Let's Worm

A Quarter for Delores

A Quarter for Delores

I swallowed a quarter. The thin sliver of cupronickel slid down my throat. Lying on my back, I tucked my thumbnail below the face of the coin and flicked it into the air. When I failed to catch it I craned my neck and the quarter plunged to the back of my throat. I had enough time to consider my life: this studio apartment in this very tall building, the cheap desk I recently spent the sunniest day in weeks building, the stained white doilies I use for coasters, the red wine rings on the raw wood table I hide with the coasters, a closet full of hand-knit frocks, a landline, an answering machine with no messages.

Briefly, I held the quarter between my thumb and forefinger, while lodged in the entryway to my throat, my mouth open wide around my knuckles. I was still on my back but the coin was already too slick with mucus to keep the grip, I was breathing like a glue huffer, and in my panic, I involuntarily moved my head up towards my legs. Down my pipes the quarter slid.

I sit up. I am afraid to bring myself to the hospital. I am afraid the moment I am in motion the quarter will position itself to block whatever tube it is in. I dial my mother’s number. I move slowly, keeping my spine straight as I punch the numbers from memory. She is not at home. She is in fact on another continent, I am now remembering, with her new husband. A safari. She sent a picture of them in their new hats. I call my sister whose arms are full of children, in a city across this country. Of course she does not answer.

I dress for my funeral. I move like the dance when you pretend to be a robot. When I spill feces into my underwear after doubling over from not breathing somewhere across 78th street I don’t want someone digging through my drawers looking for more appropriate clothes to dress my body in. You are alone, I tell myself. You will walk maybe thirty steps before you clasp at the air, reaching like a mime towards the sky. And there I will double over, not holding my neck, but my stomach where the world of my inside pipes is divided by George Washington’s wigged head and what? A stalk of wheat?

I write a note:

I, Delores Ponce, have swallowed a quarter. I did not go to work today. Instead I laid on my back, for the last time, allowing my daydreams to paralyze me. With my spare hand I flicked a quarter in the air. Before I climaxed I pictured a man on horseback reading a map with no words. On the map was a picture of me, the lines under my eyes were sky blue rivers, my nose was a red mountain, my eyes: green lakes. In the man’s hand was his erect penis. He stared at my picture as the sun set behind him. His leather saddle glistened in the golden light. A hangman’s noose hung round his neck, and his horse was slowly walking away from the tree they were under. When I opened my eyes the coin was spinning towards my mouth.

Please take the keys from my pocket and loot my apartment. Burn my body to ash. Scatter the dust I leave in Monument Valley. I spent too many nights alone on this island, while never getting close enough to the dry heat of the desert, or the warm embrace of a gentleman rider.

I fold the note and place it in my front dress pocket, smooth the dress over and head downstairs. Though I am sure I will be dead momentarily I stop across the street at a bar. I’ve watched this place open and close from my bedroom window, but have never entered. A tall man dries a bulbed glass behind the counter. He nods to me and says nothing. I realize if I order a drink that the liquid will move the quarter into the blocking position.

“I swallowed a quarter,” I blurt. I sound almost proud.

“You what?” asks the barman.

“I swallowed a quarter,” I reply, getting a hold of myself. “I think I should go to the hospital.”

“I will call you a cab,” says the barman.

“A cab?” I ask. “Don’t I need an amb-”

“I swallowed a quarter when I was a kid,” he says. “You’ll be alright.”

“How do you know?” I ask.

“Lady,” he says, like a cowboy from a dream, “You just walked into my bar.”

“I am not going to die?” I ask.

“Nah,” he says, “you’ll be fine.”

The barman pours me a drink with a lemon twist that looks and tastes like cough syrup. I sit down and wait for my cab. Under my drink is a sturdy cardboard coaster, catching all the sweat beads as they collect at the glass’ base. Before I leave I reach into the front pocket of my dress, tuck the key to my apartment into the fold of the paper and slide the note across the bar. "In case I don’t make it," I say, "just follow the note."

I exit the bar. I imagine the barman sitting upright in my bed when I return home. He is waiting with his palms flat atop my comforter. Next to him is a dinner plate with a perfectly stacked pyramid of quarters. I taste the flavor of copper and nickel in my throat. I picture my hand reaching out as I lock eyes with him. I pinch the top coin off the pile, place it delicately near the back of my tongue. I look at him as I swallow. One by one I consume each quarter until he cannot resist the craving to taste the alloy again for himself.

Related Worms

  • A Narrow Escape

    A Narrow Escape

    What if you could just slip out? What if you could disappear? Look & Read →

  • The Lady Upstairs

    The Lady Upstairs

    The downstairs kids get to know a little more about the upstairs lady. Look & Read →

  • Two Portraits

    Two Portraits

    Rat visits lady, forcing lady to reckon with rat. Look & Read →