Pressed Lincolns | Victorya Chase

10 Pressed Lincoln

 

 

 

 

 

Jeanette was brushing her teeth and looking in the mirror while she scratched her stomach when she realized that in place of the ten pounds she was never able to lose was Plexiglas and behind the Plexiglas, where once she housed internal organs (among them, she assumed, her stomach and bladder and perhaps some intestines or a lung) were now the mechanics of a novelty penny embossing machine. She’d seen them many times in the main tourist spots around Manhattan and even bought an image of the Brooklyn Bridge once. She had dug into her purse, a giant turquoise leather, trendy mess of a bag with no pockets for organization, until she found the shiniest penny she had, deposited it and two quarters into their appropriate slots on the machine, and twisted the crank with all her strength to transform the circle of copper into an oval with an off-center image.

“You know, that’s illegal,” Frank, her boyfriend at the time said. “You cannot deface or mutilate monetary coinage as it is considered federal property. I cannot be a party to your criminal actions.”

This extreme adherence to the law was what first attracted Jeanette to Frank before realizing it was pathological and not really cute at all. He couldn’t even eat yogurt if it was on the expiration date, while Jeanette was known to consume them months past, citing that ‘bacteria is bacteria.’

Jeanette continued to brush her teeth with her right hand while examining her now partially mechanical body with her left. She assumed her belly button would be the natural spot for an embossed penny to come out, but there was a new slot slightly to the left of where her belly button used to be. Jeanette leaned into the mirror and took a close look at the gears inside her. She decided they looked fairly new, not rusted like the creaky ones at the South Street Seaport, but polished steel. What she didn’t see was a place to deposit the penny and two quarters, the general price for squished currency.

After brushing her teeth, Jeanette decided perhaps she’d just had a few too many Cuervos last night. It had been a month since her break-up with Frank and she still found herself using coasters and quoting safety statistics. She was also missing, if not Frank, the presence of others. This was her only explanation for allowing Margie, a co-worker who Jeanette didn’t consider a friend—just someone who talked to everyone a lot, and loudly, and without taking her cue that her stay was unwanted—to convince her to go to ladies’ night at the Tequila and Tapas bar in Soho. Margie insisted that all her friends would be coming as well, but no one else showed. This left Jeanette alone with Margie and the urge to drink. She had more alcohol than normal in an attempt to find Margie endearing, or acceptable, or non-suicidal. It had long been Jeanette’s theory that the more one talked without waiting for feedback, the more one was trying to find a reason to live, even if that reason was engaging in banal banter without reciprocation.

In the shower, Jeanette lathered, rinsed, but did not repeat. She washed down her Plexiglas exterior, noting how smooth the transition was from the skin of her breasts and upper chest to the hardness of the plastic glass. She was pleased that it wasn’t a boxy shape, but contoured. She dried herself off, making sure to wipe in such a way as to minimize streaks.

It was on the way to work that Jeanette began to wonder with earnest just where she would put the penny, how she would turn the gears, and what the end result would be. Being on the Metro-North during the morning rush hour, it was difficult to feel around her body for any sort of knob or crank to turn. Instead, she dug through her purse, a practical brown bag that Frank had gotten her, looking for loose change. By the time the train pulled into Grand Central she had found three paperclips, a doorstop, some loose aspirin encrusted with the remnants of a granola bar, and a handful of pennies, nickels, and dimes. Jeanette picked out the pennies, slipped them into her pocket, and ran to work. She skipped getting her normal breakfast of an egg white omelet with bacon and mushrooms and went straight to her office. She was thankful she didn’t have to share her workspace and, in fact, had a lock on the door. This allowed her to strip down and run her hands over her naked body searching for any kind of new coin slot. Finding nothing, she took a penny, placed it on her tongue, and swallowed. The zinc coating buzzed her fillings and a satisfying ‘clink’ told her the coin had landed in the right place. Now, all she had to do was figure out how to get the gears to move.

First, Jeanette willed the gears to turn. This was not effective. Next she tried rotating her hips in a hula type motion. This was decidedly harder to do now that her upper body was rigid; it also didn’t produce the desired result. Jeanette tried turning each leg, rotating her neck, and finally windmilling her arms. That’s when the gears began to slowly turn. She could hear them click against each other and groan while the penny went through, but in a well-oiled ‘they’re supposed to sound like that,’ kind of way. There was a tinny sound when the penny dropped. Jeanette reached down to grab it from the slot.

