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The Smell

The wad of money is just sitting there, for everyone to see, right on top of the television. I’ve walked past it ten times after noticing it, and with each pass I come closer to putting it in my pocket.

After all, my mother taught me to guard my money, and you damn sure wouldn’t find it just lying about my home, wadded up and thrown aside. Those green scraps of paper were mighty scarce around our house, so I think there was probably something hard-wired in my brain when it came to loose money. My mouth is horribly dry. I down another beer and walk past the money again.

Some chick in the kitchen is giggling at a man’s muffled wit, and they have no idea I’m even here.

There is probably four hundred bucks there. Maybe more.

Bob Marley’s sweet rasp floats up from the stereo, singing something about buffalo soldiers. I don’t know, I’m not really listening. I’m thinking about that money. Someone walks by me on their way to the kitchen, brushing up against my clammy arm. I could definitely rip someone’s throat out for money, that much I’m learning about myself.

I drink a few more, maybe three or so in all, leaving me buzzed, but just on the verge of a tired headache. I walked in this evening stressed out about work, and fresh from an argument with my girlfriend about our inability to pay the rent this month. — That cash — I just stare at it, glance to each side. With a quick yawn, stretch, and a flick of my wrist, I grab the bills and stuff them in my pocket. I knock a remote control to the floor and the cover pops loose, sending batteries scattering across the carpet. Sweating, I’m not sure whether to pick it up or act like I didn’t see it. I think there were twenties in there. My heart is pounding. I feel a sick adrenalin guilt, but this is more money than I’ve probably ever seen in one place. I need to get out of here.

I swig the last of my beer and head for the door. Everyone else is so busy laughing with that jackass Nate, they won’t even see me leave. I’ll make up something later, for now I just need out. I pass through the entryway, grab my jacket, and slowly turn the doorknob. The hinges creak, and for a moment I silently curse the inventor, janitor, and squirt can over at WD-40. Someone’s coming up the front steps. It looks like Dan, the guy that I just met upstairs, but I can’t see faces when I’m stealing. I mumble something stupid about checking for snow, and shut the front door. He heads back through the house to join the others.

Someone’s going to notice the money is missing. I wonder if I can squeeze out the bathroom window.

There’s a small bathroom on the ground floor, just to the left of where I’m standing, with a thick yellow rug that might mask some noise, and a huge casement window behind the toilet. Nah, that’s asking for trouble. I walk past the hallway that leads to the kitchen, and to the side door. There’s nobody around. I can open this door and run, if I have to. I squeeze the knob and carefully twist, and this door makes a horrible squeal as it opens. I turn to see if anyone notices, but the laughter continues from the kitchen, oblivious.

My money pocket is throbbing. I can’t feel my legs.

I pull the door shut behind me and take long strides toward my car, wincing at the crunch my feet make in the lingering snow. A few houses down, a large dog starts bellowing, and my heart flops around in my ribcage. Wheezing, I  climb in my car and turn on the dome light to count my dough, but something’s horribly wrong. I straighten the crumpled paper, and realize it’s a green wrapper from a fish sandwich, with floral, green designs like currency.

The smell of halibut makes my eyes red with rage. Always has.

Rob Essley is an engineer in Atlanta, GA.

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