a pink canopy, not bunk beds. 

Leslie was named after her father. You could tell from how he looked at her that he liked her best.

“What happened?” we cooed. We were hungry for the gristly details. 

“I just fell,” she said, turning away. “I’m such a Klutz.” 

Leslie had never been a Klutz in her whole life. 

Her mother set Leslie’s blond hair in curls, a modern Shirley Temple. She didn’t get a crooked pixie cut when her mother woke up with a hangover and noticed she looked shaggy. Leslie’s skin was flawless, with a spray of freckles dancing across her nose. She never had pimples or needed braces.

The teacher danced around her to make Leslie comfortable. She was excused from gym class and perched sweatless on the bleachers while we grunted through the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge.  

Since I lived across the street, I was chosen to help carry her books home. 

“How did it happened?” I begged. 

“I fell,” she said. “Just drop it, okay?” She grabbed her books and ran inside.

We usually played outdoors. Once, we climbed onto the concession stand roof at the Little League field and took running leaps off while clutching the flag pole rope. No one broke any arms that day, but the cops showed up and took our names. 

We became friends in the third grade when my family moved across the street. Her dad hated kids in the house, but if it was raining and he wasn’t home, we’d play RISK in her basement until one of us conquered the world. 

“Does it hurt?” I asked her the next day when she sat at a lunch table.

“It feels weird, like I’d lost something. Don’t tell anyone, but I threw up when it happened. Gross.”

“Was it Kyle?” I asked. We were sure her little brother started a brush fire last fall in the woods behind the school when we wouldn’t let him hang out with us. 

Leslie stared at me like I was a stranger and looked away to study the smoke from the incinerator outside like it might reveal a fantastic secret. 

A few seconds later, she tightened her lips and shook her head. I think she said, “I wish,” but the cafeteria was noisy.

The spring Leslie broke her arm, we already started to drift apart. I was in the accelerated classes with the nerdy kids. Leslie started wearing makeup, smoked cigarettes in the Girl’s Room, and got Cs. She got quieter, not just around me, but all the time.

One time, her mom cut up apples for a snack for us. I noticed she couldn’t bend her arm in the usual way. When I asked Leslie about it, she said her mom broke it when she was little but couldn’t remember seeing her arm in a cast. Her mom never talked about it. 

It must have been a nasty break.

Suzanne C Martinez’s fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Vestal Review, The Citron Review, Gone Lawn, and The Broadkill Reviewamong others, and was nominated for Pushcart Prizes (2019, 2020), The Best of the Net (2020), and Best Short Fictions (2022). She was a finalist in the 2023 Tartts First Fiction Award and WTAW Press Alcove Chapbook Series 2024 Open Competition for her linked story collection. She lives in Brooklyn. 

Website:  • X: @SuzanneCMartin3 • IG: s.martinez1441 • FB: scm1441


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