Did you ever swallow money when you were a kid? Were you trying to keep it on top of your tongue or were you sloshing it around? Would you pick up a penny that was tail sides up? Did you? If we were collecting them together, why was it all my state quarters in the album slots? What happened to the Idaho and the Wisconsin I put by the sink? If I mix up what states they were, does that mean they weren’t there at all?
Did you ever lend a kid two bucks and when he paid you back, you had to cup your hands to get all the coins? After that did your hands smell like nails? Did he give you a quarter, six dimes, thirteen nickels and forty-five pennies? Did you count it out in front of him? Did you tally it up in your head just now to make sure it was really two bucks?
If you tell a homeless man you don’t have any change, do you think he believes you? Do you think the other people on the sidewalk believe you? Where did you get that jug you throw your change in at the end of the day?
Did you have a piggy bank when you were a kid? What animal was it? Did it have a stopper in the belly so you could get your money out? Did you shake it to listen to your money? Did you use the money in it to pay back someone who lent you two bucks? Do you remember the silence and heftlessness of your animal if you shook it when it was empty? Did you know they used to make piggy banks so you couldn’t get the money out without breaking them?
Did you ever notice the presidents on Mt. Rushmore are the same ones that are on money? Do you think I don’t know there are two different Roosevelts? Do you know I had Oregon, Kansas and West Virginia stacked on top of the album before you came in? How long would it have taken me to sort through the rest of the change? Was looking for eight quarters in your jug really the worst thing I ever did to you? Was it really too soon to look for South Dakota? Is it still the worst thing I ever did? Do you wish you had grabbed for the jug instead of scooping your hands full of coins?
Is the metal molten when they stamp Lincoln’s face on it? Was he holding his wife’s hand when it happened to him? Did she turn at the sound and see his profile roll forward? Or did it roll back the way yours did when your eyes followed my hand up over your head with the jug? Could you have pushed it away if your fists hadn’t been jammed with change? When the coins rained down on the kitchen floor, how did it sound to you? Or did the jug interfere with the hearing parts of your brain on its way in? Did all the presidents roll their heads back, over and over? Did they try to stay face up when they ricocheted off the baseboards? Did they see?
Would it have been any worse luck if I had just left you there tail sides up? Were you glad I put the pennies on your eyes? How did you feel when the police took them away? Are you glad they let you keep them on for the pictures? When they put you in the drawer, did you still have Oregon, Kansas, and West Virginia in your mouth where I left them for you? Did you know we had empty slots I could have slid them into? Do you like it that your change is locked away now where only cops can get at it? Do you like that about me?
If you were a piggy bank, what animal would you be? Would you have a stopper or would I have to break you for two bucks?
Barr Bielinski’s “Heads or Tails” is a story told in questions. The idea is for you to answer some of them, and that your answers should come from deep in your memory. Your immediate answers are likely to be binary, like a coin toss, “yes” or “no”, but of course other responses may spring from your memory.
Barr Bielinski is a numismatist. She lives on Cape Cod Bay.