It was Frank. A squished copper Frank, sitting in a chair reading his FASB newsletter, and on the back of the penny the head of Lincoln was stretched out. Jeanette stroked Frank’s clean-shaven copper face with her finger and noticed her nail polish was chipped. This was something else Frank couldn’t stand. He thought it unprofessional to both wear the outlandish shades she preferred (Boo Berry Blue being her favorite) and then to let it chip off without immediately removing all traces. Still, she wanted to love him so badly. Jeanette put the penny on her desk, put on her clothes, and opened the door to her office. Margie was outside waiting for her.

“Ohmygawd, wasn’t last night fantabulous? Didn’t I tell you that place was the best? So many hot guys. Like, not just H-O-T hot but H-A-W-T hot and so little time to talk with them but such good drinks! I had a blast. Did you have a blast? Of course you had a blast. Bet it really took your mind off Frank, didn’t it? Everyone says he was so beneath you, not that you always have to be on top or anything but then, maybe you do? Rawr, right tiger? But seriously, Frank just didn’t deserve to spit-shine your shoes although I bet he made a tidy sum. Oh, who am I kidding. Even though he’s the head of governmental compliance in a big firm he’s still compliance and they never make money, do they? Not the honest ones, not real money, not the good bribe money. I guess if he did accept bribes he would have made lots of money but he’s too much of a stick-in-the-mud to do that, isn’t he? Not even mud because mud is moveable. More like a stick in the cement,” Margie said, only stopping to laugh at her own joke and finally take a breath.

“Yeah, last night was great. But I don’t know a Frank. Do you have the final package for the auditors ready?” Jeanette said.

“Good for you, pretending Frank doesn’t exist. Or maybe you drank enough to drown those brain cells you were using to remember him. Not that you need to, you know, forget. I always believed there’s a lesson to be learned from every experience in life, including every boyfriend. Don’t you think so? I do. That’s what my father always said and as much as I hate him for always embarrassing me, not letting me date, locking me in closets, and all those other things—he was right about that. ‘Why hold on to bad memories,’ he’d say. ‘Why hold on, let them go. So I called you a whore and set your dress on fire when you told me you wanted to go to the junior prom with Ricky, so what? Was it so bad? In the end nothing is bad unless you choose to remember it that way.’ Wasn’t he right Jeanette? Frank wasn’t bad, just dull, is what I heard. And now you know you need a man who isn’t dull and I need to stop being a whore for wanting to go to the prom when I was a teen. Isn’t that right?”

Jeanette stared at Margie and wondered where to even begin. Then she felt her stomach creek and the urge to swallow another penny overtook her.

“Margie, just make sure the material for the auditors is on my desk before you go to lunch, okay?” she said.

When Jeanette returned to her office she saw the souvenir penny of Frank. It was then she remembered him. She remembered how before they went out to eat he had to check the health inspection website and make sure the place not only passed, but had zero violations for the past three inspections. She remembered how he bought her a defibrillator their first Christmas together because no home should be without one. They met in a CPR class. She took it to be a first-responder at work and he took it because he did so every six months to keep his skills fresh. She also remembered his hesitance the first time they kissed, how he asked for permission and how gently he touched her. His breath always smelled like Listerine strips. Jeanette then remembered how he was the one to break up with her because she was too unpredictable for him. She didn’t always want to follow the rules. Yet, for him, she had tried. Jeanette picked up the penny, put it in her pocket, and forgot about Frank once more.

The next penny was an image of Jeanette’s first pet, Allie. It wasn’t an original name for a cat, but she was six. She remembered going to the shelter with her mother and how her mother wanted the fluffy orange kitten but Jeanette liked the giant silver tabby with white paws that came to the bars of the cage and looked her in the eyes and purred. She felt a connection with him. Her mother never liked Allie, thought he wasn’t right for their family. No matter how much six-year-old Jeanette defended him, her mother blamed every misplaced item on the cat and every perceived lapsed chore on Jeanette spending more time with Allie than on making the house run smoothly. Finally, her mother locked Jeanette in her bedroom and took Allie out back. Then she came back inside, took the padlock off the outside of Jeanette’s door, and dragged her to the backyard. She had Jeanette dig a grave for Allie, who lay lifeless in the scraggly grass Jeanette hadn’t mowed like she was supposed too. Jeanette struggled with a shovel almost bigger than her and listened to her mother talk in her calmest voice ever about how if Jeanette had only done her chores without being reminded then Allie would be alive.

