Double Or Nothing
By Marcie Beyatte
Wednesdays were humiliating. Third graders had to bring in 25 cents for class dues. If you forgot, the teacher would write your name on the board and it would stay there until you settled your debt. My family could afford the weekly quarter; the problem was prying it from my father's pocket. The problem was keeping it.
It would take me until eight o’clock Wednesday morning to gather enough nerve to fidget on the threshold of my parent’s bedroom. My mother was an early riser and of no help to me. Besides, my father controlled the family finances.
He would be sitting up in bed, trying to force himself to start another day commuting downtown to a job he claimed to hate. I would catch him in his striped pajamas, staring vacantly at the wall, his thinning hair greasy from sleep. He was an accountant and, at the end of the day, when my mother asked him how his day was, he would always reply: “It was a day to end all days.”
Eventually my father would see me huddling by the door and asked me what I wanted.
“I need my allowance,” I would stammer. “Please.”
“Allowance? What allowance?”
“You know, Dad, a quarter a week? Like what we talked about? For my class dues?”
He would sigh dramatically and ask me to bring him his suit pants, gesturing with one hand to the top of his dresser. I’d deliver them, noting that they were heavy with loose change, and he would painstakingly go through the pockets, discarding used white hankies, subway tokens, and pennies on the bed, until, finally, he would hold up a quarter.
“This what you want?” he’d ask, as my eyes widened and I looked at him with the same expression as the family dog after you accidentally stepped on her tail.
My father would hold the coin inches above my greedy hand.
“OK, let’s make this more interesting. Double or nothing, what do you say? You can call it and walk away with fifty cents.”
Then he’d flick the quarter with his thumb, sending it almost to the ceiling. As it dropped into his left palm, he’d cover it with a loud slap of his right.
“Heads or tails?”
“Tails,” I’d blurt.
Tails it was! My father would fling two quarters into my outstretched hand, and a voice inside my head would urge me to leave, to run all the way to school and not look back.
“Let’s go again,” my father would say, taking out a wrinkled dollar bill and flattening it on the bed beside him.
I’d call tails again and win.
My father would hand me the dollar, adding, as I turned to flee, “I have one more opportunity for you. Double or nothing on the dollar, take it or leave it.”
While the quarter was air borne, I would think of what I could buy with two dollars, heady with the possibilities: Licorice whips, jaw breakers, magic markers, Mad Magazine, with money left over.
“Heads,” I’d say, and lose.
He’d grab my dollar as I ran from the room, down the stairs and out the front door. It was four blocks to school and I’d make it there before the first bell. My name would be on the board of shame, in front of the entire class, but next week, I’d tell myself, next week it would be different.
Marcie Beyatte is in the process of re-inventing herself after surviving breast cancer. So far, she has “come out” as a writer and she also likes to paint. She lives in Northern California.
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