Cynthia pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her head. The light rain drizzled down both lenses of her transition eyeglasses. She ached for a long walk, the one she did most every day – about two miles round trip along the beach. She had missed the last week because of a series of full-day business meetings.
In a few days, she’d be off on a three-week trip, her first vacation longer than a weekend in two years. She hated flying but it would be necessary to get to New York and then cruise with her fiancée to the Panama Canal on a brand-new ship. She thought she’d be more excited now that their departure was so close.
She got to the beach parking lot and started to cross to the paved path when she spotted a shiny penny on the blacktop. She had just heard a report on NPR news that said nobody picks up lucky pennies anymore. People don’t want pennies. In fact, there’s a growing movement to get rid of them altogether. Cynthia didn’t like pennies either though she liked to use cash vs racking up a large monthly bill on her credit cards. She was old-fashioned in that respect yet felt the urge to toss the two giant jars of pennies she’d collected over the last several years, pennies she’d theoretically bring back to the bank at some point but couldn’t remember the last time she did that.
There it was on the ground, the shiniest penny she’d ever seen screaming to be picked up, kept for luck in a jacket pocket, respected as a prized charm, yet likely to be forgotten within thirty minutes of being found.
Cynthia thought about it. No need to pick it up. Just a silly superstition. Her eyeglasses blurred. The rain was past the sprinkle phase.
Damn. I need this walk, work off another pound or two before vacation. She dreaded the swimsuit scene but loved the weather in the Caribbean and how good it would feel to be in a place where the ocean was warm, inviting.
She picked up her pace to cross the parking lot, leaving the glittering penny in its place. But when she reached the beach path entrance, rain started to come down harder, hitting her face in splotches. I want that penny. Can’t have luck go to waste. How can I turn down good luck? The rain had become a downpour.
She pivoted, started back across the parking lot to grab the lucky penny. Nobody was around. One car came through the lot quickly and disappeared up the hill, the driver likely thinking better of a beach walk in the rain.
She scanned the area with her eyes near the lamppost close to the curb where she had seen it. No penny. Puddles were forming. But that penny glittered when I saw it three minutes ago. It had to be there. For some reason, it had become a sign of hope. She retraced her steps back and forth across the lot three or four times, her sweatshirt heavier, her hair drenched, her sneakers squeaking with each step. But no wind and the temperature was mild mid-sixties.
She stopped in her tracks and gazed at the corner section of the parking lot from a different angle. Nothing. And not a person around. And she hadn’t seen anyone earlier, someone who could have possibly picked up the shiny penny.
Cynthia thought about how people could view the same exact scene, the same exact slice of earth very differently, one person eying the penny there on the ground as she did, yet another person in the same location not seeing the penny at all. And in this case, Cynthia, the same human who had easily spotted the penny two or three minutes earlier, could not, for the life of her, find it again.
It had to be there. She felt the moisture seeping through her left sneaker where she had worn down the sole so much, that a small hole had developed. Her sock was beyond damp. Damn it! She re-traced her steps a fifth time and almost tripped on the cement curb. As she regained her balance, there it was. The penny! It lay there face up. Dulled. It seemed to have lost its shine. Puzzled, she bent down and slid her fingernail under the wet penny to pick it up. She examined it closely but couldn’t make out the year it was minted.
Cynthia placed the penny into her sweatshirt pocket, keeping her fingers on it as she made her way home.
Once at home in her bedroom, she plucked the penny from her pocket and looked at it with her antique ivory-handled magnifying glass, the one she had purchased in a San Francisco antique store.
1989, the penny read, the year her sister Pammy had taken her own life in the Miami Beach Florida garage of her two-story house, the year she left her three small children behind, all under the age of five. The year Cynthia thought she wouldn’t survive the trauma of Pammy ending her life by ‘gasing’ herself in the Toyota Corolla. It was also the year Cynthia went through a divorce; a year Cynthia wished she could forget.
Cynthia placed the dulled penny on a small pink and black ceramic art deco tray she kept on the marble-topped walnut dresser. She lifted the wet sweatshirt over her head, struggled to pull down the snug leggings, peeled off her damp socks and threw all of it in the wicker hamper before she stepped into the shower.
1989. The phone call from Ronnie, her brother. His words flooded her mind, “Our sister is gone,” he had said; “We didn’t get to her in time.”
The wide fan of hot water washed over Cynthia’s naked body, flushing away the bedraggled feeling she had in her wet clothes a few minutes before, but without erasing the knot she felt in her chest, the tightness in her neck, the rock in her throat, the guilt she had tried to bury for not somehow saving her sister. Images crowded Cynthia’s head. Pammy performing a pas de deux in her pink tutu at a high school ballet recital. Pammy holding her two-day old son, her first child, in her arms in the New York City hospital. The glowing bloom in her sister’s cheeks when Cynthia arrived from London to the Frankfurt train station, the city where Pammy’s husband was stationed in the U.S. Army. Her sister standing on the stone train platform wearing a royal blue wool coat with gold buttons that finished mid-calf, a darker blue beret tilted to the side on her dark brown head of long hair.
Both of them had become mothers. Both of them lived in Europe at the same time, but only by coincidence. Cynthia held onto her own son Ben’s tiny hand as she embraced Pammy at that Frankfurt train station, three-year-old Keith at her sister’s side. The scenes from the past were so vivid, the colors her sister wore in each reconstructed scene still so crisp and clear. Cynthia closed her eyes and moved her head around feeling the warmth of the shower water run into her right ear, then her left ear, onto her shoulders, down her back to her tail bone and to the heels of her feet, the sound of it going away down the drain.
Cynthia raised her chin, her tears lost in the water rushing from the rainfall shower head she had splurged on a few months ago. She reached to turn the shower knob, grabbed a bath towel to wrap around her body, stepped onto the bath mat and looked at herself in the mirror. So long ago, she thought to herself as she brushed out her hair, letting go of the images of her sister. The creases at the corners of her eyes seemed deeper today.
She put on her terry-cloth robe, dropped the bath towel and pulled the hair dryer from under her bed where she kept it. She liked to sit cross-legged and blow dry while she read a chapter or two in a book, avoid wasting valuable minutes doing a mundane task. As she reached for her book on the bedside table she glanced over at the marble-topped dresser. There was a glint of light on the art deco tray where she had placed the ‘good luck’ penny. She pressed the button on the hair dryer turning it off. She hopped off the bed and over to the mirrored dresser. The 1989 penny seemed to have gained back its shine. The rainy skies outside were gone. A beam of late afternoon sunshine shot through the window catching the penny just right. Cynthia picked up the penny, moved it out of the sunlight and placed it on the bed.
“Impossible,” she said aloud. There was no beam of sunlight on the penny sitting on her flowered comforter but the shine was apparent as if repolished like new while she had been in the shower.
It was Pammy shining through.
Linda S. Gunther has written six romantic suspense novels: Ten Steps From the Hotel Inglaterra, Endangered Witness, Lost in the Wake, Finding Sandy Stonemeyer, Dream Beach. and most recently published in 2021, Death Is a Great Disguiser. Ms. Gunther’s short stories and essays have been published in a variety of literary journals. www.lindasgunther.com