"THE PENNY, Work in Progress" — © 1987 - 1999 by Charles Dobie


(A Work in Progress)

Charles Dobie

He eased the car slowly off the highway; it ground to a gradual stop in the gravel, in front of where he thought the Rex Hotel once had been. He opened the door and got out, cursing the heat, slowly flexing his back and legs to stretch out the cramps. He tugged his sweaty shirt away from his skin, enjoying the jolt of coolness as he released it. As he stood on tip-toe, the tendons in his feet popped and snapped like the stones under the tires of the car, and he wondered vaguely about arthritis.

There were no people in sight. A transport laboured up the hill behind him on its way into Quebec; he turned to watch it and felt a surge of emotion that suprised him as he took in the scene. Cheminis Mountain towered above the valley, glowering like an ugly giant's head at the tiny village of Labyrinth Lake. He had thought his childhood memories would have magnified everything, but the mountain was huge and formidable, much more imposing than he ever imagined. His road map called it 'Raven Mountain', but that was bullshit -- it would always be Cheminis Mountain to him, they had never called it anything but that.

The village was a different matter. Quite the opposite. He didn't try to contain his shock at the buildings straggling along the highway, baking in the sun. Shacks. Not even picturesque. Just grubby, generic frame buildings, about as interesting as mud. Not at all as he had remembered them. Forty years. Almost forty years since he had last stood here.

A Pepsi sign sagged above a modern glass door, and he wondered if that was where Sjonnason's Restaurant had been. He stepped forward and stumbled in the loose gravel, spraying crushed quartz onto the ashphalt. His eye caught a gleam of copper amid the bouncing white stones, and he swung down his arm, gorilla-style, to scoop up the coin as he crossed the highway.

"Look Mom! Lookit I found!" The boy was breathless. His brown eyes bulged with excitement.

"Mine!" shrieked his sister. Her wobbly legs collapsed, dumping her in the dust.

"Oh! Look what you've done! You're supposed to hold her hand!" His mother shook her finger in his direction. "Now help her up this instant!"

"But look Mom, a penny!"

"That's nice dear, but take your sister's hand and help her up."

"Mine!" his sister bellowed, ignoring his outstretched hand.

"She doesn't want to! Can I buy some candy? Can I buy some candy, mom?"

"A penny saved is a penny earned," said his grandmother. "If you spend your money on candy, you'll have nothing to show for it soon enough."


His grandmother picked the baby up. "Why, just look at you," she cooed. "You're as dirty as a little pig!"

They trudged slowly through the hot dust and gravel of Kearns Avenue, up the hill and past the tiny Anglican church. The women's faces were shaded from the sun by wide-brimmed straw hats.

"Maybe I'll find another one!" the boy sang. "Another one! Another one! I want to find another one!" He bent his head down, searching for treasure.


He examined the coin with brief, clinical interest: it was a one cent piece, looking newly-minted, but grossly scarred and gouged. Tiny specks of quartz were imbedded in the Queen's impassive face, and a twist of copper stuck out from the rim, not quite sharp enough to draw blood. He tucked it into the change pocket of his jeans.


"THE PENNY, Work in Progress" — © 1987 - 1999 by Charles Dobie