Just My Two Cents
I wave at the older couple across the street as I turn the corner of the road; they smile back at me.
It’s so nice out. The sun’s out, hardly any clouds, and everybody seems to be outside right now. This is the first time in a while I’ve seen the neighborhood so lively. While I do like a good quiet empty road, it’s kind of pleasant. You wouldn’t think we were in the middle of a state wide quarantine during a pandemic.
I watch two song birds fly about, somersaulting through the air.
I see a young couple pushing their baby in a stroller, a squirrel crosses the road and there’s not a car around to squash it.
Two kids on skate boards pass by me, and then by the guy up ahead walking his little yappy dog.
I honestly think I could get used to this.
What classes could transition to an online format have.
Change can be a hassle. Everything had to change and quickly. Nursing programs were meant to be hands on. Clinicals are now on hiatus. Everything is up in the air.
I like how one of my professors put it, “We’re building the plane as it flies.”
It’s been a couple of weeks now and I think I’m actually getting a handle on things.
I can do things on my own time now. No 40 minute commute to campus, no traffic, I can get up when I want, and the day is at my pace - and I forgot what that was like.
There is something to be said about being able to work from home, not having to rush in the morning, being able to go outside for a jog or walk and greet passersby doing the same. There is something very human to it, something we might’ve been starved of in today’s culture that’s so productivity and immediacy driven.
I feel something I haven’t in a while, like clarity.
I brush back some hair that’s fallen in my face.
I’m almost at the park where I loop back to come home. Then I’ll shower, eat lunch, and I can start on school work.
Nursing school without being able to practice hands on patient care skills is unheard of, but not all is lost. All lecture material is being taken care of. Everyone is doing the best we can.
I reach the small park just several blocks outside my neighborhood, and go over to the bench facing away from the playground and take a seat. I close my eyes and lean back to let the sunlight hit my chest.
The park is empty.
I listen to the sounds of the outside, the birds chirping, cars in the distance, the air moving through the trees, - I don’t know how long I’ve sat here when a voice speaks up, “Beautiful day out isn’t it?”
I open my eyes. Standing just several feet before me is an older gentleman, dressed in tracksuit pants and a tee shirt. I reflexively smile back at it.
“Hi!” I might’ve jumped.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you!”
“No, not at all! But yes, it is really nice out today,” I said.
“You look like you’re enjoying yourself, taking a break from your run. Do you mind if I take a break from mine as well?”
I’m pretty sure I’m taking up the only park bench for the span of this street.
“Not at all! Here, sit!” I scoot over to one end of the bench to make room. “I’m sure this is plenty of social distance!”
“Oh, yes, plenty. When you get to my age though, a little pandemic is the least of your worries.”
“I think I would argue that a pandemic might actually be the first of your worries!”
“No, no, I’d say the least.”
“Then what do you worry about?”
“Oh, I’d say the usual; what am I gonna put on for lunch today, is the weather warm enough for a walk, will the bench on my route be vacant or will I have to go without a rest from walking otherwise, - will I meet a cute girl out to keep me company and if I do, what would the missus think? You know, the usual.”
He takes a seat beside me.
“So, what do you do? You going to school?”
“Yes, I’m going to be a nurse, schooling right now is a little tricky with everything going online, but I’ve gotten a handle on things.”
“Oh, yes. My wife was a nurse before she retired. You would’ve liked her. She was always pushing me to come out here and go on walks and to stay active.”
“She sounds like a smart woman.”
“Oh yes, very smart.”
“But not smart enough to keep you on a tighter leash!”
He laughs at that, “No, but smart enough to get me out of the house for a while so I’m out of her hair!”
We both laugh. There is a shared silence between us for a moment as we listen to the outside together.
“I’m Robert. It’s nice to share this bench with you today,”
“Likewise, Robert, my name is Sara,” I said.
“Sara? That’s a nice name.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“A girl like you would’ve done my Ben some good.”
“Ya, my boy, he’s not a bad kid... just a little lost is all, could use a bright girl like you to steer him in the right direction.”
“I’ve had a Ben or two in my time. It doesn’t quite work out that way,” I said.
“No, I suppose not.”
“Does he still live with you?”
“No, in fact... it might’ve been a year now since... since well we even last spoke.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“He didn’t even make it out to Pam’s funeral...”
“You don’t mean...”
“My wife passed 8 months ago.”
“I’m terribly sorry.”
“No, I am. I rarely unload like this onto people I just meet - I’m not that kind of old guy, at least I didn’t think I was.”
“No, it’s fine I just...”
“There’s just something about you I guess that makes you easy to talk to,” he said.
“Yea, that. I get that a lot.”
“Must be a curse.”
“I try to see it as a gift. It’s gotten me a free coffee or two,”
“Well, we might have to rain check on coffee, but thank you.”
“No, for what?”
“For paying an old man your time, listening to his sad story.”
“No thanks needed," I said. "I’m glad to have lent an ear.”
“No, really, thank you, here.”
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his hand and holds it towards me.
I instinctively reach out my palm underneath his to receive whatever is in his hand.
He drops two pennies into my hand.
My eyes return to his face. He’s glowing, a faint white. His smile is a little sad. I return one just like it.
He clasps my fingers over the coins, sealing them in my palm, “To put towards your next cup of coffee.”
I laugh, “Well, if you put it that way.”
