Every Penny

While helping clean her room, I slide any change I find lying on the floor into my hip pocket. I admit to swiping it, fringe benefits, I say. The next morning, I return it to her (it hadn’t amounted to much) to make up her bus fare. I tell her about searching for coins down the side of the sofa when I was a child, that there was no such thing as spare change scattered anywhere back then, certainly not on one’s bedroom floor. Every penny mattered when I was young, I say, and she looks at me as though I’m something in a museum cabinet – perhaps I am. Listen, I say, listen to me tell you how things were back then.

A brown, fake-leather sofa sits by the front window. The arms of the sofa are peeling, it reminds me of the bark of one of those trees I don’t know the name of, the silvery-white ones. I can’t help picking at the arms and making it worse. Mum says I have it looking like a bald man’s head, and it’s a disgrace, and we could have had another year out of it, had I not destroyed it. She says she’d love a real leather sofa, but it would cost a fortune.

When I’m sick and kept off school, I’m allowed to take a pillow from the bed and lie on the sofa with a big blanket over me, it’s very comfortable. It has three cushion seats and two cushion upright backs, all of which can be removed. Sometimes I pile them up into a tower and balance on top of them so I can almost touch the ceiling. When Dad comes in, he laughs. When Mum comes in, she tells me I’m going to break my leg and I have that sofa ruined, and Dad stops laughing, and says she’s right.

When I stand up onto the sofa, I can see out onto the street. There aren’t many cars, not in 1980, but there are plenty of people coming and going. There’s Mrs Hull pulling her shopping cart and waving at me. She is Kerry’s granny; she lives with Kerry and John and Andrew and their mum and dad, up the road. She is a lot more smiley than my granny.

If I want to go to Wilson’s shop, nearby, to buy sweets with Kerry (because her granny gives her money all the time), and Mum or Dad says I’ve already had my pocket money, then I go to the sofa, pull off all the cushions, slide my hand down one side, then the other, then down the back, and I usually find a coin or two. Because I am so small, I can fit my whole arm – right past my elbow – down to the bottom and feel along for two pence pieces. If I’m lucky, I’ll find five pence. Ten pence and I’m bursting with excitement. Best to excavate after we’ve had visitors – that’s when there’s a better chance of something good, of something silver. Dad never sits on the sofa, he has a special Dad chair, but if he sees me find anything, he claims it as his.

Sometimes Mum and Dad’s friends come over on a Friday night and we’re all made go to bed early, which I don’t mind, because I get up early on a Saturday to go through the sofa, panning for gold. One week, I find thirty pence after the Murrays and Darbys have been. I once get a fifty pence piece, but I make the mistake of telling Mum, who says I must put it into the collection box for Africa, as it’s Lent. It nearly kills me to put it in the box, but she gives me ten pence when I do, and I call for Kerry, and off we go to Wilson’s for white mice and penny chews.

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