Just a Nickel

“Life had not been too kind to Declan just lately.  But according to the horoscope in this morning’s paper that was soon to change.  Not that he believed in that stuff.  The thirty four year old factory worker had gotten used to being a magnet for trouble over the last few years.  That was just how it was.

First of all he’d lost his job.  Then the bank had foreclosed on the house.  Caroline his wife had followed swiftly after, taking the children with her before setting up home with a male co-worker.  The stress of it all had made him sick resulting in endless visits to the doctor but so far they hadn’t managed to get to the bottom of his numerous and varied ailments.  Finally he had been forced to admit defeat and moved in with his mother.  Something he had never envisioned himself doing once he’d left home.

The only thing that he had going for him right now was the new job he’d managed to secure at the firework factory – such as it was.  It was during one of his days off when he decided to go for a walk on Shelling Hill beach – a quiet little cove just outside town.

The sound of the ocean often helped sooth his negative thoughts especially when anxiety about his life was starting to spiral out of control.   The fresh breezes blowing in straight off the Pacific went some way towards blowing away the cobwebs of the past.

Admittedly he had good days and bad days, just like everybody else.  Sadly this was one of the latter.  His heart felt as heavy as a brick as he trudged along and a weariness of spirit was doing its best to seep into his bones. 

Contemplating a lone surfer, he stood and looked out across the waves, envying the carefree grin on his face.  Clearly he was enjoying his life.  What was his secret, Declan wondered?

While he was deep in thought, a young couple walked past arm in arm, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears.  Feeling a bit conspicuous as there was no one else on the beach Declan mumbled ‘Hi’ then looked away.

A moment later he glanced up again to find they were still only a short distance away.  The two of them were focused on something the man had spotted lying amongst a heap of seaweed.  He kicked at it with his shoe.  His companion bent forward to see what it was then took a step back looking distinctly unimpressed.

“It’s just a dirty old five cent coin,” she said, pulling at his arm.

“Don’t need any more of those,” said the man shaking his jacket.  “My pocket’s bursting at the seams with small change as it is.”

Declan waited a while for them to go then continued his way along the shingle beach.  Suddenly his phone rang, vibrating in his shirt pocket.

“Hi buddy!  Jack here.”

“Oh hi,” said Declan.  Jack was his supervisor at the factory.

“We were wondering if you could come in and cover for a few hours this afternoon.  Lenny has had to go home.  A family emergency or something.”

“Oh,” said Declan, his heart sinking.  This seemingly minor situation felt like a major decision to him.  He really didn’t feel up to going to work today – mentally or physically.  It was his day off and he felt as though he really needed it.  But then again he also needed the money.

Whilst wrestling with the issue he looked down at his feet and caught sight of the five cent coin that the young couple had passed up.  The way things were of late even that small coin might make all the difference between repaying what he owed and falling even further behind with his repayments, he thought glumly.  He stooped down to pick it up, briefly forgetting the guy on the other end of the phone.

“You still there Declan?”

“Yeah.”

“So can you fill in for a few hours this afternoon or not?”

Tails I say yes, heads I say no, thought Declan.  With a flick of his wrist he tossed up the coin and pulled back his hand to see which side was facing up.

Heads.

“Fraid I can’t Jack.  I have to take my mother shopping today,” he fibbed.

“You sure?  It’s only for a few hours.  Four max.”

“I’m sure.  I promised her last week.  It’s more than my life’s worth to cancel.”

He laughed.

“Ok bud.  See you tomorrow then.”

“Yeah.  Bye.”

Once the call was over Declan thought about flinging the nickel into the sea, but no matter how disappointed he was with himself for relinquishing his free will to a measly five cent coin he could not bring himself to do it.  He didn’t have the luxury of throwing money away no matter how small the denomination.  He simply pocketed it instead and headed for home.

“Enjoy your walk?” his mother called when he arrived back.  She was in the kitchen fixing them something to eat.

“Yes, it was good.  Helped clear my head.”

Declan hung up his jacket and flopped down on the couch in front of the TV.

“Helped clear your head huh?  What you got in there, rocks?” his mum said, handing him a plate of bacon and eggs.

“Something like that,” he mumbled.  He knew she meant well.

“You want coffee?”

“Please.”

He spent the rest of his morning watching day time TV with its endless repeats and chat shows.  Around midday he nodded off, his head lolling on his shoulder.

“Guess that coffee wasn’t strong enough,” said his mum when he opened his eyes.  She was sitting in the other chair doing a crossword puzzle in the newspaper.

Declan yawned and stretched.

“What time is it?”

“Almost two.”

More than half the day was gone.

“Think I’ll head to the shops in a minute and pick up a few groceries,” his mother said, looking over the top of her glasses.

Declan felt a little guilty that he’d been lying around all day doing nothing.  Perhaps he should offer to get the shopping for her.

Once again he was struck with crippling indecision, just as he had been on the beach.  Whilst his mother went to find her shopping bag from the cupboard under the stairs, he reached into his pocket and tossed the coin again.

Tails I go, heads I stay.

He lifted up his hand to reveal Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  Tails it was then.

“I’ll go Mom,” he said, holding out his hand.  “Just give me the list.”

“You sure you feel up to it?” she said searching his face.

He forced a laugh.

“Don’t be silly!  It’s just shopping.  Have to pull my weight round here some time…”

Reassured by this she let him go.

The Hypermart where his mother shopped was roughly four blocks away so it was hardly worth taking the car.  She only needed a few things anyway and they would easily fit into the shopping bag she had given him.  It was just a pity that it was covered in a loud pink and purple flower print.  All he needed now was to meet someone he knew and his confidence might never recover.

As he walked around the crowded aisles the coffee he’d had for breakfast finally found his bladder.  He saw no harm in leaving his trolley where it was and going to the back of the store in search of the customer restrooms.  

The moment he undid his flies a strange vibration seemed to travel upwards through the floor.  By the time it reached his knees it was accompanied by an ominous rumbling.  Could it be a passing subway train, he wondered?

Suddenly the entire building began to sway like a possessed hula girl.  So violent were the tremors that tiles began to pop off the walls and the window behind him blew inwards.  Declan dived to the floor in terror.  The Hypermart and every other building in the area seemed intent on tearing itself apart.  He covered his ears in an effort to block out the blood curdling roar of Mother Earth stirring in her sleep.    

I have to get out of here, he thought.  

But standing up was nigh on impossible.  From somewhere close by, a series of massive explosions shook the Hypermart to its very foundations, finally compromising its integrity.

The only thing that prevented Declan from being killed outright when the roof fell in was the fact that he was standing in the doorway.  

When he eventually came to, he could scarcely breathe.  At first he had no idea where he was.  It was dark and there was something very heavy pinning him down.  He discovered the only things he could move were his head and his left hand.  

Everything was so unnaturally quiet.  The silence ignited his panic.

“HELP!” he shouted.  But being in such a confined space meant that the sound had nowhere to go.  Would anybody be able to hear him?

With a jolt he recalled the terrifying earthquake and the moment the roof had caved in.  What about his mother and his kids?

The phone in his shirt pocket began to ring.  Perhaps that was her.  Perhaps she was hurt or trapped.  He struggled frantically, hoping to reach it.  He needed to know she was ok.  But he was wasting his time.  It was impossible to reach.

Perhaps it was the stress, or the heat or maybe a combination of the two that caused him to start sweating.  Either way, after an hour he was soaked to the skin.  Before long he was also assailed by a raging thirst.

Two hours later there were more explosions and almost immediately sirens wailed in response.  It must be pretty bad out there, he thought.  How long would it take for them to reach him?  Oh my God!  It was probably the firework factory, he suddenly realised.  Good job he hadn’t gone to work!  If it hadn’t been for the nickel he probably would have.

Three hours later he started to worry about aftershocks.  The thought that he could die there started to seem like a distinct possibility.  Just like that the flood gates he’d been holding back were released and he cried beneath the rubble for almost an hour.  

When the fourth hour rolled around he realised he was able to feel less and less of his body.  Convinced that he was bleeding to death slowly, he fell into mood of deep reflection.