I see his wife’s smile, a small boy becoming a young man.
I see carpentry. We’re building a house. Houses.
I see a wedding cake.
I see Pam sitting next to me, clutching my hand, her eyes glued to the screen as Tom Cruise barely makes a jump across a building.
I see a screen door slam and my hearts racing, and my throat is hoarse.
I see Pam laying in a hospital bed. I she her picture. I’m in our bed and I close my eyes one last time, and I think, this will be ok.
He’s gone. I’m alone in the park on the bench.
I’ve been crying. I look down at my palm. Two cents.
I take my time getting home.
I open the door and close it behind me. I’m tired, and I pull two pennies from my pocket and throw them into a jar, now near full to the brim of pennies as I walk past.
I need a shower.
It’s been a while since I’ve done that in the waking world. Usually this is done in dreams, while I sleep. Not that it’s any more or less emotionally taxing, it’s just different.
When I sleep... I don’t actually get to sit down and talk to them like that, but I get to know them, even if just a little. But it’s much more fleeting.
When someone passes, and passes through me, it’s like I become them, for just a moment. I’m there, watching the world close in around me, from behind their eyes, feeling their pain, their panic... at first, when I was little... this was the worst thing for me. It was scary.
My mom thought I was schizophrenic. I thought so too, and I was medicated for a very long time. I don’t know if the medicine stopped the dreams or just stopped me from remembering them, but the medicine was making other things difficult.
So I stopped.
The dreams came back, but I stopped panicking because I knew they were just dreams.
Or so I thought, but thinking they were dreams helped me get better at this. It calmed me down.
Amid passing, whether I was being stabbed or choked, or if I was drowning, no matter how bad or tight my chest was...
I just kept telling myself it was going to be ok, it was going to be fine.
But I wasn’t just telling myself this, I was telling them.
I’m a psychopomp. It didn’t take me long to figure that out. I’m kind of like a Lyft driver, but for people on their way out.
The going rate is and always has been two cents, but it doesn’t always have to be money.
I used to keep a journal, but that was getting strenuous and more of a drain than an outlet.
I finish my shower and get my hair as dry as I can. Now to throw on something comfortable.
I grab my laptop and head out of my room towards the kitchen.
A gloved hand covers my mouth and something metal presses against my spine.
“Scream and I will kill you. Sara Walker.”
It takes everything in me not to do the opposite. I nod.
“Good. Now, come back into your bedroom and we can talk.”
We pace back into my bedroom. My windows are covered by a blackout curtain. Fuck.
He removes his hand from my mouth and steps back. “Take a seat.” He waves his gun and points the muzzle at the bed.
I sit on my bed.
“I have some questions for you, only speak to answer them, nod now if you understand.”
His glare stays on me and so does his gun as he talks.
“I’m sure you know by now what all this is about. Whether you do or don't doesn’t matter. What matters is that you answer my questions. We have intel you’ve been in recent contact with one Kasem Meradani, a person you undoubtably are familiar with, and a person of interest of ours. He has something that belongs to my employer, information. Information that from what has been gathered, he has given to you. For this reason, I have to kill you, but first I need you to tell me where he is. If you don’t tell me, I will kill you. So. Where is Kasem Meradani?”
My eyes stay on the gun, but I finally look up at him and into his eyes, better than the barrel of a gun, but not by much.
“I haven’t spoken to Kaz in months, and I don’t know what information you’re talking about. I’m sorry.”
His eyes go wild and he’s looming over me, jamming his gun into my chest.
“This is not a time to be playing dumb, I’m going to kill you.”
“This isn’t very good social distancing,” I said.
He back hands me. If it bruises, I’m going to be so mad - then again I can just keep the camera off during class meetings.
“Where’s Meradani?!” He raises his voice.
“Did you try a Waffle House? Denny’s maybe?”
“Shut the fuck up!” He hits me again.
“Even if I told you where I thought he could be, he probably won’t be there," I say, and spit some blood. "He’s not great about staying in the same place for very long.”
“Yes fine. But that doesn’t change the fact that he left you in the possession of something, a flash drive.”
“I told you, I haven’t seen him in months!”
“That’s inconsequential whether or not he left it with you.”
“He wouldn’t have left anything like that with me. We’re not really on the best of terms. If I knew where something like that was, I might’ve tried using it to bargain with you by now!”
“Hm. You’re right.”
He lowers his gun. I finally exhale.
He raises the gun back up to my head.
“But I can’t turn back empty-handed. At the very least, I have to take you off the board.”
I’m still. I watch him cock back the hammer of his gun, like I’ve watched time and time before. Many other hands, many other guns, pointed at me, as I’ve watched, from behind many other eyes.
“You should’ve run, Sara Walker. When all this started, you should have run, like your other friends.” His hand is so steady. “It’s too late now, but that’s just my two cents.”
“Your two cents?”
I can’t help but smile.
“I’ll take it.”
My eyes beam into his, as if I were reaching into him with my gaze.
His pupils dilate and he loses focus, his gun arm lowers, and I see myself on the bed in front of me.
My chest gets tight, all I can see is my stupid smiling face, my eyes are wide. It looks like I’m high or something.
I collapse to the ground, my legs are weak, my chest is so tight and I can’t breathe, but I keep telling myself, “It’ll be alright, this is fine. I’m going to be ok.”
And I will be.
To be continued...