‘Bad Penny’ by Mike Lee


I reside in your left pocket. I clang, scratch and wear down with age, along with the rock your ex-girlfriend gave you; the one she found on a beach on the west coast of Ireland. My name is Lincoln, 1977-D. D stands for Denver, from  the mint where I was strikingly born, shiny and new, 1977 being the date of my creation.

You were upset the day you found me. You wanted to see Star Wars. But you were with your grandmother, walking on the street to the grocery store. You spotted me, and bent down to pick me up. If you collected three hundred of me, you thought, you could go see the movie.

I lie in concrete darkness, my tail exposed to the elements. Thanks for that. I get to see the sun some mornings in the decades since you found me. Resent the times I am not, but whatever, I remain unspent in my existence.

Your grandmother was appalled.

“Don’t pick that up,” she said. “It’s a bad penny and it will bring you bad luck.”

You waited until she wasn’t looking, then you ran back and grabbed me from that  obscure ground.

You did see the movie. Too bad I was unable to enjoy it. I was deep in the pocket of your dungarees.

While my life is secure with you, I always wanted to travel. Pennies travel far, you see, at least that is what I learned with my comrades at the Denver Mint, moving from bin to bin, and later rolled into paper, traveling to the bank. Who knows where I had gone over the years?

Instead, I came out of a little drawer in a cash register, and then fell from a hand while at a bus stop. A penny was still worth enough to be used for a bus. I’ve heard conversations over the years to know that I’m worth much less, and my younger comrades are not even of copper anymore.

I am rather pissed being stuck with you. After all this time, I believed that by the transitive property of logic I would get lost due to your incompetence. But, no—I am still here. Thanks for that. Keeping me is, unfortunately, the only aspect of your life you seem to do consistently well.

I hope tonight is the night you finally lose me. At this point, getting lost anywhere is a positive.

You hit the pavement hard this time. I have become aware enough about your life choices you were not long for this earth, but do you listen? No.

Through the denim fabric, I feel that the ground is cold on my tail. My head is detecting that your blood flow is a little off–more than usual. I feel it diminishing. The boom boom boom echoing from your heart was rapid, then slowing.

I am beginning to believe that something terribly wrong is going on with you.

The sounds have stopped. I am getting colder.

I guess then this is the moment where I should tell you how I feel about you.

There is a reason why you are where you are, which is dying, if not already dead.

No one is indispensable except to the other person. And since you know everyone, so therefore you are alone. You can lie to yourself and say this is not by choice but subconsciously, well, you do things that alienate others. Firstly, you are self-referential at inopportune times in light conversation.

This puts others off. Instead of having interesting things to say on subjects they are talking about, you refer to largely irrelevant personal experiences that you are kind of bullshitting about.

For instance, driving fast on a straightaway sometime in 1983 is not drag racing in high school, and others pick up on that. Learn to be truthful. Or better yet, learn to shut the fuck up.

Secondly, when you say you know certain others of your kind.

You do not know these people. Meeting them once on a social occasion, exchanging greetings–even shaking hands–is not true knowledge.

This is like buying a book and never reading it, but it sits there as if the possession of the object, like the fleeting moment of slightly significant human contact signifies a profound moment in history. Europeans are pretty brutal about this. From them, you may get a “Know me? KNOW ME? Have you ever had dinner with me? NO! You do not KNOW ME!”

At that, I’ve made my point.

So, need I search far for a third? Eh, why bother? Anyhow, I am tired of this fucking rock crushing me.

I am the bad penny that you stupidly picked up against the wisdom of your grandmother.

You were nine years old. You should have always listened to your elders. They knew shit.

Okay, perhaps I am oversimplifying your plight. But it is because you are a font of experiences that really did not quite happen in the way that you express them to others, and that you know everyone.

You knew no one, and not much of anything.

And at the moment you are indispensably dispensable.

Sorry. You should have been told that before, but I’m just a charmless cent.

Picking pennies from the ground. That is what led you to this.

I worry now I will be buried with your ex-girlfriend’s rock.


Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and reporter for a trade union newspaper in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Airgonaut, The Alexandria Quarterly and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com.

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