This week’s blog post is based on another writer’s challenge: Trace the path of a five dollar bill as it passes through the lives of five different people. As always, I had fun with the challenge. Hope you enjoy it, too. Thanks for stopping by.
Lincoln’s dignified gaze stared at me as he and three thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine of his bundled clones were jammed into a brick, a task I’d no longer oversee after the end of my shift. I’d started with the BEP, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, when the last version of the five-dollar Silver Certificate was considered new. Though many things at the bureau had changed over the years, the texture of the unique paper, the hum of the presses and cutters, and the smell of fresh ink were ingrained in my senses. Abe’s portrait switched to likeness from the Matthew Brady photo on the Federal Reserve Note. Counterfeiting detection measures had been added to all but the one and two-dollar bills. Most of the jobs once performed by hand were now fully automated––except my job as inspector. Friends and acquaintances often asked whether I’d ever been tempted to stuff a bundle or two of new bills into my pocket. “Who would know?” most of them said. I always replied with a smile and a shrug, and nothing more. Security was top priority with the BEP, yet, I knew there were ways to bypass the system. A grin spread my cheeks. After today, neither employment nor want would concern me anymore.
At First National Bank, the manager’s assistant accepted the Federal Reserve shipment then wheeled it into the vault. Under the watchful eye of security cameras she separated bundles from bricks, cross-referenced serial numbers against the inventory sheet, and then began stacking the assorted denominations in their designated spots on the shelves. She was stacking the five dollar bills when the head teller entered with a request for ones, fives, tens, and twenties to accommodate the teller windows.
After logging-in the serial numbers from the currency received, the head teller turned toward the manager’s assistant. “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
“Pardon me,” she said.
“A line from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”…Samuel Taylor––”
“Coleridge.” She smiled. “Didn’t know you were the literary sort.”
He winked. “Could be there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
“Uh-huh. So, what does Coleridge’s extraordinarily long poem have to do with anything?”
“Stranded sailors were surrounded by water but couldn’t drink it. We’re surrounded by money every day and can’t take a penny of it.”
“Have you been tempted?”
She returned to her duty stacking the various denominations. “Think you’ll ever have this much money?”
The head teller glanced at the security camera from the corner of his eye. He winked at the assistant again before leaving the vault. “Someday I will.”
Gray-haired and a bit edgy, I stepped up to one of the teller windows inside First National. “I’d like to make a cash withdrawal, please.”
“Be glad to help,” the teller said. “Do you have your withdrawal slip or your account number?”
I handed her a slip of paper.
The teller sat back. “Oh, my. Is this––”
“Yes, all fives is correct. It’s for a special occasion. Now, could you hurry up, please, I’m running late.”
The doorbell rang. The six-year old boy scrambled from the floor and ran to the front door. Before his parents could stop him, the youngster swung open the entry. “Grampa!”
I smiled, stepped inside, and handed my grandson a bright-yellow envelope. “Happy birthday, Davey.”
Davey grabbed the card and hugged my legs. “I knew you’d be here. Mom and Dad thought you forgot. But I knew you wouldn’t miss my birthday.”
Though my knees creaked, I squatted and mimicked my grandson’s hug. “As long as I’m able, I’ll never miss your birthday, Davey.”
He tore open the envelope and pulled out the card. Davey was learning to read and sounded out the words. “Fff-or mm-my grr-and-sson.” He grinned, I nodded approval, then he flipped open the card. Four crisp, unwrinkled, five-dollar bills fluttered to the floor. “Wow! Look at all the money I got.”
“I noticed when I put ’em in the card that those bills were from the last day I worked for the treasury,” I said. “Inspected ’em myself.”
“You made these, Grampa?”
“No, not specifically, but I was part of the process.”
“Then they’re extra special.” Davey carefully picked up the new bills, placed them back into the card, and slid it into the envelope. “Thanks, Grampa.” He hugged me once more.
I returned the embrace. “You’re welcome, Davey. So what do you plan to do with all that cash?”
“’Cause these are special, I’m gonna take ’em upstairs and put ’em in my drawer and never spend ’em.”
“Nope, never. ’Cause this money will always remind me of you. ”
The tall, sandy-haired man stood before a grave marker in St. Catherine’s Cemetery. A touch of gray blended with his trim beard. He scanned the name and the dates inscribed into the polished granite, then reached into his business suit and pulled out a faded, yellow envelope. After removing a card from the envelope, he gently opened it to reveal four five-dollar bills that remained as crisp as the day they were printed. The man inhaled deeply, then sighed. He placed his right hand atop the headstone and held out the card and cash with his left. “See. Though a lot of time has passed, I continue to keep my promise. Happy birthday, Grampa.” He wiped a tear from his cheek. “See you again next year.”