Heads Up

Kathleen Miller

© Copyright 2020 by Kathleen Miller

Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash
                        Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

This winter has been relatively mild so I give myself a goal in February: walk 5,000 steps every day. May not seem like a lot to some, but it is to me. Thereís something wrong with my muscles, you see. But thatís a different story for a different day. This story is about money.

Ten minutes into my first walk, I pass by the local drugstore and spot a shiny penny lying on the sidewalk. Heads up. I pick it up and pocket it with glee. Itís amazing how happy I am about finding a penny considering how obsolete pennies have become. But I am amazed. Whenever I go for walks I always treasure hunt, especially for coins. And I never find anything. I carry it back home like Gollum with his precious and then deposit it in my favorite blue dish. The clink as copper meets porcelain is extremely satisfying to my ears.

The next day, I cross the street at a crosswalk and spy another penny, this one dull and dirty. Heads up. I pick it up and pocket it with glee. I genuinely canít believe my luck. Two heads up pennies in two days. I am truly blessed.

On the third day, I head straight to the gas station to buy a Powerball and a scratch off. Iíve got luck on my side, after all. As Iím walking through the parking lot I see another penny, so worn I canít even make out the date. Heads up. I pick it up and pocket it with glee. Three pennies in three days. I feel like magic.

As February in the Midwest typically goes, we have a spell of especially bad weather so I walk indoors for a few days. I slipped on ice when I was in high school and broke my foot, so Iím extra cautious in the winter, especially since my dad almost ran me over with his car because he didnít see me fall. But thatís another story for another day. This story is about money.

When I resume walking outdoors, I change my path and walk past the fire station. As Iím struggling up a particularly brutal hill, I notice something in the street and crouch down to get a closer look. Itís a dime. Heads up. I pick it up and pocket it with glee. I feel like the chosen one, the finder of lost change. Seek and ye shall find.

My next walk yields no treasure. Iím properly bummed, walking into the house and flinging my boots off in resignation. I really wanted to keep the streak alive and well. Then I remember. I never scratched off the ticket I bought from the gas station. I use one of my lucky pennies and promptly win a buck. I may not have found loose change but I won a dollar. How is this happening?

More bad weather and Iím walking up and down the hallway, looping around the tiny house Iím renting, wishing I was outside exploring the wild.

Back on the road, finally, and this time I walk past the elementary school. Peeking out of the snow, a dark, old penny. Heads up. I pick it up and pocket it with glee.

Before walking the following day, I run to the grocery store with my mom. In the checkout lane, my mom hands the cashier a check (yes, she still writes checks) and then hands me something. A penny she found on the counter. Heads up. I accept it and pocket it with glee. I find nothing on my walk later but count this penny as my treasure.

The next day I pop down the alley behind the gas station and stop in my tracks. Two pennies, right next to each other. Both heads up. I pick them up and pocket them with glee. I feel faint. Iíve never found two coins. This must mean something big. Am I finally going to get one or all of the breakthroughs Iíve been waiting for? Is this my season for miracles? I feel like it is.

My next journey yields nothing. My luck has finally run its course. I head home, dejected. I am no longer the chosen one, no longer the finder of lost change. On the way up my drive I check the mailbox and immediately flip to an unexpected letter from a friend. When I open it, a check falls out. Twenty-five bucks: an early birthday gift. Holy guacamole. I truly have no words. Just when I thought my good luck had run out for good.

The following day I run into a fast-food joint and immediately spot a penny, half-wedged underneath a piece of carpeting by the front counter. After I order my food, I realize I forgot to pick it up. I remind myself to snatch it on my way out, but it slips my mind again. Oh well. I saw it, I just didnít pick it up and pocket it. I still have 17 cents, plus some cold, hard cash. Whatís one more penny? I have more than enough blessings.

The universe must agree. Every day afterwards, I consistently stumble across more change but theyíre all tails up. I spy a quarter on the sidewalk just down the street from me, then a penny by the high school, another quarter in the alley behind the gas station, then another penny by the VFW. All tails up. Do I pick any of them up and pocket them? Hell no. I donít need any bad luck, especially not 52 cents worth.

I miss walking home with a tiny souvenir in my pocket, a small kernel of good luck that brightens my day. I donít miss the irony in finding coins every day that I canít pocket with glee. But at least I can be proud of myself. Iíve maintained my daily goal and then some. And the tokens I do have, all of those pennies and that one dime, feel like signs that Iím on the right track. That things are looking up. For once.

