The Change Jar
The snow was perfect, to me at least. It was that thick flakey, almost visible from afar, type of snow. The type of snow that only existed in animated movies. I didn’t believe it was real. My eyes weren’t as good as they once were but I knew they weren’t lying. The snow pirouetted around and around, interlocking and fluttering between each individual flake. The sun was close to setting but it wanted to see the last dance. I watched the snowfall as if it was a movie. I focused as if it was a prayer. My eyes darting left to right, up to down, every direction. This was it. The moment I’d been waiting for, but I’d been impatient. I’d been a fool. You can’t force happiness on anyone, least of all yourself. The snow drizzled on top of me slowly shading in my silhouette on the cold pavement. My smile shivered, I had to sneeze. I wanted to cry. The wind sliced large swathes of the snow throwing it from my face, back into the air. It was snowing hard, but I needed a strong shower.
I thought of snowball fights when I was a child. John, wherever you are, you know I’m coming to visit you soon.
I had read somewhere that whenever someone dies they leave around three hundred dollars worth of change throughout all their furniture, the nooks and crannies of their house, and in their vehicles. It sounded like bullshit to me.
Twenty-four dollars and forty-eight cents. That’s how much I was leaving behind. I did some spring cleaning even though it was November. I gathered all the quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies I could find. I don’t know maybe I’m just not in the same tax bracket as the people the article surveyed. Maybe it was because I wasn’t dead yet.
I imagined I’d die and then this great big change jar would sprout right smack in the middle of the living room. Toby would come to collect my belongings and sell the house and he’d find this big, glass jar. I imagined him picking it up. It was heavier than he thought it’d be.
He set it aside and continued sorting my belongings, his belongings. When he finally got home for the night he was too tired to unpack the U-Haul he rented and collapsed on his bed with Melissa and their chocolate lab, Belle. Melissa tucked him in as Belle repositioned herself on the mattress. Neither wanted to press the issue, he was going through a lot.
The next day Toby had the All-American breakfast of two eggs (sunny-side up), two pieces of toast slathered in butter (to dunk into the yolks of his eggs), and two thick strips of maple bacon. One day he’d have a heart attack, but not this day. He sipped his morning coffee and flipped through the sports channels on the kitchen TV. Melissa had gone to work at the hospital. She was a gynecologist, one of the best in town. Belle was still curled up at the foot of the bed, she was an older gal and liked to wait until mid-day before she was up and about. “Alright!” Toby said to himself. He stood up, placing his “I Love New York” coffee mug down on the breakfast counter. It was a souvenir from Melissa and his first trip to The Big Apple.
Outside he started unloading the U-Haul truck. Several lamps, end-tables, a couple dressers, an old bed frame with a matching boxspring and mattress, three large plastic bins (all full of notebooks and romance novels), a dining room table with four chairs, a small safe (full of legal documents and family photo albums), and a worn-out couch. Sweat was pouring off of him soaking through his shirt and jeans. His stomach groaned. He grabbed it. Maybe breakfast was a bad choice today? He thought. He dragged the couch with all his might. It was the last item to move out of the truck. The end of the couch that Toby was pulling slipped through his sweaty hands and hit the driveway hard, “Fuck!” He examined the the damage. It appeared intact. He shrugged and hopped into the back of the truck to grab the other end. He figured that dropping the other end down was the best way to be done with this task. He let out a deep sigh as he caught his breath in the back of the truck. It was bare now, save the large jar in the corner. He stood over it. It was the change jar. He bent down to pick it up but stopped, remembering how heavy it was and how sweaty he was. He went back to the couch and shoved it out of the truck. It hit the driveway softer than the other end. He hobbled out of the truck and fell onto the couch. He was going to leave it in the driveway for a while. They had enough room for it. Eventually, it would end up on the back deck or maybe in the basement once he got around to finishing it.
Toby closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. He sprang up and back into the truck, wiping his arms on his jeans as he approached the change jar. He ran his hands down its glass sides, grabbing the bottom as tight as he could. He heaved it up with his back, not his legs (he regretted that later). He waddled slowly to the edge of the truck and placed the jar down. After he caught his breath, he hopped down and picked it up again this time it was at chest height. The jar was pressed against his chest like a football as he brought it inside.
