A Quarter for Delores
I have swallowed a quarter. I am thirty eight years old and I have let a thin sliver of nickel and copper slide down my throat. I was tossing the thing up, sliding the face over my thumb nail and flicking it up while lying on my back. I craned my neck to avoid the coin and the piece shot right to the back of my throat. I had enough time to consider my life, this studio apartment in this very tall building, the cheap desk I’d recently spent the sunniest day in weeks building, the doilies that I’ve used for coasters that do more damage to the raw wood block I have for a table than what the nice cork ones I could have purchased would have done. I had the quarter between my thumb and forefinger, holding it while lodged there in the entryway to my throat, still on my back, but it was already too wet to keep the grip, so down into my pipes it slid.
I am afraid to bring myself to the hospital. I am afraid that the moment I get up and start to walk that the quarter will position itself to perfectly block whatever tube it is in leading to my stomach. I call my mother’s number. She is not at home, or not near the phone, is in fact on another continent, I am now remembering, with her new husband, on a safari. I call my sister whose arms are full of children in a city that is not mine.
I dress for my funeral. When I spill feces into my underwear after doubling over from not breathing somewhere across 78th street I don’t want someone digging through my drawers looking for more appropriate clothes to dress the body in. You are alone, I tell myself. You will walk maybe thirty steps before you clasp at the air, reaching like a clown towards the sky. And there I will fall, doubled over, not holding my neck, but my stomach where the world of my inside pipes is divided by George Washington’s wigged head and what, a stalk of wheat or something?
I write a note:
I Delores Ponce have swallowed a quarter. I masterbated this morning, for the last time, with a small clitoral stimulation device. Before I climaxed I pictured a man on horseback reading a map with no words. On the map was a picture of me, the lines under my eyes were rivers, my nose was a mountain, my eyes: lakes. In the man’s hands was his erect penis. The man was looking at my picture as the sun set behind him, his leather saddle glistened in the amber light. Please take the keys from my pocket and loot my apartment. Throw away this device that has kept me apart from other human contact all these years. I have gone to it too frequently, while never getting close enough to the sun, or the warm saddle of a gentleman’s horse.
I fold the note and place it in my front dress pocket, smooth the dress over my body and head to the hospital. Though I am sure I will be dead momentarily I stop across the street at a bar that I’ve only looked in and have never entered. A tall man dries a curved glass behind the counter. He nods to me and says nothing. I realize I am afraid of ordering a drink, that maybe the liquid will move the quarter into the inevitable blocking position.
“I have swallowed a quarter,” I say, almost proudly. “Do you have -”
“You what?” asks the barman.
“I swallowed a quarter,” I reply, “I think I should go to the hospital.”
“I will call a cab,” says the barman.
“A cab?” I ask.
“I swallowed a quarter when I was a kid,” he says. “You’ll be alright.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
“Lady,” he says, like a cowboy from a dream, “You just walked into my bar.”
“I am not going to die?” I ask him.
“Nah,” he says, “you’ll be fine.”
The barman pours me a drink with a lemon twist that tastes and looks like cough syrup. I wait for the cab. Before I leave I reach into the front pocket of my dress and slide the note that I’ve written across the bar with the keys to my apartment. "In case I don’t make it," I say, "just follow the note." I exit the bar with the dream of him sitting upright in my bed when I return. In my head I see a plate filled with a pyramid of quarters. I imagine the now familiar taste of copper and nickel in my throat. I picture my hand reaching out, pinching the coins off the pile one by one, placing each delicately in the back of my throat, swallowing every quarter until he shows up.