Only a few days of February remain when I head out once again. I walk with high hopes and low expectations, right down Main Street. As I get near the end of the street I notice a piece of trash half buried in the snow, close to the road. When I get closer, I see itís a lottery ticket. A scratch off. I keep walking, thinking itís probably trash, and just as I prepare to cross onto the next street, something makes me turn around. Maybe itís a winner.

I trudge back to pick it up and hastily stow it in my coat pocket without even examining it. Iím cold and tired and just want to head home. When I finally get back home, I forget about the ticket in my pocket entirely.

It isnít until much later that evening that I remember. Iím outside, throwing some food in the yard for the deer and pausing a moment to stargaze. I always say a little prayer when I stargaze so I go through the usual list: health, happiness, financial security. It hits me like a shooting star has fallen in my lap: the ticket.

I run inside, grab my coat off the hook, and retrieve the ticket. Itís sopping wet but itís not damaged. Itís a $5 scratch off with a grand prize of $250,000.

And it hasnít been scratched.

I Freak. Out.

I have never in my entire life found an unscratched lottery ticket. And this one has play areas on both sides. Twenty chances to win on the front. Ten chances to win on the back. The odds are in my favor. This is a new, odd feeling.

I immediately place the ticket in front of a box fan to dry out and then try to calm down. But I canít. Because Iím about to win the lottery. Iím about to win enough money to pay off all of my student loans. To pay off all of my momís debt. To pay for a new car since weíre now down to one after a hit-and-run in October, which, again, is another story for another day. This story is about money.

Iíve already spent all of the money in my head. Itís all gone. I quickly realize the taxes on the jackpot and all of our debt would use it all up. I donít think there would be enough for a car, but I donít care. Iíve never lived life as an adult with no debt. My momís never lived life post-divorce with no debt. I canít even imagine what that feels like, but I know it will be life-changing.

After a few hours my fingers skim the ticket. It's brittle and stiff -- dry enough to scratch, but fragile. Iím going for it. Tonightís the night. I grab my porcelain dish and sort through all of my found treasure, choosing the best penny circa 1935.

Then, I scratch.

Number after number, row after row. I take my time so I donít accidentally destroy the already fragile ticket. And as I slowly scratch, I feel conflicted. Someone bought this ticket. Someone spent five bucks on this thing before losing it. And theyíre probably sick to their stomach, wondering if their carelessness potentially cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. This could be someone elseís ticket out of poverty or opportunity to live free from the shackles of debt.

What do I realistically do when (not if) I win? Do I keep the money? Do I try to track down the original owner? Would that even be possible?

My heart stutters and I remind myself to breathe. Just scratch. Pay no attention to the numbers. Just scratch.

Finally, all is revealed. I sweep the dust off of my lap, close my eyes, say a quick prayer, and start carefully scanning each row, knowing, knowing, Iím going to get a match. The match.

But, I donít.

There are no matches, not a single one.

The disappointment is crushing until I remember thereís a backside. More chances to win. This time I have to match a symbol instead of a number. I like symbols. Iím even currently reading a Dan Brown novel so this is a sign, I just know it.

Again, I scratch.

Slowly. The play area revealed bit by bit. One last prayer and I again carefully scan each row.

Again, nothing.

I didnít even win back the money that was spent on the ticket. I didnít even win two dollars. I didnít even win a single dollar.

It feels like I had a quarter of a million in my hands and it all slipped out, flying up into the sky and spirited away. I feel sick.

And yet. I also feel relieved. If I ever win a massive amount of money, I donít want to feel like Iím taking it away from someone else. Because maybe the owner of the ticket would have gone out looking for it and rescued it from the pile of snow. Or maybe it would have disintegrated completely in the snow. Who knows?

Either way it was a gray area that made me uncomfortable. Now, I have no tough decisions to make, nothing to feel guilty about, no ethical pickles to sweat over. So maybe this was a blessing in disguise, though Navient would probably disagree.

I still have 26 unexpected bucks, plus the 17 cents I found. And the losing ticket, which Iíll probably keep forever until it crumbles to dust. And I canít forget that I clocked over 160,000 steps in the month of February. It doesnít have the same ring as $160,000 (because, you know, taxes) but thatís life.

Maybe Iíll become a walking guru, leading people on walks through the snow and ice. My feet are sore, but I walk on, head up.

Kathleen Miller prefers cold weather to warm weather and enjoys walking in the snow.  She has a PhD in English Studies, lives in the midwest, is learning Italian, and writes flash fiction and poetry.

Contact Kathleen

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher