Loose Change by Madeleine Ruth Seltzer

I woke up thirsty. My tongue felt like someone had wrapped it with a sock. I stretched off the candy apple red pull-out sofa with only enough strength to swipe the liter of ginger ale from the coffee table. I plugged the opening of the green bottle with my mouth and chugged. Each gulp shrunk the plastic inward, until I finally came up for air, and the release popped the sides back out. The bubbles shimmied; the dancing drink put me in a momentary trance. It wouldn’t be long before I’d feel sick, then it would be time to find more of what makes me feel more like myself. I’d been dipping into pill bottles and puffing on mystical pipes since middle school, but it wasn’t until I found heroin that I started spinning down the drain.

Setting the generic soda back onto the chrome-edged glass coffee table, I looked around. The morning sun slanted through the skylight as if to showcase the knock-off Andy Warhol painting on the wall across from me. Mrs. Wilkins must have redecorated sometime in the last three years—I missed the coziness of the former living room where Sarah and I used to build couch forts as kids.

I wrapped the mint colored blanket around my slumped shoulders and stumbled outside with an unlit cigarette in one hand and a lighter in the other. I flipped my hood up, hoping the sun hadn’t seen me yet, not ready to be exposed. Succulents and smooth stones bordered the patio, they blended in to the paving stone walkway cold beneath my bare feet. I hesitated before lighting the cigarette. I stroked my bumpy, broken out face. Then I looked at my hands. My fingers were filthy, the white part of my nails caked with dirt. I pushed down on the lighter and watched the orange flame appear. Then I touched it to the end of my Marlboro Red 72, and I drew in the first drag. I could only afford the short ones. I expelled the smoke, expecting to feel better than I did.

After I finished the cigarette it would be time to start moving. My legs were beginning to feel dead. Sarah’s mom came home from her shift at the hospital around 10:00 a.m., and I knew she didn’t like me staying here, even if I’d only been there since last night. When we arrived, her mom urgently signaled to speak privately with Sarah, but I overheard her whispering.

“Are you sure everything is alright with Maddie?” Sarah’s mom asked. “She looks very thin, and when I spoke to Patricia a couple months ago she told me she hadn’t been home in weeks.”

“I don’t know, I saw her sitting on a curb and it was getting darker and colder, what was I supposed to do?” Sarah’s tone reminded me of the nights in elementary school where she protested for me to sleep over. This was different now because I knew I wouldn’t be going home if she said no.

“Alright. Just make sure she leaves when you go to work. I don’t want her in the house alone.”

Sarah was pretty straight, she smoked a little weed, nothing crazy. We met in Mrs. Haskell’s third grade class at Canyon Elementary in Santa Monica Canyon, California. She had transferred from a small, private, Catholic school after Sarah’s dad left them. Once we discovered one another hiding from a game of Capture the Flag we were inseparable. We weren’t alone anymore.

When she’d seen me at the Mobil Mart last night, she asked if I needed a place to stay. Even though she’s one of my oldest friends, I hadn’t seen or talked to her for two years. I’d either stopped talking to all of my old friends, or they’d stopped talking to me—I can’t really remember. Even my younger brother avoided me. After I was arrested for smoking pot at Pali High, he was so humiliated that any time a teacher asked if I was his sister, he denied it. My parents had made it a point to tell me about how ashamed of me Seth was back when I sort of lived at home during my senior year. Now, three years later, I don’t even visit. We might all live in Pacific Palisades, but my family seems far away. I don’t really need them anymore. And they made it pretty clear that the household environment was much less chaotic without me.

Using my teeth as tweezers, I bit away the dry skin around my cuticles. I sucked on my index finger until I tasted pennies. Pulling it out of my mouth, I watched a red dot blossom, the blood spreading like petals, then I put my finger back in my mouth like a lollipop. I started sneezing, so I knew I was fucked. My fingers and toes were so cold they could’ve fallen off. These classic withdrawal symptoms reminded me I had a little more dope hidden in one of the secret spots I’d sewn into my purse. I stomped out my cigarette and stuffed it into my jacket pocket. The stench of the smoke followed me as I walked back inside. Sarah’s mom would have to air the house out when she came home, maybe even replace all her lemon-scented Glade plug-ins for newer, fresher ones.

I flipped my hood up again and snuck into Sarah’s room where she was still sleeping, and scanned the area for any cash. After pocketing about three dollars’ worth of loose change, I found two silver rings on her dresser; they’d been marked with the 325 stamp so I knew they were legit and I stuffed them into my bra. I held myself there for a moment. With the jewelry in my bra, cold against my skin, I couldn’t help but look around. This time I wasn’t looking for what I could steal.

Barely anything had changed since six years ago. Even the ‘N Sync poster of Lance Bass still hung on the wall next to her pillow, so when she rolled over, he was next to her. I’d spent every other weekend within these walls, all the weekends when Sarah wasn’t sleeping at my house. I remembered those nights, playing with the Ouija board, summoning spirits, and telling secrets to the dead. We were constantly dreaming about what was going to happen next. After high school, we were both going to move to New York. I was going to be a lead singer in an all-girl rock band and Sarah wanted to be a ballerina. I wondered if she still danced. I knew what went wrong for me, but why wasn’t Sarah where we’d hoped she’d be? I looked out the window as if I were looking into the past. Rather than the small rectangular patch of lawn, I could see the pool in the backyard of my parents’ house, one of the many places where Sarah and I had spent so much of our time together. After I squinted the vision came into focus. There we were, sunbathing on the two chaise lounges my mother had special ordered from a boutique in Sante Fe.

“What do you think about the name The Bell Jars for a band name?” I said to Sarah as I peeked over the Teen Vogue magazine I was reading by the pool in my backyard.

