Eleven-thirty A.M. Carl stirred more salt into his beer, just like his daddy had showed him. The only other people at Foley’s were professional drinkers and Billy Jessup, the wise old man of professional drinkers. “Awfully dressed up today, Carl,” he said across the bar. He had a long, craggy nose that threatened to break off and fall into his mug. Billy was the only one who ever said anything to Carl. “Where’s the lumberjack suit?”
Carl usually wore a red and black or a white and black plaid shirt, jeans, and work boots. He began wearing it as a tribute to his dad after he passed away. After a while, Carl just got used to the look. In between sips he pulled at his collar, scratching the nape of his neck, yanking at the knotted tie underneath. He re-laced his boots, finger-combed his hair to the right, and pulled the chain out from under the sweater, resting the cross against his chest. After a minute, he tucked it back under his t-shirt. Outside the wind clattered against the windows, rain thundering in the
“Got a hot date, do ya, Carl?”
“Not exactly.” He finished the beer and adjusted the tie again, pulling out the chain then putting it back under his shirt. He covered up the tongue of his work boots with the hem of his pants, zipped up his jacket, and walked out into the driving rain.
Carl had never won anything. Not a scratch ticket, a card game, a hand of poker, a coin toss, anything. When he was a kid, his mother implored his older brother and sister to let him win a game every once in a while. The more they tried to let him win at Monopoly, the more he rolled into jail. In Scrabble, he’d get all vowels and never a triple word score. Stuck at a red light in a rural neighborhood at four in the morning, he drove through and was pulled over by a cop waiting around the corner. And here he was, walking half-drunk in the rain without an umbrella to the birth of his son on April Fools’ Day.
He sprinted across Kneeland Street, the “Walk” sign having stopped blinking just as he got to the corner. A car skidded, its honk punctuated by a giant splash that further drenched his back. He thought about turning around. His shoes were pregnant with water, clothes weighing him down with every step he made to the hospital. He hadn’t seen Charlene for two months, since he had driven off during the meet-the-parents-meet-the-guy-who-knocked-me-up dinner.
Not showing up was what they all expected, for him to abandon her again. He was going to be there for his son.
He pulled his jacket collar over his head, and there on the ground sat a penny. Carl was not a superstitious man and had a near disdain for the coin. It was a worthless item, something fathers had their kids roll up when the jar overflowed. Salvation Army volunteers ringing their Christmas bells knew he was just trying to clean out his car. And he certainly never used the take-a-penny tray at the register. Pennies were nothing but a gimme to the zinc companies and the fat cats running them, something Carl had heard from one of the blowhards at Foley’s, and he was shocked to find himself thinking like this more often lately.
He stood on the sidewalk until his t-shirt clung to his skin and his slimy feet slid around in his socks. He couldn’t tell if it was face up, but he picked it up anyway, hoping this penny would bring his son the good luck he never had.
Darren Cormier is the author of the collection A Little Soul: 140 Twitterstories and the creator and editor of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty, a collaborative novel featuring 13 writers. His stories have appeared in Opium Magazine, Amoskeag, Every Day Fiction, Ether Books, The Light Ekphrastic, and NAP, among many others. He received his MFA from SNHU. He lives in Boston with a growing collection of books.