In the living room he placed the change jar on the large, hardwood coffee table. He sat in one of the dining table chairs he’d brought in earlier, nudging it as close as possible to the table. He popped off the glass top of the jar, unleashing the faint smell of sunlight and marinated metal into the room. Toby mindlessly chewed on his index fingernail. His right leg was restless. “Fuck it.” He grabbed a handful of change out of the jar.
Two hundred seventy-five dollars and fifty-two cents.
Toby counted it twice. The shimmering reflection of the living room ceiling light rippled off of the quarters, dimes, and nickels. It bounced right into his eyes leaving a twinkle to shine a beacon back to the coins. The copper pennies absorbed all of the light they could get their hands on.
Toby rubbed his chin. He smelled the metal on his hands and stared at them. How many germs were now on his hands? He shuddered at the thought. It took him a few minutes to decide what he wanted to do. He thought of all the things he could buy with the money: designer clothing, professional level cameras, high-end guitars. Each item he thought of was far more expensive than the worth of the coins. He sighed and grabbed the empty jar from the end of the table, smelled it, and snarled at its stench. Toby carefully slid all the coins back into the jar, only a handful fell of the table. He managed to pick up all the change and put the lid back on the jar. He brought it down to the basement and set it on top of an old dresser. There was still a lot of furniture he had to bring inside. He would deal with the change jar later.
In my head her name’s Allison. Toby seemed to like that name as a kid. He had a crush on this girl all of fourth grade. He might not even remember that now. I guess that’s something you only situationally hold on to, like an inside joke.
She was home alone for the weekend. Toby and Melissa were out of town. Allison wasn’t the type to throw parties, she didn’t really care for alcohol. She did enjoy an occasional joint and being home alone was such an occasion. The basement was where Toby went to drink beers and watch college basketball. Melissa couldn’t stand the idea of a prolonged period underground so she just watched her crime shows in the living room with a bottle of cheap wine. Allison spent most of her time upstairs in her bedroom. She couldn’t smoke in there though, they would be able to smell it. So when they were away she’d smoke in the basement. By the time Monday rolled around the hint of marijuana in the air would be the last thing Toby would notice (though March Madness was over, the NBA finals were coming up soon).
Allison flopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. She spent a few minutes finding something to watch. By some act of God, Planet Earth was on The Discovery Channel. She lit up her tightly rolled, weed cigarette and took in a deep breath. She exhaled in a fit of coughs. She had heard from a friend that “You got to cough to get off” so she wasn’t afraid for her health. After several deep breaths she stood up and looked around at the various pieces of furniture in the room. There was an even older couch in the corner. It was covered with boxes and bins. A box of records sat next to the couch. There was a bed split into its three pieces with its back propped up against the brick wall.
Right next to the stairs was an old, worn-out dresser. The wood was warped from minor water damage. Allison walked over to it. She ran her left hand across the side. It felt coarse and bumpy, like sandpaper. Her right hand still holding the joint. On top of the dresser was a record player. Toby used it all the time. He loved all those old Rock n’ Roll records. Next to it was the jar. It was covered in fifteen years worth of dust. Layer upon layer. She examined the dust. There was a top layer that was fluffy, it swayed as she leaned in to get a closer look. Beneath that were a few more layers each more compact and older than the last. She didn’t even know why the jar was still there. It was obvious no one had added anything to it for ages. “Why doesn’t someone just take it to a CoinStar or something?” She thought as she took another drag from her cigarette. She blew the smoke at the change jar, releasing a wave of dust into the air. It flittered away, the light reflecting off of the particles in the air. She put the joint in her mouth and picked up the jar. A huff of smoke billowed out of her nostrils. She grunted. It was heavier than she thought it would be. Carefully, she lugged it back over to the couch and sat down.
“There’s got to be a couple hundred dollars in this jar,” She thought still unsure what to do. She shrugged and took one final hit from her joint putting the roach out on the bottom of her shoe. She stood up and dropped the roach into the one of the potted plants that were lined up along the basement’s one window. Allison grabbed the jar again, lifting with her legs and brought it upstairs. She sat down in the living room and took off the top of the jar. The smell of metal saturated her lungs. The coins had been marinating in basement for all those years. She reached into the jar and took out a handful. The coins felt grimy in her hand. “Fuck it,” She thought and put the coins back in the jar, “I’ll just let the machine count them.”
