THE TEN DOLLAR NOTE
How she hated ceilings and walls. ‘What is your name?’ they asked. She thought it might be Maisie. She liked the name Maisie. She believed it suited her. But the uniforms had put her off and she wasn’t sure. ‘Address?’ ‘Under the stars,’ she said, laughing.
It wasn’t kind of them to take the stars away. They were all she had.
Except for the ten dollar note. Where had she got it? She didn’t recall. She wasn’t being uncooperative. It wasn’t so easy to remember. The days merged one into another. The sun rose and the night fell. She could have found the money and forgotten. Sometimes there was a kind face in the crowd, someone would press money into her hand. It all went into the pocket of her dress.
A Vinnie dress, this week, speckled with blue roses and with a generous pocket. The St Vinnie's mob had given her a hat, too. She’d decorated it with shiny paper ribbon she’d found in the park.
When her stomach began to grumble loudly, she put her hand in her pocket. She almost mistook the ten dollar note for a piece of rubbish. She didn’t come across too many tenners, these days. This was one of the new plastic notes. It didn’t feel like real money. It had none of the greasy smoothness of the old notes. She had almost thrown it away with the pages of a book. The cover long tossed out, the pages discarded as they were read.
She had a wash in the Archibald fountain in front of the fine figure of Theseus slaying the Minotaur. She had been ten years old when the memorial was built. There had been a fuss, she remembered. Sicard had planned Hercules slaying a lion for this group. A design committee had objected to the lion because it was an emblem of the British. She had since read all the Greek myths. The committee had missed the stick altogether. A lot of bull, she thought. She supposed Diana and the Stag would be next to be banished.
She wandered off and found a cafe that had seen better days and ordered a meal. The service was terrible but the food was edible. Maisie forgot about the ten dollar note. She looked around the empty cafe then walked out.
Down the road, she remembered she hadn’t had coffee. She decided coffee was required to wash down the hearty meal. She seemed to remember that chocolate mints came with coffee. She was partial to chocolate mints. She went back to the cafe and sat down, ordered coffee.
A bright young girl brought it, much younger than the skinny scowling woman who’d served her lunch. The girl brought the coffee, there were no mints, then forgot about her.
The cafe had no atmosphere, Maisie decided. Not like the soup kitchen where you stayed a while, chatted if there was anyone worth talking to, then went off to mind your own business. She pushed aside her cup and saucer, got up and walked out the door.
Outside on the pavement, the skinny waitress was smoking a cigarette.
She saw the young girl come out, waving her arms and yelling.
The woman with the scowl started running towards her. ‘She didn’t pay for the bloody lunch she had either, grab her Kath!’ She heard the woman shout.
Maisie hitched up her dress and ran wildly through the crowd. Let them catch her. She could still give a good run for her money, even at her age.
The gap widened between Maisie and her pursuers, she might have made good her escape. Instead she careered into the uniform.
‘I have the money,’ she said, catching her breath. She smiled sweetly. The skinny woman scowled again and said it wasn’t enough and accused her of trying to do a runner twice.
‘It was the same meal,’ Maisie pointed out.
They all went to the police station. ‘What is your name?’
She thought a while.
‘Maisie,’ she said.
‘Under the stars.’
‘You’ll have to lodge two hundred dollars and front up in court to answer charges,’ somebody said.
‘I only have a tenner,’ she told them. ‘You can have it, it’s brought nothing but bad luck.’
‘Where did you get it?’
She didn’t know.
She was asked to make a statement. She took the sergeant’s fountain pen and writing pad from the counter. Slowly, carefully, in copperplate she wrote:
‘The right to be let alone is the beginning of all freedom.’
‘William O Douglas’
© Sharon Rundle
Published LiNQ, (1994); Out of the Mists (anthology) (1996); Ozlit e-zine (1998)