The ladies would all meet weekly at the same little cafe on the avenue. A pleasant enough blue and orange colored place a step above a greasy spoon with an affable, always pleasant middle-aged Greek owner and framed posters of seascapes. Music played softly from an unseen staticky radio. A black and white TV screen played re-runs over where you’d pay your tab.
She was always the last lady present and paid for her cup of coffee with pocket change. She never ordered the soup and sandwich deal which the other four or five women split amongst themselves in varying fractions amongst varying factions. Sometimes, rarely, one would share their sandwich with her if no one else was interested. She was thankful but never stated her thankfulness for fear of calling attention.
They wore pleasant clothing. Dresses, mostly. Always hats. Modest in every way and quite clean. Her dresses and hats were a bit more worn but also maybe a bit more clean. She would always reach into her change purse to place an extra quarter on the table before leaving. They’d exchange their pleasantries, schedule their next meeting, and go about the remainder of their weeks.
They all had children in their early teens. Some had older ones and some younger ones as well. The cafe was across from an elementary school and often they scheduled their meetings so that they could pick up the younger ones afterward. Her change purse had a shiny steel frame and clasp. Yellow and white flowers adorned its pink fabric.
Before each meeting, well before, she’d walk to the avenue, and along the way, she’d fill her change purse with its shiny steel frame and clasp, with its yellow and white flowers adorned on its pink fabric–with coins she’d find on the sidewalk. The train station wasn’t far-off and many a harried and hurried commuter would drop a nickel here, a dime there. Sometimes a quarter. More likely a penny. She’d trained her eyes to spot each one.
It often didn’t take long to get enough for a cup of coffee and a tip. Sometimes, though, she’d have to walk up and down the avenue two or three times. Once or twice she spied the other ladies beginning to converge and she had to slink home without enough change in her change purse. Even then, it was not too unpleasant of a time and the fabric of the change purse never looked sad.
One day, while sitting at the library, which was three storefronts down from the diner, she overheard a conversation between two men. One was unfamiliar to her. The other was the barber whose shop was a half-block off the avenue under a shade tree and always had Italian opera music pouring from its door. His English was alright and he did much of the talking. They spoke of some coins being worth more than others and some even being collectible.
She immediately began to study this at the library. Soon, she added another day every week to her schedule of walking up and down the avenue with her shiny steel-framed change purse with a shiny steel clasp and yellow and white flowers adorning its pink fabric. She’d take home what she found on the sidewalk and pour it out on her dining room table after her husband was gone to work.
He ran an electronics store on another avenue and owned a part of it. It made good money and so did he. She would sometimes deliver his lunch to him when he forgot it at home and she’d stay outside for a long time watching the screens facing out into the street. Then she’d go home and clean. Prepare their kids' after-school snacks. Get dinner ready. He was always home for dinner and it needed to be on the table.
After some time her coin collecting was making her enough money to buy the soup and sandwich deal with her weekly cup of coffee. The extra day of coin hunting, if nothing else, gave her extra change for her change purse. Every so often, a particular coin would get the barber’s attention and he’d offer a quarter for a dime, a dime for a nickel, and a nickel for a penny.
Then one day, her husband went to the barber for a shave and a haircut. When he came home, he demanded that she give him her change purse and its shiny steel frame and its clasp. Also, its yellow and white flowers that happily adorned its pink fabric. He yelled and he threatened but he didn’t have to do that much and she acquiesced quite readily.
The other ladies wondered where she was for the next few weeks and then they stopped wondering. They never saw her again. The last time she saw her change purse was when she emptied a dustpan over it as it sat atop the kitchen wastebasket. It looked so happy there and occasionally she’d think back to the way it looked just then and smile.
::: very :::