Pennies – by Robyn Gill, age 17
Scoil Chaitríona, Glasnevin, Dublin 9
I write you a letter in my head.
I tell you about my day.
I found seven pennies.
Find a penny, pick it up, and all day you’ll have good luck.
My mother told me that when I was little.
She didn’t realise that from then on I would walk with my eyes glued to the ground, scouring the pavement for little pieces of luck. I wanted all the luck in the world.
I drop the coins into a jar.
Seven more bits of luck.
I filled another one, right to the brim.
I tell you this in the letter in my head.
Of course, you know all about my pennies.
I imagine sending it to you, and you’re smiling when you read it, drinking in my words.
I decide to go for a walk.
I always walk with my shoulders hunched, my eyes fixed on the ground.
Nobody notices of course, that’s how nearly everybody walks around here, like the sky is weighing them down.
“This place is depressing,” you said, with a laugh.
You had only been here a week.
Think how I felt, living here my whole life.
Maybe, if this place hadn’t made you so sad, you might have stayed longer, something might have happened.
“This place is depressing,” you said, “At least you’re here.”
Did I imagine it or did your eyes linger on mine slightly longer than necessary?
Did you also feel the electricity when your hand brushed against mine?
Too many maybes.
Too many what ifs.
I walk down the main street.
Everything is grey.
The faded paint on the walls of the houses, long gone from the original white.
The patchwork pavement, with its cracks and potholes.
The boarded over shopfronts.
Even the bare trees seem to have a greyish tinge about their branches.
The people are grey too.
This place is depressing.
It wasn’t always like this.
When I was little, this street was lined with shops, bustling with people, flowers bursting out of the windows. People would stop on their way to wherever they were going. They cared about the journey, not just the destination.
They would get ice cream in the summer and sit on the benches and eat them, not rushing, not hurrying.
That was before the road got bypassed of course.
People loved the fact that time was taken off their journey. They forgot the small town full of friendly faces.
Shops closed, people lost their jobs and started leaving because there was no reason to stay.
They were the lucky ones.
The ones that escaped.
I head to the post office with its faded green exterior and peeling paint.
I buy a stamp.
I’m going to write you a letter.
Not just in my head.
It’s been two years since I wrote to you.
I miss it.
A letter arriving with a gentle thud on the mat.
Pages heavy with words and thoughts and dreams.
I learnt every little thing about you, you learnt everything about me.
Not quite everything.
I never told you how I really felt.
I was the one who ended it.
I was tangled up in my misery.
Maybe you would’ve helped me get through it.
You wrote me several letters.
I never replied.
I understand why you gave up.
I thought you might come to the funeral. Your aunt was there. She said you sent your sympathies.
Is two years too much time?
I sit down at my desk, pen in hand, hovering just above the sheet of paper.
I write your name on top, the gentle curve of the letters.
The blank page terrifies me. Two years’ worth of silence.
What if you’ve moved?
What if you aren’t living in the cute little apartment you described to me in such detail?
“Come with me,” you said, right before you left.
I thought you were joking, but then your whole face lit up. You had that look you get when you’re excited and your imagination starts to run away with itself.
“You could live with me. You could get a job or just write all day. Try and get something published. You’d love the city.
You’ve got to get out of this place.”
I thought about it. I really selfishly did.
How we’d cook dinner together and dance around the kitchen, the city drifting in the open window. The room full of laughter, and singing, and music blaring from the radio. We’d never have to end our conversations, I’d never have to watch you leave.
Falling in love would be inevitable, the only logical conclusion to our story.
But I wasn’t that crazy, that reckless, to run away with someone I had known only for two months.
“I can’t leave my mother,” I told you.
She needed me to take care of her.
Funny how I always used her as an excuse, even after she died.
I didn’t tell you that part of me was glad of the excuse. Glad I could stay curled up at home instead of embarking on an adventure.
Adventures held a lot of risk.
You nodded and shrugged your shoulders.
Of course, what else would you have expected?
Then you hugged me goodbye.
I thought about kissing you, but I was never that brave.
You walked out the door and I thought that was it.
The end of a summer of walks on the beach, eating ice cream in the rain. Of nights spent trying to unravel the meaning of life, so tired that we could barely express our thoughts, but it always felt as if we were on the verge of discovering something extraordinary. I would fight sleep, my drooping eyelids, just to spend another moment with you.
Summer dresses, and a sprinkle of freckles across your nose, our hair turning light in the unexpected bursts of sunshine.
The summer when we were the only two people in the world.
You came to spend the summer with your aunt.
But you spent it all with me.
And then came the autumn.
The leaves turning gold and life returning to its boring old self.
I guess it would have been if it wasn’t for the letters.
The unexpected arrival of a little piece of you through my letterbox.
An envelope filled with pennies and folded sheets of paper.
Slowly, I got to know you.
I fell in love with you through your words.
The thing about falling though, is that eventually you have to come crashing to the ground, and if there’s no one there to catch you, it hurts. You just end up broken.
I tell you this.
The words come tumbling out of me, eager to escape the confines of my mind.
I write the truth in this letter, what I’ve never said before.
I have all the luck I need.
Everything spills out on to the page and I write and I write.
I end the letter with the question that’s been bugging me for several years.
Is that offer still there?
Of course, I know that you might not want me moving in with you, not after everything that happened, after what I’m telling you. Maybe you’re living with someone else, or somewhere else.
But I have to ask, I have to know.
I have to get out of this town.
There’s no reason for me to stay anymore. No sick mother that needs taking care of. No excuses.
I need a new start.
Otherwise, I’ll be left living in the house that I grew up in forever. A house that is meant for a family, a house that reminds me of mum.
I want you to be happy, she said, a few days before she died. She knew it was coming. We all did.
I wouldn’t let myself be happy, I thought it would make me feel guilty. But I need to start being happy now, that’s what she would’ve wanted.
It takes me all night to write the letter.
I head upstairs to grab my coat, so I can walk around to the postbox before I change my mind.
I look at the jars that fill up my room, the luck I’ve been collecting since I was five years old.
The ones I found and collected, the ones my mum gave to me, the ones you sent to me in your letters.
I head out to the main street with my pennies and scatter them all over the pavement of this sad little town. So that when the people wake up in the morning they will look out their windows and see copper glinting in the sunlight instead of grey. So that they can walk down the road and pick up all the luck they need.
On the way home, I pass the old postbox.
Green paint chipping to reveal the red beneath.
I send you a letter.