That was the amount of money she received after CoinStar took their cut for counting the change.
Allison shoved the wad of twenties, a five, and some change into her coat pocket. She knew exactly what she was going to buy with the money. She grabbed the change jar off of the counter and headed towards her destiny.
There they were, in the back of the massive music store. The bronzed, wooden instruments all different shades of mahogany and hazel. Six strings sectioning off the sound hole, each one thicker than the last. She nodded at the employee behind the counter, her empty jar cradled in her hands.
“Anything I can help you find?” The music man asked.
“No, I’m just browsing.” She smiled as she gently touched a couple of the guitars. A Taylor caught her eye. She looked at the price tag and frowned. Way out of her $245.49 price range. She placed her jar down next to a wooden bench and grabbed a Fender acoustic off of the wall. She looked at the tag: $179.99. It was within her price range! She started to play it for a while. Allison had taken guitar lessons for several years up until last summer when her parents told her she could either play field hockey or continue the guitar lessons. Most of her friends were on the field hockey team. She didn’t want to be alone.
Although she’d been taking lessons she didn’t own a guitar, the instructor, a man she was sure smoked a lot of weed when he was younger, if not still, let her borrow his during the lessons.
Her hands slid up and down the fretboard. Her fingers tingled with that old, familiar pain of being pressed against metal strings for hours on end. She liked the tone of the Fender but something was off. She couldn’t quite place it. She looked around at the other guitars as she continued to strum the Fender, like she was on a date but wished she could find someone better.
A bright yellowish guitar caught her eyes. She placed the Fender back on its stand and picked up this mysterious instrument. Allison wanted a guitar that would stand out but not be ridiculous. She wanted it to be her own in every way. It had a logo on the top she didn’t recognize. It had two decorative A’s facing each other with a little diamond in the middle, or was it a clover? She glanced at the tag.
It sounded cool in her head, plus her name also started with an A. But what was the price?
She could afford it. She sat down to try it out. It felt warm. Each strum filled the room with hot sound. Allison felt connected to its larger frame and its full hearted sound. She knew this was the one.
She smiled, this was her guitar.
The guitar and a cheap travel bag came to $249.27. She had just enough money. If they hadn’t had a clearance sale on their travel bags she wouldn’t have had enough. The sun was beating down on her back as she walked up Church Street. The guitar fit snuggly into it travel bag and bobbed on her back with each step. The change jar was held tight to her chest. The whole street was alive with people. Everyone out in the late spring sun, soaking up the rays and eating local food. Allison found the spot she’d always wanted and set down her massive, empty jar. She took off the top and put it inside of the guitar bag’s pocket. She took out the guitar and sat down. Her eyes looked around in wonder at all the people, all the commerce.
Allison bit her lower lip and started to play.
And there I was thinking about all this. I thought about this entire life for Toby and Melissa and Allison, who doesn’t even exist yet. I’d fallen down like a snowflake and couldn’t get up. I looked over towards my house. The driveway had been plowed, it was the ice that had done me in. The stray patches of gravel mixed with snow seemed poetic to me. My life wasn’t flashing through my eyes, but their future was.
It must have stopped snowing.
I tried once more to get up, wincing through the pain in my lower back. I grunted and scraped my hands across the slush and snow. After some time I managed to sit up. I heaved as many breathes as it took to finally catch mine and started laughing, under my breath at first but eventually it grew into a howl. I stood up with a final grunt in between my laughter and let out a long, exaggerated sigh. It was time to go back inside.
I tracked slush through my foyer, into the kitchen, and finally down the basement stairs. A clear trail of footsteps for anyone to follow. I dug around my boxes and bins.
“Yes!” I shouted aloud as I pulled this massive jar from a water stained box. I could see the blurred reflection of my smiling face. It was covered in smudges and dust. I blew away all the dust I could manage and brought it up stairs. I placed the jar on the living room table and popped off its lid. Then I took the Ziplocked $24.48 from my pocket and carefully slid it into the jar. Each coin produced a different timbre. There was a moment where the clunks and thuds harmonized in a miraculous cacophony. I could feel the jar crooning sweet nothings to me as I fed it the change. It still looked pretty empty even after I’d added all of my money.
$24.48 wasn’t a lot, but it was a start.