Your Money’s No Good Here
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Alaska"
Originally featured on 04-15-2009
As part of our series "Where the Wild Words Are (Words Gone Wild!)"

Strange that they would print the face of a hundred dollar bill in the Tuesday newspaper, as a background to the text — someone in graphics has a sense of humor (and I kind of hope someone in graphics gets fired tomorrow). The article was talking about how the economic recession is affecting commercial fishing in the region or something — I didn’t read it. I couldn’t read it, especially after the pathetic realization hit me that I’ve never actually owned a hundred-dollar bill, let alone spent one. But that’s not the most pathetic part: for a second I caught myself wondering if I could cut it out of the newspaper and pass it off as legal tender. What would I buy with a hundred dollars?

Mandy, my sweetie, got her hours cut in half at the deli. She’s kind of freaking out. I told her to cheer up; least she has a job, right? I’ve been filling out aps for temp work, but they only call me like once a week to flag traffic around some road construction by the mall, or tear down drywall at the old video store that went belly up, and occasionally seal and stamp a crate full of letters at some insurance firm. Boring ass shit. I wish I worked at a deli; I’d make myself free sandwiches. Not like all the time, but, you know.

By the way, Mandy’s a nickname. Amanda Renee Pierce Laska. Now, Laska’s kind of a strange name, but before you can even swallow how strange it is, you’ve got like four other names to sail your tongue around. Mandy’s like that — getting to know her is like getting to know a whole bunch of people before you can know anything about Mandy…you know?

Renee sounds pretty and sweet. Then Pierce, like penetrating an earlobe with a needle. Sometimes she signs her name A. Laska. Kids used to make fun of her for that; sounds like the state. She might as well be an entire state. It’s always something new.

Like just the other day, she was pulling off her purple hoodie and I saw the tattoo on the small of her back. I never knew she had a tattoo, didn’t take her for the kind of person who’d get a tattoo. Crazy to think I’d never noticed it before, being right there on her body. I meant to ask, but she was talking about something else, then we were talking about something else, and I just forgot to mention it. The tattoo was of a one-dollar bill.

It’s like the gods who invent money are trying to tease me. It’s all around me and I can’t even afford the good kind of milk without the hormones, so I just buy beer instead. I don’t know that’s logical — I mean I’ve never really sat down and compared the prices — but beer doesn’t have TSD or whatever they call that radioactive stuff they give cows.

Mandy looks at me through the fish tank. I can’t tell if she’s angry or flirty or what she is because she just dropped food into the tank and Thor and Alexander (that’s what she named our goldfish — if it were up to me, I would have named them Kramer and Gladstone) are going ape-shit, water lapping up at the edges and whirling.

I love how Mandy’s face looks through two walls of glass and all that water at feasting time, it looks like someone in a dream, like when the alarm clock starts going off and you’re still asleep enough to not remember what an alarm clock is, it’s just a sound, except you know you’re being dragged somewhere else so you hold onto the face, trying to hear what it’s saying, or to finish what you’re telling the person, and even though you can’t hold on, it’s kind of a peaceful feeling, you know?

Mandy looks so pretty on the other side of that tank, with her curly bangs and red, glittery earrings shaped like chainsaws. Her daddy runs a logging business, got her those earrings when she was sixteen, and she still wears them because they’re hilarious.

She mumbles something through a mouthful of apple and peanut butter. I side-shuffle around the tank and bite the rest of the apple slice right out from her hand. She slaps me on the shoulder. I kiss her, pinning her arms to her sides as I smother peanut butter all over her neck. She knees me in the thigh. It hurts. She laughs.

“What were you saying?” I ask. We’re both standing there shoulder to shoulder, watching Thor and Alexander swim around. It’s cheaper than Netflix.

She goes to the kitchen and pours herself a glass of milk. “I said gas is back up to three dollars a gallon. Not that you’d care.”

“Why don’t you just ride the bus with me?” I’m scratching at an old lottery ticket. I don’t even buy lottery tickets, I just happen to have this one from like a month ago and I keep on scraping at the gray coating with a toothpick, scraping. It’s a stupid habit.

She puts the milk away. Before the fridge door closes, something looks strange about the milk carton, but it’s probably no big deal. She says, “You can’t have sex on a bus.”

My diaphragm contracts once, like my stomach’s trying to laugh and got stuck. “When have we ever done it in a car? Seriously, Mandy, I think I’d remember that.”

She sits on the counter and swings her legs, arching her weight back on her elbows. She looks kind of like an athlete, the way she sits on the counter. There’s humor in that, because that’s the only thing she does in an athletic manner. “Grow up. I’m not saying I want to fuck you in a bus, or any other mode of public transit. I’m just saying, if we wanted to fuck in my car, we could. Not that we ever will, but that’s the point of driving a car; it’s yours and you can do whatever you want in it.”

I was running out of coating to scratch off, so I was working the corners. The lottery card falls out of my hand. When I kneel down to pick it up, I notice the bottom of Mandy’s sock. Now this is just a little too uncanny; even for Mandy.

“What are you staring at?” She stops swinging her legs.

“Where’d you get those socks?”

She squints at me like I’m five years old. “What are you talking about?”

Does she not remember putting them on? Does she not remember buying them? Who the hell wears socks with a silk-screened image of a ten-dollar bill on the soles?

