Fiction: Passing along a dirty bill

Darren D’Altorio

I’m not quite sure if I believe in luck. I want to. I’m trying. But too many events and circumstances of the world make it difficult to believe.

Like what happened to Cliff, this regular from the bar I frequent after work. This guy was happy-go-lucky, always smiling, drinking his bourbon on the rocks one after the other until his cheeks were rosy. He would laugh so hard sometimes, the volume would stop coming from his mouth. He’d be just jiggling in his seat with a wide-open mouth and squinted eyes. His wife was always by his side, smiling along.

Just after the first snowfall, Cliff started coming to the bar alone. One particular Friday, I saw his smile was faded. He sat in the seat closest to the wall at the end of the bar, the seat right in front of the television. He looked like he wanted to be distracted, to have something to keep him out of conversation. But I knew he needed to talk.

“Why the long face, Cliff?” I asked, sliding a seat next to his.

“Life is short. That’s why,” he replied in a dry tone, like all the spit was vacuumed from his tongue.

“It is, my friend. It is,” I said, trying to keep his brain moving, interested. “But that’s why people like you are important. The people who are always smiling and laughing make the little time we have in this life enjoyable.”

“Enjoyment is for suckers,” he replied. “While you’re laughing life away, seemingly enjoying it, someone else is enjoying your wife.”

There it is. Wiser words may never have been spoken. The wisdom of heartbreak is profound, and Cliff was wallowing in his newfound wisdom. It all went down right in front of his eyes. His wife was a social person, a woman who didn’t know where to draw the line with people. I’ve overheard her talking about the good old days, reminiscing about the parties, the concerts and the antics. Then I would watch her relive those moments shortly after, slamming down shots with strangers during Wednesday night happy hour. Cliff would smile, and eventually carry her out to the car. It’s how they worked.

Well, one of these conversations turned lustful. A tryst was arranged. Cliff happened to spoil the fun when he went home for lunch one afternoon to find his wife moaning like a teenager on top of some guy from the bar. I guess that explains his face.

“Cliff, just keep your head up, man,” I said to him. “Take this time to find yourself again.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” he shot back, pulling a stack of cash from his overcoat to pay for the drinks.

“Woah,” I said, noticing the two-dollar bill mixed in with his other cash. “I haven’t seen one of those in a minute.”

“Yeah, my wife gave this to me on our fifteenth anniversary,” he said. “Told me it would be good luck for us. Bitch.”

“I love $2 bills,” I told him. “My uncle used to give them to me when I was a kid.”

“Well, here you go,” he said, passing the bill to me. “Maybe you’ll find better luck with it.”

Cliff’s situation kept creeping into my head while I drove the three hours to see my love. She got a job at the turn of the year out of town, so I try to see her on the weekends when I can. I sank my hand into my jacket pocket, feeling the $2 bill. It brought angry thoughts to my mind. I just hit my joint and turn the radio up, blocking all negativity.

We made love that night, my lover and I. We squeezed out bodies together afterward, letting our sweat mix. We shared breaths between kisses. We traced the lines of our body with blind fingertips. We talked.

“Baby, my head is messed up,” I whispered to her.

“Why, darling?” she asked softly.

“This guy from the bar, Cliff, his wife was cheating on him after 20 years of marriage. He is such a happy, good guy. It makes me angry.”

“Oh, my lovely, I know you take pride in trying to help others by assessing their problems. But sometimes you have to let people work out their own messes. You can’t carry their baggage for them.”

“I know, baby,” I said, hesitating to let the next words out. “But I feel involved. He gave me something, a $2 bill. He said his wife gave it to him on their 15th anniversary, told him it would bring them luck.”

“Don’t let that bother you,” she said, stroking the back of my neck. “That could be like his absolution, him cleaning his hands of reminders of her. Just forget about that, and come to me.”

Coffee. Sunday morning equaled coffee. My girl and I met a friend at a quiet coffee house just outside the city. We ate scones, read the paper and talked about life.

“Martin just broke up with me,” our friend explained to us. “I don’t really care though. I’m not hurt by it. I put so much effort into that relationship and he didn’t reciprocate it at all.”

“You need to break free from comfort zones,” my girl said to her. “You knew him before you moved here and just got comfortable being around him.”

“Yeah, he never wanted to do anything anyways,” I said. “Just sit around a play videogames. Lame ass in my book.”

The conversation moved like a drunk, weaving from one topic to the next, until we decided to go look at some antiques at a nearby flea market. I wanted a coffee to go.

“That’ll be $3,” the barista told me, handing me the double cappuccino.

“I feel like an ass for having to do this,” I said, putting my debit card on the counter. “I have no cash. I hate when people use plastic for small purchases. So I hate myself for doing this. I just have a $2 bill, but this guy gave it to me in hopes that it brings me more luck than it did him. I can’t spend it.”

“A $2 bill, eh,” the barista responded. “Those are only lucky if you pass them along.”

That night we decided to get drunk, my girl, our friends and some of our friends’ co-workers. It was cold. We already drank a bottle of wine at the house and I wanted to get into the bar to keep my buzz alive.

A man saw me walking toward the bar, my long overcoat blowing in the frozen breeze. He crossed the street and came toward me.

“Hey man, you got any money to help me out, man,” he asked through chattering teeth.

Snot was running from his nose, forming a crust above his lip. His black skin was ashy and cracked along his knuckles. He was wearing jeans, black Nikes and a red sweatshirt. His elbow poked through a hole.

“I have no cash,” I said, patting at my pockets. “I just have my bank card, man. I wish I could help you.”

“I got to go to the hospital,” he said. “I have to be there for my girl. I need some money.”

I turned to walk away, half- listening to his plea. Then Cliff’s voice came into my head. His long face took over my thoughts. Then I heard the barista from the coffee shop talking to me. I turned around. I shouted at the guy, who was pacing the sidewalk with his cracked hands clutching his forehead.

“Yo, my man,” I shouted in his direction. “I just remembered. I have this two-dollar bill. A guy gave this to me and told me he wants me to have more luck with it than he did. Then a lady told me it’s not lucky unless I pass it along. So, here you go, man.”

The guy reached for the bill and clasped it tightly once the green paper touched his numb hands. I looked him right in the eyes. He smiled and took a long sniff, sucking some of the liquid back into his nose.

“Thank you, man. Thank you so much,” he said while turning to walk away.

I turned around and looked at my love standing on the sidewalk. She smiled at me.

“That was an amazing thing you just did,” she said. “You make me happy.”

I rested my arm around her shoulders and kissed her cheek, feeling her cold skin against my warm lips. I heard a voice echo from the distance.

“Seriously, man,” the voice shouted. “Thank you.”

Contact features reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].