Brooklyn, New York; 1967
In the middle of the sitcom “Love on A Rooftop,” Lenore, eight, announced she had swallowed a nickel. Her voice was low, her words measured.
Imogene rushed over. “Are you sure?”
Her sister nodded.
Imogene paced the living room, muttered, “How could this happen?” Regarding her younger sister on the sofa still watching Judy Carne, the eleven-year-old again probed, “Are you sure?”
Lenore smiled, slightly.
“Why? On the one night Mother and Dad go out!” Suddenly Imogene was speaking with an emergency operator. “I don’t know how it happened!” and “She’s breathing fine.”
She hung up, shut the TV, glared at Lenore. “You better not be making this up!”
“Because if you are…”
The doorbell rang. Two lanky young men in police uniforms were at the door. They probably hadn’t spotted the mold on the mezuzah.
“Is this the household with the coin swallower?”
“Yes, yes, oh God,” the older sibling responded.
Blond Policeman sat down by the unsteady kitchen table. Brunet Policeman stood nearby in the living room, examining the family’s antique, glass-doored bookcase. He seemed rooted there. Would he be nesting soon?
“Can I get you coffee?” asked Imogene. “Gum?”
“No, we’re fine.”
Brunet finally walked into the kitchen. He and Blond questioned Lenore about how she’d swallowed a “Buffalo nickel,” which she “collected,” and was “examining in the dark.” She “didn’t want to bother her sister” by turning on a light. When the eight-year-old held the nickel high, it tumbled from her left thumb and forefinger into her open mouth.
Blond: “Any trouble breathing since the incident?”
“No.” Lenore spotted a humongous water bug by the table leg closest to Blond. Would he notice?
Brunet asked the older sister their parents’ whereabouts.
“Oh, God… they’re at a PTA meeting, and were planning to eat out. They haven’t been out in years, and…”
Brunet: “Well, we need a family member over eighteen to tell us whether she’ll stay here or go to the hospital…”
Lenore gulped. She hadn’t been to a hospital since her tonsillectomy. They hadn’t given her ice cream afterwards like they promised. Just watery Jello. She wouldn’t go! She tried to stomp on the water bug as it neared. It sped away.
Imogene decided their parents should be called and brought home.
Dad grumbled that this was the first time in three years they’d gone out, and now they were back. Early. Mother wore makeup. The sisters knew not to look her in the eyes, hers with mascara, theirs not.
Blond told Mother and Dad that Lenore could get her stomach pumped in a hospital, or the collectible coin would come out the next couple of days if she ate fibrous food and drank lots of water.
Brunet admired out loud the glass-doored bookcase. Was it for sale? Dad and Mother shook their heads, no.
The parents let nature take its course. They didn’t yell at or spank Imogene or Lenore. Mostly Dad grunted; Mother favored silence.
Two days later a dusky Buffalo nickel was affixed to orange contact paper, accompanied by Dad’s funny words. This was taped to the door leading to the basement. Anyone who visited could read it. It hung on that door for a year.
Lenore had dreams involving Blond and Brunet till early spring.
Iris N. Schwartz is the author of more than forty works of fiction. Her literary fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including 101 Words, The Flash Fiction Press, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published widely, as well. Ms. Schwartz’s first short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth: And Other Stories, is scheduled to be published by Poets Wear Prada in Autumn 2017.