“I don’t know, I feel like it’s pretty cliche,” she said as she slipped a No Doubt CD into the slit of the stereo’s mouth. “What about something like Cake Knife?” Her toenails were painted ballerina pink with white polka dots. She dipped her big toe into the pool and expelled a squeal from the cool, cold, water.

“That’s so random,” I said. We giggled and she jerked her foot out of the water, splashing me.

“Speaking of random,” Sarah said. “That kid Nick in my English class asked me if I could get him some Xanax.” Her face straightened out. Sarah had been vocal about her disdain for drugs before, especially when I did them, which is why I stopped around her.

“Why did he ask you that?” I had just sold him some before she came over.

“He said, since you and I are friends, I would know where to get it.” Her eyes were filled with tears. “Are you still taking that shit?”

“No,” I lied. “I promise.”

Blinking, I turned away from the window, away from the past. I studied her as she slept. Aside from her much blonder hair, she looked the same to me, yet her name tag for Church’s Chicken, sitting on the night stand told me she wasn’t. Next to the name tag sat a raw piece of turquoise—rough and cold—I couldn’t believe she still had it. Holding my breath, I stepped forward to swipe it. I let the stone rest in the center of my palm, and I was surprised by how heavy and how light it was all at once. It was both the color of water and of vegetation—a color I wished I could mainline into my body so I could feel alive again. I think I was hoping Sarah would wake up so I could put it back, make a joke about how I couldn’t believe she’d held onto it since that day in Black Market Minerals, but she didn’t wake up, and the weight of the stone took me back in time again.

It was the summer before sixth grade, and we scooped up different colored gems and let them sift through our fingers before we each picked one stone. I chose a rose quartz and lost it a few weeks later. I looked at Sarah wishing I could hold onto things the way she could. Especially the important objects. She kept sleeping, so I pocketed the turquoise, careful not to put it in the same one with the stinky cigarette butt.

Tony would be waiting for me which meant I had to get going. He usually showed up at Ralph’s Market right on time for his breakfast forty ounce. Tony had what I needed, and he wasn’t so bad, he had stories for days. He liked to tell me about the yellow Corvette he’d owned a decade before, as well as his crazy day trips to Mexico. He was a good guy. If I didn’t have the cash, like today, he would let me make it up to him. Sometimes he gave me his grocery list and his food stamps so I could help replenish his kitchen. Another time I washed his hair for him in exchange for a gram. I was starting to feel shittier by the second—I had to get high soon.

I tiptoed to the kitchen and grabbed a spoon, and then another one. It seemed like I was always searching for one, so I took them whenever I could. I was caught in a ribbon of sunlight shining in through the kitchen window and this time when the past came flooding back, I tried to soak the memory up. Sarah’s mom had once liked me. Back when I was younger and I’d stay over, in the mornings the sun would stream in like this and she’d make us toaster waffles, but she would heat up the maple syrup on the stove and cut up the waffles into bite size pieces for us, even when we were in middle school. Once she’d bandaged my knee after I’d crashed my bike out front. She’d always seemed ashamed of this house, but particularly the kitchen. She constantly apologized for the lack of space. “Someday,” she’d tell me and Sarah, “I’m going to redo this 70’s style paneling, get rid of these awful flower decals on the cabinets, and pull up this tacky tile.” I was glad the flowers were still there, but I was also sad because I knew I’d never see them again.

Before I left the house I took one last twirl around the living room. I felt like I was trying to shed whatever parts of my old self still clung to my body. In every room and in every chair sat a memory of different version of myself, one I did not recognize anymore. I pushed down the desire to return realizing I wasn’t worthy of a second chance. Then I grabbed my sack of a purse and headed out. As I quietly shut the front door behind me, turning the lock so I couldn’t change my mind, I also reached into my pocket with my other hand and squeezed the turquoise piece of Sarah. I held onto her like this as I walked away and I didn’t let go until I stepped into the Ralph’s parking lot and saw Tony leaning against the brick wall.


Madeleine Ruth Seltzer finds her inspiration through her memories, imagination, nature, mind, and body. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California but currently lives in Colorado. She attends CU Boulder where she double majors in literature and gender studies. Her short story “Dirty” was recently published in the 2017 Plains Paradox.


Issue Contents

From the Editor

Garment Bag

Pressed quietly between infrequently worn jeans and the wall of my bedroom closet was a garment bag. It had been there for exactly two years, seven months, and 12 days, but who’s counting? I extracted it from the closet and pulled the plastic up around the hanger and looked at the dress. It was familiar, yet foreign in the same way that the freckles on my back are foreign.

Sliding it from the hanger, fabric splashed onto my bed in a puddle. Bits of material folded erratically like white caps blowing across the bay on a windy afternoon. Which seemed appropriate. The dress is a storm...

[Continue reading...]

Contents

On Being Cherry

After being stood up on my first real date, I didn’t think much about boys until Terry, the fast girl in our clique, announced her brother...

Act One

There is a mystical association, dating back at least to the Dark Ages of the 1950s, with a girl's sixteenth birthday. It is the gateway…

Like a Hawk

I am reading on my front porch, relaxing when I get her text: “You broke my chair.” Instantly, my stomach knots, my hands quiver...

Loose Change

I woke up thirsty. My tongue felt like someone had wrapped it with a sock. I stretched off the candy apple red pull-out sofa with only…

Nineteen

It’s a random Tuesday, and I’m working swing shift at the county jail. My radio squawks. I tilt my head to my shoulder to hear the traffic…

Audition

My only companion was a large, ancient furnace resembling a grotesque, sooty snowman. Each day when it was time to…