Not In Kansas

She looked at the nickel sealed in plastic and she could hear herself repeating, “I cannot resign myself. I am utterly unable to resign myself.” It was a phrase from a Hemingway short story, about an army officer whose young wife died. In the story tears run down his cheeks. But her cheeks stayed dry. She was all out of tears. The indian head nickel in the plastic was the last thing of her father’s she had. The last thing. She had resigned herself. She had utterly resigned herself.

She put the coin in the plastic in her pocket, closed her car door, and walked toward the small coin shop she’d found in a telephone book listing. It was more than an hour north of Santa Barbara, but the old guy on the phone seemed for real. The last coin freak she talked to tried to price her phone number into the deal. She walked out. This was bad enough having to unload this little relic without a lot of static.

Her dad has always told her this nickel, with the buffalo on one side and the Indian head on the other would be “worth something someday.” She hoped he was right. It was someday. She needed first month’s rent and a deposit and housing in Santa Barbara wasn’t cheap. Her research on the coin made her confident she could ask for $1500. She’d take $1250. It was the last thing she had from home. The last thing.

It had taken forever to work her way to graduate school. She worked her way across the country stopping along the way at a small college long enough to get an associate degree. Then a transfer to a state school, then an application to the University of California. The fellowship helped. She wouldn’t have to work anymore to pay tuition; but she still had other bills to pay and the debt she’d picked up too. The little circle of copper and nickel would have to be stretched pretty far to cover her startup costs for the move, but she felt confident about what she had.

“Let’s see what you’ve got there,” the old guy behind the counter said. It was a pretty shabby little shop.

“It’s a 1926 indian head nickel,” she said. “Minted in San Francisco and it’s in uncirculated condition.”

“Oh, it is, is it?” he said coyly. “Well, I’ll have to take a look.” He smiled as she pushed it across the counter. He held it up to the light. “Where did you get it?”

“My dad,” she said.

“Sentimental value, right?”

“No,” she said. “No sentiment, just the money.”

He looked at her skeptically and put the coin down between them. She readied herself for a comment about him having a daughter her age or something.

“The thing that amazes me about coins,” he said, “Is how far they travel, how many fingers they pass through, and machines. Thousands of miles, maybe even millions of fingers, so many that the mint mark wears down.”

“But this one is almost perfect,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s the amazing part. Something like this gets set aside and kept, held onto, like someone never wants to let it go. Keeps it away from all those fingers, all that human contact. There’s only one reason someone does that.”

“Greed?” she asked.

“No,” he answered. “Sentiment. Feelings. Yeah. It’s worth something. But how much are feelings worth.”

“You’re selling it for me,” she said. He laughed at that.

“Yes, I am,” he said. “How much do you want for it?”

“I’ll take $1,500.”

“Sold.”

He counted out the money for her and put it in an envelope.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Now this is just from an old guy,” he said. “And this may be the last thing on your list of things you’re selling, or giving up. But just remember, always keep something. Hang on to something, no matter how far you have to go. Just one thing.”

She looked at him, and thanked him again.

By the time she got to the car she felt regret. She wanted to go back. It took her a long time to start the car. She remembered a poem she’d read somewhere,

And they stop
Because to go any further
Would mean they had a place to go
And the path is less a path now
Than just a strip of field.