Then, remembering her tattoo, I go to the fridge and look at the milk carton.

 

The next day they’re everywhere. On brick walls, sidewalks, car windows, dumpsters, tattooed on everybody’s faces, even on the fur of stray cats. Tens, twenties, ones, fifties, they just keep springing up. I’ve got a couple on my left arm, and the purple bruise on my right ankle spreading up my shin looks like it’s taking on the visage of Ben Franklin.

FUCK

Mandy’s got the imprint of a quarter on her tongue — I noticed it the last time we kissed. I don’t think it’s sexy. As it just so happens, I’m one quarter short of a load of laundry, and my closet’s starting to stink — thanks for reminding me, babe. You can’t spend a kiss, and if you could, you wouldn’t spend it on something so cheap as laundry.

Nobody’s talking about the money thing, it just is everywhere. Go figure.

Even on the milk carton, like I expected, up near the top, slanted, stretched over the fold. Twenty-dollar bill on a three-dollar item. Maybe it’s just me, but, whoever would do that and think it’s funny, I think that’s rude. Like, sadistically rude. Like almost as rude as kidnapping your friend’s cat, putting it in the trunk of your car and doing donuts in a parking lot for half an hour. No, even ruder; it’s like that classic joke in junior high school where if you know that the pimply, bespectacled fat-ass in the back of the room has an overwhelming crush on Miss Patricia Popular cheerleader and that she’d never touch him with a ten-foot pom-pom, you write the poor chump a fabricated love letter forging her signature and tell him to meet you behind the football field after school, and then when he shows up with his shirt ironed and tucked in and his hair slicked and too much cologne dripping from the tendons twitching and trembling in his pudgy neck — cologne he borrowed from his older brother — he’s greeted by four of his primary male bullies jumping out of a tree to tackle him, hollering and laughing as they strip off all his clothes, beat him senseless and retreat, leaving him to crawl the grass in his nakedness, feeling around for the one lens of his glasses that’s not shattered, and then stumble home in tears, still fantasizing to himself that he’ll bump into Patricia Popular cheerleader on the sidewalk, she’d say what happened, are you all right, he’d say yeah, I’m fine, but his face will say otherwise, she’ll say you poor thing, come inside, I live right on the corner, let me fix you some hot chocolate, my mom doesn’t get home till six, and that the evening would culminate in a kiss that would encapsulate all the torment and misery of his existence into one moment of redemption and lustful triumph. Fuck money.

The only time money art doesn’t piss me off is when it’s on Mandy’s body.

The twenty-dollar bill on the milk is just the right size, and the color and consistency of the waxed cardboard somehow looks real. After Mandy went to sleep, I got a pair of scissors out of her desk and crept into the kitchen. Maybe this is justified, and maybe it doesn’t even matter. Except that I paused before making the first snip; I had to see what kind of milk Mandy bought. Because if the cows were treated with growth hormones, then I’m pretty sure something in me would disallow me to go through with this.

Sure enough, Mandy makes well-informed purchases, even after getting her hours cut. That’s why I love the piss out’f’r. She’s such an aristocrat in that way. Only the best, whether the best is in or out of her means. Maybe I like to think the same applies to her romantic selection; I’m a pretty studly piece of manliness, job or no job. Well, aren’t I?

In the morning, Mandy looks at me like I’m somebody else and I just might know where me is, but will only tell her if she asks nicely. She says, “What were you babbling about the other day? Something about my socks?”

I tell her, she holds up a normal sock, I say it’s not the same one, she shows me every sock in her drawer, I say why are we fighting? Then I ask her about the tattoo. Then she cries. It’s because she got her hours cut in half at the deli. That kind of shit makes her emotional. She doesn’t like to be touched when she’s upset. She likes to be cheered up in ironic, clever ways. So I walk behind the fish tank, stir the water and make a face.

Then I see the fish tank. Oh dear God, no. I noticed Alexander looked a little sick the other day, but- holy shit. That fleshy gray wad of mucus floating around in there that’s starting to take on the shape of a human face, particularly that of an ex president — I just can’t tell whose yet — with its flapping pink jaw and neck tapering down to a stunted tentacle flittering for buoyancy, that used to be Alexander. No, fuck that; Gladstone.

“Tanner, you need help.” Laughing excludes crying, and now she’s doing neither.

“Ride the bus with me.” I press my lips and teeth against the glass.

I have the urge to smash the fish tank with my fist and make a big huge mess.

Mandy puts her face up against the other side of the tank and says, “Meet me in the back seat of my car.” I’m not sure if she’s joking. I mean, I know she’s joking, I’m just not sure what part of it’s a joke, whether the premise of going to her car is a joke to begin with, or whether the joke is what she actually plans to do once we get to her car.

We look at each other through the tank, and I realize that there’s no baby money swimming around. There’s no quarter engraved on my girlfriend’s tongue. There’s no tattoo imprinting itself on my leg. If I go to the grocery store — like I was planning to do — and pull the milk-encrusted folded cardboard rectangle out of my pocket to buy a six-pack of Pabst, the cashier will look down at it and laugh. So I look at Mandy and laugh.

I say, “Really?”

She says, “Nah. Let’s just ride the bus.”

On the bus, she’s not looking out the window, but I am. We pass by a Shell station. Gas is down to two dollars and ninety cents a gallon.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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