He went far, far back.  Back to the days of his childhood, growing up in the country.  He and his siblings had been lucky.  They had many happy memories from that time.  He thought about his own family and all the good times they had had together before the divorce and about how worried they probably were right now.  He was fortunate in that sense also – that he had people who cared about him, no matter what.

His life had far more positives than negatives he realised, when taken as a whole.  Up until lately he’d always had his health and had been comfortably well off.  Plenty of people struggle with such things their whole life and never experience any respite.  Yet many are still relatively happy.  He mused on this for another few hours until he was interrupted by the sound of muffled voices.

“I’m here!” he shouted over and over again.  

But no one appeared to hear.”

The elderly man stopped reading for a minute and wiped his eyes.

“Oh my goodness, Grandpa!  What did you do?” cried the little girl.  She was sitting on her Grandpa Declan’s knee listening to him reading his life story.

He smiled indulgently at his granddaughter Caitlin.

“Give me a minute,” he said.  “This reading malarkey is thirsty work.”

He lifted his cup of coffee and took a long blissful drink.

“That’s better,” he said.  “Now, where were we?”

“The rescuers were close by but you couldn’t make them hear.”

“Ah yes…”

“Pinned under the rubble all that time made Declan realise he did have something to lose.  A lot in fact.  Just like the nickel that the couple had overlooked on the beach he had overlooked so many seemingly insignificant things that were in fact priceless.  Irreplaceable even.  He had been so focused on what he didn’t have, that it had taken something monumental like an earthquake to reshape his values.  Talk about being stuck in your ways!

Now though he was determined to claim back what was his.  He wanted to live and start over.

Suddenly he remembered the nickel in his pocket.  Perhaps that might attract their attention better with it being metallic?

Question was could he reach it.  He doubted it.  But then he hadn’t counted on his new found determination.

In order to reach into his pocket he almost had to bend his hand back to the wrist.  The pain was eye popping.  But he succeeded.

“I’m here!” he shouted as he fumbled with the coin.  Feeling about with his fingers he found a hard surface next to his hip that he suspect might be a metal pipe.  After taking a second to gather his wits he tapped the coin against it furiously.

It was very awkward as it was in his left hand and the space he had to work with was so confined.  Before long he grew tired and had to rest.  He listened carefully for a response hoping that the sound had echoed through the pipe system.

Disappointingly he could hear nothing.  But he wasn’t about to give up.  He tried again.  Much harder this time.  It was exhausting.  Once again he stopped, tears streaming in frustration.

Then something touched his face.  He was sure of it.  A fine dust was falling from above.  He sneezed twice and coughed.

Suddenly a dog barked and someone shouted overhead.  They’d heard him!

“Over here!  We’ve got one!”

Within twenty minutes they’d lifted off the door and all the other rubble that had been pinning him down.  He breathed deeply as the blessed hands of daylight bathed and caressed his face.  Everything else went by in a blur except for one last thing.

“My coin!” he said, trying to undo the straps that now secured him to the stretcher.

“Coin?” said the paramedic holding up the IV.

“Yes.  It’s a nickel.  I need it.  It’s very special to me.”

She looked at him closely wondering if he was delirious.

“It’s ok.  I found it,” said a fireman trotting over.  He pressed it into Declan’s hand and closed his fist around it.

“Thanks,” said Declan, closing his eyes.  A heartfelt smile of gratitude graced his dusty lips as the ambulance finally whisked him away to safety.”

“I’m so glad you made it,” said the little girl, throwing her arms around her precious Grandpa Declan.

“Me too,” he replied putting his autobiography on the table.

He shook his head at the vividness of his memories.

“I was just wondering though…” said Caitlin.

“Yesss…?” said her Grandpa.

“Do you still have the nickel?”

“Of course,” he replied showing her the bespoke nickel pendant he wore around his neck.  “My coin is always with me.  I never take it off.  You see, although small it saved my life on two occasions.  But more importantly it serves as a reminder of just how blind a person can be.  So no matter how bad things get my girl, you must always take the time to count your blessings.”

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