By Matthew Guerruckey
Every time one of the other guys on the team hits a homerun, there’s a loud clink sound from the ball landing right on the sweet spot of the aluminum, but until that day I’d never heard a clink like that from my own bat. I knew it was a home run as soon as I’d hit it. I started jumping right there at home plate. Mr. Lenzini, the umpire, had to remind me to run the bases. If he hadn’t, I probably would have just stayed there all day, jumping like a shrieking moron.
As I ran past our first base coach, Kyle’s dad, he patted me on the back so hard I almost fell over. When I rounded third, I saw my whole team gathered around the plate cheering for me, even Coach Edwards, which was funny because I always thought Coach hated my guts, but he was more excited than anyone. I thought it would be like you see on TV, where the big hero jumps in the middle of his teammates and they lift him up onto their shoulders and carry him off the field, but when everyone surrounded me I couldn’t see home plate. I knew that if I didn’t touch it, it wouldn’t count, and we wouldn’t win. I pushed Bobby out of my way and tripped over Jeremy’s leg, then crawled on the ground to home plate and smacked it as hard as I could. My first homerun. A game winner.
After the game, some of the other guys went for pizza and some went to the arcade, but I decided to wait for my dad to get home to tell him all about it. He doesn’t usually come to my games, but we go lots of other places together, like the drag races in Upland. Sometimes he even takes me on golfing trips with his friends. The bags are pretty heavy and my dad and his friends are always smoking big cigars, but it’s fun.
It was three o’clock when I got home. Dad wouldn’t be home from work until about seven. When he got home, he’d want to sit in the den for about an hour, drinking Scotch and smoking cigars before dinner. Mom was working a double shift at the hospital, so I couldn’t bug her.
Since Dad was gone, I decided to go into his office.
I’m not allowed to go into the office by myself. Dad says that each piece of furniture in that room is worth more than my life. One time I sat in his black leather rolling chair and spun around so hard that the screws came loose. The chair toppled over, and I bruised my arm on the hardwood floor. That was probably the angriest I’ve ever seen my dad. He yelled at me, using his “big voice” louder than he ever had before. My mom had to tell him to stop.
I opened the office door. It creaked. Dad didn’t ever oil the door because he wanted to know if one of us—me, I guess—was sneaking into his “sanctuary.” There was a photo on the wall of Winston Churchill making the “V for Victory” sign, holding a cigar between his chubby little fingers. I liked that picture because he looked like a frog in a top hat. Next to Winston was a picture of a writer, who dad said was named Ernest Hemingway, yanking on the horns of some dead thing. When Dad had first told me who Hemingway was, he’d walked over to his bookshelf and given me one of Hemingway’s books, called A Farewell to Arms. He said I was probably still too young to understand it, but that all I needed to know about being a man was in that book. Later I looked up Ernest Hemingway online and found out that he killed himself with a shotgun. A shotgun! I asked dad about it, and after a long silence, he told me, “It’s tough being a man.” When I asked him what that meant, he said I’d understand when I was older.
I sat down in Dad’s chair, behind his big oak desk. There was a pile of coins on the edge of it. There was always a pile of coins somewhere in his office. He collected them, and made big money sometimes. This pile was mostly pennies. Dad always knew which ones were worth the most. I could only remember a few of the important ones that we’d found together, like this one time we found a Mercury Head dime. Dad was so happy that he laughed like a little girl—a sound I’d never heard him make before. He called up his friend Bob right away and said, “Bob, you’ll never guess what we found!” I liked that he said that “we” found it. Bob bought it for $9,000, so that was a pretty big deal. I was little then, and I didn’t understand how much $9,000 was. Dad said, “You know that five dollars you get for your allowance? Imagine that stretched out from here to the driveway.”
I sat in the chair for a bit, playing with the Newton’s Cradle on dad’s desk. Dad had let me bring it to Science class when we were talking about gravity and motion. He’d made me wrap it in bubble wrap, completely around five whole times, and then put it in a shoebox. When Mrs. McAllister was helping me take it out of the wrap, it fell on the ground. I didn’t want to tell Dad at first, but that night I felt so sick to my stomach with guilt that I confessed, even though you couldn’t see any marks on it.
After the rush of sitting in the office wore off, I started to get bored. I really wanted to talk to someone about the home run. I kept remembering little bits of it, like the vibration in my arms and hands afterward. I closed my eyes and could still feel the hum of the aluminum running through my whole body. Dad had warned me not to call him while he was busy at work, and I knew he was serious about it. All week he’d told me that he was preparing a big case. He’d been coming home late, and had fallen asleep at his desk each night, with his tie still on.
But maybe, I thought, if I could find a great coin in one of his piles, he might not mind me calling him at work. I scooped the coins toward me and sorted them by type and by year. There were a few quarters, and one big coin with a bald guy on it who I didn’t recognize. Most of them were from the 2000s, but there were a few from the 1970s. Still, nothing so great. The oldest penny was from 1969, the year we landed on the moon, so I set it aside. I can name all the astronauts that ever walked on the moon—there were twelve who made the walk, but none since 1972.
I grabbed a few of the more interesting ones and looked them up on dad’s computer. The old bald guy turned out to be President Dwight D. Eisenhower. I felt dumb not knowing his face, because I can name all of the presidents back until William Howard Taft. I get them jumbled up after that. Eisenhower was the oldest president and he was followed by the youngest, who was JFK, but Dwight’s coin wasn’t worth very much. Then I entered “1969 penny” into the search and got millions of results back. I found a site that said if it was the right kind of 1969 penny, one with a rare printing mistake, it could be worth up to $35,000, which was three times what we’d gotten from Bob for the Mercury Head Dime. Dad would definitely want to know about this, but I had to make sure I was right first. The instructions on the website said to look for a special mint mark—it should say “S”, which meant that the coin had been minted in San Francisco. Also, the word “Liberty” should look all jumpy and doubled. The coin in my hand was a perfect match. I knew dad wouldn’t want to talk about the home run, but this would stop him in his tracks.
I picked up Dad’s phone and dialed his work number. Someone picked up, a woman.
“Patrick Stevenson, please,” I said.
I thought by not giving my name I might surprise Dad, but when I got connected to him he said right away, “What’s the emergency, Sport?”
“How are you, Dad? Good day at work?” I asked.
“Kevin, buddy, I don’t have time for this right now. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s good. My game was today.”
“And, I, uh, I was in your office—”
“You were in my office? We’ve talked about this Kevin.”
“Yeah, I know, but you’re going to be super excited when you get home and see—”
“See what? You didn’t change anything in there, did you?” he asked. I could hear him talking away from the phone to someone there in his office. He was giving directions in his mad voice.
I listened to him but I couldn’t tell was he was saying.
“Kevin, I’m very busy today.”
“Yeah, but dad, I found a coin.”
“Please don’t look through my things, Kevin. I was saving that pile for tonight before dinner.”
“Okay, yeah, sorry, Dad, but I found something amazing. There’s this penny, Dad, and I looked it up online.”
“You were on my computer?”
I ignored that. “Dad, the website said the penny was worth $35,000.”
My dad laughed. “Listen, buddy, I know it’s easy to get excited about these things, but you’ll find that it’s rare that coins hit a payday like that. Coin collecting is about the long game, like I told you.”
“Yeah, but it’s got all the right marks on it, Dad. I think this is it. The website says it’s a Lincoln S-cent coin.”
Dad got quiet. I could hear someone talking to him, and dad told them to hang on a minute, just so he could talk to me. “Tell me what the markings are,” he said.
“It’s got weird double letters on the head side on everything except the mint mark. Everything else is all messed up, but the “S” is perfect.”
Dad was still quiet. There was a little clinking sound that I knew was from him taking his glasses off and stuffing them in his shirt pocket. He always did that at home, whenever he was thinking about something.
“Well, buddy,” Dad said, “you may have something there after all. How about that? You know, when I was your age I found an Indian Head penny from 1880, but your grandmother lost it before I got a chance to take it to the collector’s shop. I was never so angry with her, and I’ve still never found another one. Sometimes things like that only happen once in a lifetime, Kevin. Remember that.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I still wanted to tell him about my home run, but I didn’t want the moment to end. It was like one time when a rabbit ran through our backyard, then stopped right in front of me. We just stared at each other for ten minutes. I watched his little nose twitch. Then Dad came outside, and it ran off.
Dad cleared his throat and then he was his old self again. “Listen, pal,” he said, “we’re going to take a good look at that coin when I got home. Exceptional work, Kevin.”
I smiled. I knew the moment was over, so I made my big move.
“Hey Dad, I hit a homerun today. I was up in the last of the ninth inning and Jimmy Smith was pitching and I smacked it all the way over the wall—”
“Sure, very good. Listen, Kevin, I have to go now. I’m prepping a big case, but we’ll talk about that coin when I get home, okay?”
He hung up.
I stared at the phone in my hands for a long time, until the line started going doot-doot-doot-doot-doot. I put it down, but didn’t hang it up. It just kept making that noise, and I knew that it still would be when dad got home.
I spun in the chair, once, carefully. I slumped forward onto the desk and stared at the penny, but I didn’t care so much about it anymore. I looked at the photo on the website and then at the penny in my hand. They were the same. I looked around Dad’s office. There were no pictures of me, or of my mom or my grandma. Just old dead guys. Old dead things. Old dead books. I walked out of the room, and I didn’t even bother to close the door.
I walked out onto our porch. Next door, Kyle and his dad had just come back from the arcade. Kyle waved at me, and then they went inside. I clenched the penny tight in my fist. “Once in a lifetime,” he’d said. Then, before I even knew what I was doing, I threw the penny across the street as hard as I could. It landed on our neighbor’s porch with a far-away clink. I’d squeezed the coin so hard that I could see the outline of Abe Lincoln in the palm of my hand. But I couldn’t see the S-Mark.
When Dad got home I showed him another coin and told him I’d gotten confused. Then I promised him I’d never call him at work again.
Matthew Guerruckey is the founding editor of the online literary magazine Drunk Monkeys, and a fiction writer. His short fiction has previously appeared in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Connotation Press, Bartleby Snopes, Cease Cows, and The Weekenders Magazine. Matthew lives in North Hollywood with his wife, poet SC Stuckey, and their cats Harrison and Lennon. He is working on his first novel.