Quarter Values – Emilia Kirstein

The quarter resided within the register of a café, in a small trough with the other quarters, separated from the other bills, dimes, nickels, and pennies. They were a proud group, whether they were shiny and new, a little green around the edges, or covered in black sidewalk goo. The quarter itself was a bit worn, having been minted in 1980, and had lost most of its original luster and accumulated a fair share of scratches. Still, as the highest ranking coins in the register, appearance didn’t truly matter in the long to the quarter, and it wore itquarter dollar status on its front with pride.  

From outside the register, the clacking of plates, the scrape of silverware, and the frequent thwip of a credit card swipe could be heard. The quarter shifted slightly in its place, stacked precariously on top of green-lined quarter. The register hadn’t been opened in a while. As much as the quarter enjoyed the company of the other coins in the register, it found that wanderlust was beginning to burn in its metallic core. A 2004 quarter beside him chinked against the plastic wall of the trough in agreement. With little else to do, the quarter resigned itself to boredom and listened to the happenings outside the register. The barista was taking the order of another customer. A coffee. An iced tea. A croissant. The clack of computer keys as the orders were typed in and — the coins waited in anticipation — the price. 

“That will be eight seventy-five,” said the barista. There was the thump of a plate and the buzz of the coffee maker and — oh!– a crinkle of paper! The register was tugged open, the coins clattering together excitedly. A wrinkled Alexander Hamilton joined the ranks of bills, and a one dollar bill was taken out of its clip. The hand of the barista then hovered over the quarter stack. The quarter tilted itself off its place on top of the greenish quarter, making itself known by hitting the bottom of the trough. It worked. The barista picked up the quarter, set it atop the one dollar bill, and handed it off to the customer. The other quarters in the register glinted a jealous goodbye as the quarter and dollar bill moved towards the woman’s wallet. The quarter duly shone back at them in the fluorescent cafe light. 

The woman’s hand was damp and uncomfortable as she fumbled with her wallet. The dollar was shoved inside, George Washington’s face crumpling as it was crammed into the side pocket. The quarter watched, feeling glad that its own visage of George Washington was crinkle-proof. The woman’s clammy fingers then loosened their grip on the quarter as she moved out of the cafe line, and the coin slipped free from her sweaty grip. The quarter, however, never made it to the wallet. The woman’s hand had shifted slightly as she dropped it, and the quarter bounced off the side of the wallet and fell down, down into the dark crevice of the woman’s purse. The quarter clinked and spun as it descended, falling through piles of old chocolate wrappers and receipts, ricocheting off a small notebook, and landing on the soft, lint covered corner at the bottom. 

The quarter lay in its spot in the purse for a moment or two before rolling frantically, back and forth, corner to corner, as the purse thumped against the woman’s side, batting against the walls of its fabric prison. The quarter, being an older one, had been trapped in purses before, and knew that it was one of the worst fates a coin could suffer. Trapped here amongst wrappers and knickknacks, it could be years before the quarter was spent again. 

The quarter rotated back again, coming around the other side of the notebook, when it was stopped with a hard tink. The quarter, startled out of its panic, found itself staring into the bright, coppery face of Abraham Lincoln. A penny. Great, the quarter thought. Now it was trapped here with nearly worthless company too. The penny thwacked against the quarter in welcome. The quarter tipped away, the scraped image of George Washington turning up its nose. The penny followed, their edges spinning together like cogs as the penny pressed against it. The purse jostled again. The quarter pushed back against the penny, trying to shove it away. 

The penny and quarter didn’t know how long they continued this dance, chasing and pushing away, clicking and clacking together to the purse’s sway. After some time, however, the woman appeared to have hung her purse for the night, leaving the quarter and the penny tucked in a corner of the purse, side by side. The quarter leaned against the notebook, Washington’s face staring upside down at the black leather. The serious portrait appeared dejected in the darkness. The penny gently nudged the quarter, a small show of solidarity. The quarter, after a second, nudged the penny back. 

Here, imprisoned at the bottom of the purse, they were truly worth the same, weren’t they? 

Eventually, the purse moved again as the night seemed to pass, though the coins remained leaning against each other in the corner, at peace with their fate among the fluffy lint. Then, suddenly, the purse was zipped open, and light spilled into the purse. The quarter and penny stared as the woman took out her wallet and thumbed through it, humming in frustration.  

“Darling, do you have any change? I’m a quarter short for the bus,” said the woman.  

The quarter and penny clacked together excitedly, their elation growing when the woman’s partner replied with a denial. The quarter spun itself over to the beam of light, trying to catch the woman’s eye. The quarter’s surface had grown so dull over the years, however, that it could barely muster a glint. The woman was putting her wallet back, and she would be closing her purse any second.  

It was then the penny rolled over, nearly falling on top of the quarter in its hurry. Light gleamed off of the penny, reflecting easily off of Abraham Lincoln’s face like a beacon. The woman paused, reached down. The quarter had never felt more grateful to be in a sweaty palm as the woman swept the penny and the quarter out of the purse, her hand opening as she gazed at the coins. 

“Found one!” the woman exclaimed. “Oh! And a penny too! Must be my lucky day!” The woman picked the penny up off her palm and carried it over to the table where her wallet lay. The penny winked goodbye and it disappeared into the leather fold. The quarter shone faintly back. And as the quarter was placed in the woman’s coat pocket with three other quarters, the quarter thought to itself that perhaps pennies had a bit more worth to them after all.