All this flooded into Jeanette’s mind while she looked at the penny. She quickly threw it in the garbage can and the memory disappeared. This left her wondering why she was crying.

Jeanette went to her desk, picked up another penny—her last—and swallowed. This penny came out embossed with a bicycle. It wasn’t just any bicycle—it was a bicycle with a basket filled with fresh flowers and rainbow streamers flowing from the handlebars. This was the bike her second dad, the one Jeanette always considered her real dad, bought her. He taught her how to ride on their empty cul-de-sac, running alongside her as she rode in circles first with, and then without training wheels. He was the one who kissed her scraped knee after the first fall and carefully placed on the antiseptic and band-aid. Jeanette smiled at the memory and placed it in her pocket.

Jeanette decided it was time to start tackling her e-mails. She found it hard as the thought of squishing more pennies kept popping into her mind. A knock at the door broke her from her reverie.

“Hey, Jeanette? You doing okay? You look a little spaced out there. I thought maybe you were thinking of the guy from last night, the one that was totally checking you out? Or maybe that cool song they played, remember that song?”

“The package for the auditors?” Jeanette said, cutting Margie off. Jeanette would be happier once this project was over and the office could stop worrying about the auditors and start worrying about the budget for next year.

“It’s right here Jeanette. It’s a doozie, too. Glad to finally get rid of it, no? I know I am. Working last weekend like we did and here I was thinking we’d work this weekend, too. What, with the printer running out of toner and the supplier was like, ‘We’re all backordered,’ and I was like, ‘But you promised it would be here and we’re a big client, you douche.’ But we changed vendors and got the toner and stayed late and were able to print out everything and get it done and—”

“Thanks, Margie,” Jeanette said, smiling at her while she took the stack of papers out of her hands. “I’ll just have a look and figure out where we stand.”

Before heading out at the end of the day, the changes to the package noted and left on Margie’s desk, Jeanette exchanged a dollar for two rolls of pennies in the petty cash box. She went home, debated the effects of dinner and a glass of wine on her new gears, noted that she really wasn’t hungry anyway and decided not to risk it, stood in front of her full-length mirror naked, and swallowed a penny. She twirled her arms and watched the gears press down on the penny before sliding it into the deposit slot. This was a picture of her first love, Bill. He was much too old for her but promised Jeanette a life outside of her mother, outside the reminder of a dead cat in the backyard and a list of chores that would make Cinderella weep. They lived on park benches and she lost her virginity to him in the back of a stolen truck outside a Wal-Mart. She wrote him poems and he read her sonnets and together, for the first time, she felt that love might exist. They eventually parted ways, a fight at night that resulted in broken glass and a scar on her arm—their emotions just too strong to be around each other anymore.

Jeanette went to her bookcase and took out a small photo album. There were only a few pictures inside, mainly landscapes from her vacations or post-cards from attractions people would forget existed without such items to remind them. She took the penny and fastened it behind the plastic sheet on the sticky cardboard backing. Then she closed the book, forgot the pleasure and pain thoughts of Bill brought forth, and swallowed another coin.

Jeanette spent the night swallowing penny after penny and twirling her arms. She threw the bad memories away, placed the good behind the safety of clear plastic sheets, and dropped the others on the floor like so much jetsam. Suddenly she felt lighter, freer. Her life was pressed in copper and surrounding her. She looked around the room and wondered why the floor was littered with pennies. She sat down to collect them and then saw her photo album. She pulled out the book, filled with pressed Lincoln’s, onto her lap. She rubbed her Plexiglass stomach, opened the book, and smiled at a happy past saved to sticky cardboard.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Victorya Chase is a writer and educator living in the vast and cold urban wilds within the MidWest, having already lived on the coastal extremes of the United States. She works in Medical Education where, among other things, she teaches the importance of narrative competency and understanding the various cultural and personal stories at play in the exam room. Her writing has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Lamplight, and The Unlikely Journal of Entomology, among other places. Her home on the web can be found at victoryachase.com.

 

%d bloggers like this: