NEW YORK SOUVENIR
by Luke Bandy
Fred held the copper coin in his fingertips. Its color almost matched his hair and its value matched how he felt about himself. He tightened a grip on the penny as he prepared to throw it over the edge of the Empire State Building.
The autumn wind cut through Fred. He regretted not listening to Mrs. Merkel when she told the class to wear warm clothes. But Fred hated the way he looked in his winter coat, so he stuck with his jean jacket. He felt like an idiot shivering on the cold observation deck. Feeling stupid was normative for Fred, though.
The tall barrier that ran around the deck had Plexiglas walls. It blocked some of the wind, but Fred his was still outside. And being over 1,000 feet in the air made it worse. At least, Fred thought it got colder the higher you were. He wasn’t good at science or any other subject for that matter.
Over three hours ago, Fred had ditched the class trip. Mrs. Merkel’s itinerary didn’t match his own. She had them visiting Time Square and taking the Stanton Island Ferry. Then seeing Dear Evan Hanson, a musical Fred had never even heard of.
That didn’t surprise Fred, though. He didn’t know many musicals. He wasn’t even sure why he signed up for music class. All his music knowledge came from his Dad listening to his old Springsteen records. But he heard that Betty Rogers was taking music, so he decided to take music. Turns out Betty Rogers moved before the semester ever began.
That left Fred singing with the school choir in the Christmas show. It wouldn’t be all that bad, but everyone had to wear elf ears and matching hats. Fred hated how the rest of the class was so excited to sing and dress up. All he wanted to do is go home, turn on his PS4, and kill things.
It was the only thing Fred was good at. His Dad would shout that he was wasting his time. That Fred should be studying, but Fred had heard that so much, it became white noise. He figured in three years he may enlist and get to kill things in real life, but he was hoping to kill even sooner.
Fred planned to sneak away from the group the moment Mrs. Merkel announced their New York City trip. If he was going to New York, he was going to leave an impact. He was going to throw a penny off the Empire State Building. The coin would spiral down 86 six stories and hit a random person, killing them in an instant. No one would ever know Fred did it except Fred.
The second the class was off the bus Fred looked for a moment to get away. New York was so busy that is was easy to fade into the crowd and make his way to the Empire State Building. He used the money he stole from his Dad to buy a ticket to the observation deck.
He had been standing in the same spot for over two hours, imagining what would it would be like. The small copper circle drilling through the top of someone’s skull. Blood would spray onto nearby pedestrians. No one would know what had happened right away. Then the shock would hit everyone. There would be screams to call 911 and ‘is anyone a doctor?’ And it would be all because of Fred.
Fred clutched the coin in the palm of his hand until his knuckles turned white. He pulled back his arm like a fastball pitcher, making sure to aim up so the penny curved over the barrier. He held himself there and took a deep breath.
“Nice pose, Roger Clemmings. You trying out for the Yankees?”
Fred dropped the penny as he snapped up straight. The coin rolled on its edge until it hit a white sneaker. A girl dressed in a pink tracksuit and white winter coat bent down and picked it up. She had olive skin and mole on her right cheek, but that didn’t take away from her attractiveness.
She held the penny in her hand and examined it like it should be more than a penny. Fred stiffened as she locked eyes with him. She walked closer, and he could smell the jasmine in her perfume. Her warm hand grabbed his wrist, opened his clenched fist, and placed the dirty coin into his palm.
“You dropped this,” she said.
Fred knew this looked bad. He stared at the penny in his hand and waited. She popped her gum as he remained silent.
“Why you looking like I killed your dog or something?”
Fred didn’t answer. He was in shock that she wasn’t turning him in, but also because he didn’t understand her accent at first. Was this how people from New York talked?
“Hey kid,” she snapped her fingers in front of his face. “What do you want me to do? Read your mind?”
Fred had to look up at her. She was an intimidating full head taller than him. Also, she looked like she was a couple of years out of high school. Fred had problems talking to girls his own age. Now he was stuck facing a possible college girl that could have him arrested.
“What the hell were you just doing?”
“Nothing.” Fred looked at the ground like a two-year-old scolded by his mother. The girl looked at the city skyline and blew a bubble with her gum.
“It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it?”
Fred looked at the buildings. They towered over the streets below them. It was a sea of steel and concrete until it met the blue water in the distance. Fred was so lost inside his head that he never noticed how amazing New York looked from where he was standing.
“Yeah, you. Who in the hell else would I be talking to?”
Fred had forgotten he was wearing a shirt with horror movie maniacs patterned into a skull. Not great for first impressions.
“Oh, yeah. I like horror movies.”
“Not me. Can’t stand the sight of blood. Where you from?”
“Oh yeah? Pittsburg? Philly? I’ve got family in Pittsburg.”
“Scranton? Like that TV show?”
“You know? The one with the dumb ass that runs an office.”
“Oh, you mean ‘The Office.’”
“Really? That’s what it’s called? So, unoriginal. My big brother watched it all the time, but I didn’t get it.”
“It’s good. It’s the only thing Scranton is known for.”
“I believe that. Driving to Pittsburg to see my Aunt Greta makes me want to blow my brains out. Nothing but trees between here and there.”
A cold wind swept through the observation deck. Fred squeezed his arms together and stuffed his hands into his jacket.
“Where’s you’ coat? You gotta be freezin’.”
Fred shrugged and fought back shivering.
“God, I wish I could smoke up here,” she lamented. “I’m Samantha, by the way.”
“So, what were you really doing, Fred? You going to throw that penny?”
Fred didn’t say a word, and Samantha laughed.
“Ah, I fucking knew it. First, the wind would of blown it right back in your face. Second, it wouldn’t kill anyone even if you did get it over the barrier.”
Fred worked at the puzzle forming in his mind. Everyone knew that a penny from the Empire State Building would kill someone. That was common knowledge. He could have sworn he heard it class one time.
“But nothing. It was on Mythbusters. Ever watch that? I think I learn more from that show than college.”
“College. It is a waste of time if you ask me, but my mother says I got to get a degree because she never had the chance to get one.”
“No, the penny. It won’t kill a person?”
“Yeah, that’s bullshit. Plus, the chance of it actually hitting somebody is like a billion to one. You’d have a better chance winning the lotto.”
Fred wore a mask of dejection.
“There you go with the sad puppy look again. Why in the hell are you upset?”
“I guess, I thought…” Fred didn’t finish. Saying it aloud would expose the ridiculousness of his idea.
“What? You thought you were going to kill someone?” She said it like she was reading a teleprompter. It was like she met screwed up people like Fred every day.
“I think there’s something wrong with me,” he said.
“There’s something wrong with everyone,” Samantha laughed. “I got a cousin, Arty. One time I took a look at his search history. Two words. Tentacle porn.”
“I don’t know. It’s something like an alien octopus raping school girls. It’s hard to describe. You’ll have to look it up.”
“But I was hoping to kill someone.”
“Were you really?”
“I don’t know. I imagined that I wanted to.”
“But you didn’t. If you wanted to, you’d plan it out better. I mean, I imagine killing my boyfriend all of the time, but I never do.”
“Killing your boyfriend?”
“Oh, don’t get moody. You never had a chance with me.”
“No, not that.” Fred balked. “Killing. I think about it all the time. I hate everything. I hate being stupid. I hate my classmates. I hate my Dad. And I think about killing people. The worst of it…I don’t know why.”
Samantha grabbed the front of his denim jacket and pulled her towards him. Fred went rigid as she pushed her lips against his. The closeness of her body made him less cold. He tasted the bubble gum on her lips. Fred relaxed and let her kiss him.
When she pushed him back, he discovered her gum in his mouth. He didn’t chew, but let it sit between his teeth.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“You’re being a buzzkill. I come up here to get away.”
“Well, I probably wouldn’t choose here to get away if it wasn’t for free. My father works downstairs.”
“But you kissed me?”
“And it shut up all that agnsty murder shit you were spouting. You’re not a killer. You’re just some kid that needs a girlfriend. Lie about your age and get on Tinder.”
“That and see your school counselor. It’s free mental health care. Use it while you have it.”
Fred took Samantha’s gum out of his mouth and held it in his finger. She looked at it and smiled.
“Consider it a souvenir of your time in New York.”
An unrecognizable ringtone chimed from inside of Samantha’s coat. She pulled out her cellphone and answered.
There was a pause as she listened.
“Well, that’s not my fucking fault. Tell Terry to do.”
“Okay. Alright. Chill the fuck out. Nice meeting you Fred,” she said to him and went back to her call. “Don’t worry about who Fred is. Mind your own fucking business.”
Then Samantha turned and walked away. A string of swears faded as she turned the corner. Fred stood alone, holding a penny in one hand and his New York souvenir in the other.
About the Author:
Luke Bandy is a world traveler, teacher, and storyteller. He will have his story “Sunday the 15th” published in the April 2018 issue of Ink Stains. Luke is a graduate the Long Ridge Writers Group
and has earned his Master’s in Secondary Education. Recently, he returned from Prague where he taught English and creative writing. He now resides in Baltimore, MD.