When did coins stop being silver
A Story With A Five Chapters And An Epilogue
©2000 Stuart B Baum
Illustration by Fred Plewa
Ages: 7 and up
Chapter One: The Drive Home.
At first Billy thought he was being lucky. But after a while, he decided that the coin must be lucky. A lucky coin.
His grandfather gave him a silver dollar at the end of his visit and now that he and his Father were driving home -- a two hour trip -- Billy was sitting in the back seating flipping the coin and calling ‘heads’ and ‘tails.’ The coin always came up what he wanted.
“Heads,” said Billy as he flipped the large coin.
“Not so high,” warned his Dad gently for the second time. “I’m driving.”
Billy caught the coin, slapped it onto his wrist and opened his hand. Before the coin slipped onto the car seat, Billy saw that it was heads. It landed heads on the car seat, too.
Billy turned the coin over, looking at its tails side. Then he looked at the edge, scraping his mostly chewed fingernail around the ridges. It seemed like a perfectly normal coin to him, but he had never had a silver dollar before.
“Yes, son?” answered his Father. His Father didn’t like talking when he drove, said it was distracting. Otherwise, he was a great Dad.
“I think Grandpa gave me a lucky coin.” Billy flipped the coin again, very lowly this time. “Tails,” he said. The coin came up tails.
“Umm hmmm,” responded his Father. And then, “What makes you think it’s so lucky?”
Billy leaned forward in his seat, pushing against the seat belt. “Every time I say ‘heads’ and then flip the coin it comes up heads. When I say ‘tails’ and flip the coin it comes up tails.
Billy’s Dad was an Engineer, but not the kind that drives trains and that was all that Billy understood about his Dad’s job. He was always teaching Billy about math and statistics. Billy tried to listen, most of the time, but before the lesson was over Billy would realize he was thinking about something else. He would start to pay attention again, but by then he was lost. Billy thought his Dad was about to give him another one of those lectures, so he slumped back in the seat.
“When we get home,” said his Dad, “I’ll tell you about statistics again. But right now I’m driving and you know that I have a hard time talking and driving at the same time.” His Father caught Billy’s eye in the rearview mirror. “Which is more important, Billy? Driving or talking?”
“Driving,” said Billy softly. Billy looked over the silver dollar again and said, “Tails.” He flipped the coin, reached out to grab it and missed. It dropped onto the floor of the car, a place Billy couldn’t reach without getting out of his seatbelt and he knew he wasn’t allowed to do that. Billy looked at the coin on the floor. Tails, of course. He wondered how he could get the coin without getting in trouble.
“Yes, Billy?” said his Dad, but it sounded more like “What now?”
“I have to pee. Can we stop, please?”
Chapter Two: It Takes Two.
Billy showed the coin to his friend Ralph.
“Doesn’t look very special to me,” said Ralph.
“Watch,” said Billy. He called “Tails” and flipped the coin. The coin landed tails.
“Big deal,” said Ralph.
“Keep watching,” said Billy. He picked up the coin, called “Tails” and flipped it again. It landed tails again. Ralph shrugged.
“A two-tailed coin?” Ralph guessed, sounding board.
Billy showed Ralph the heads side and flipped it again, for the third time calling “Tails.”
After five tails in a row, Ralph snatched the coin from the ground and looked at it. He tossed it up and down in his hand. “It’s probably weighted to always land tails,” Ralph explained. Even so, he was clearly interested in the coin.
This time Ralph flipped it. “Tails,” he said. The coin landed tails.
“Sometimes it’s heads,” said Billy, picking up the coin. He called ‘Heads’ and the coin landed heads.
Ralph tried the same and he, too, got heads. “Cool,” said Ralph. “Can I borrow it?” Ralph picked up the coin. He didn’t give Billy a chance to answer. He left quickly.
Ralph returned a few minutes later. He handed the coin back to Billy and said, “Stupid coin.”
Billy quickly placed the coin in his pocket, then asked, “What happened?”
“I won some bets. I lost some bets.” He glared at Billy. “I lost my favorite card.” Billy knew it wasn’t his fault, but he felt bad anyway.
After Ralph left, Billy took out the coin again. “Heads,” he said, flipping the coin. Heads. “Tails,” he said. Tails. “Maybe it is me,” he thought.
Once at home, Billy found a quarter and flipped it. He called it in the air. “Tails!” It landed heads.
His mother lent him another silver dollar. (Billy was careful to make sure the two coins didn’t get mixed up.) “Heads,” he called and flipped the coin. It landed heads. “Tails,” he called and flipped the coin again. It landed heads. He tried three more flips and only got it right once.
“It’s not me,” he thought.
He returned the silver dollar to his Mom. Then he got out his lucky dollar and flipped it five
times. Each time the coin landed what Billy had called.
“It must be me and this coin,” he decided.
Chapter Three: It’s The Thought That Counts.
Billy had always been a good boy. Did well in school. Well enough, anyway, so that his parents and teachers didn’t complain too much. And he didn’t get in trouble too much. Not that he didn’t want to get in trouble, just that he could never think of the bad things to do before his Father and Mother told him not to do them.
Ralph, on the other hand, had no trouble getting into, well, trouble. He was always being punished for one thing or the other, made to sit right in the front of the class where Mrs. Archibald could ‘keep an eye on him,’ kept inside his house on sunny days, and not being allowed to use his bicycle or skateboard for days, and sometimes weeks, at a time.
So when Billy wasn’t sure what to do with his lucky coin, he asked Ralph.
Ralph, of course, had an idea, but he also wanted to try an experiment.
“I want you to flip the coin and say ‘heads,’ but think ‘tails,’ Billy,” said Ralph.
Billy eyed Ralph curiously. “Why?”
“Just try it.”
So Billy said “Heads,” and flipped the coin. He watched the coin spin through the air and fall to the ground. It landed heads.
Ralph glared at Billy. “Did you think ‘heads’ Billy?”
Billy looked around nervously. “I forgot.”
To Billy’s surprise, Ralph said, “Good.” He picked up the coin, handed it to Billy, leaned in very close to Billy and said, “Let’s try it again. But this time, remember, you say 'Heads' but you really want Tails."
Billy nodded. He could do this. He hoped.
The second time didn’t work very well either. Billy flipped to coin and yelled “Heads” correctly, but he wasn’t really sure if he thought heads or tails. He looked at Ralph sheepishly.
Ralph picked the coin from the driveway. He brushed off some dirt. Then a look crossed his face that Billy had seen before. It was the look Ralph got when he had an idea. It was also the look Ralph got before he got into trouble. Billy knew there was a connection.
“OK,” said Ralph slowly and menacingly. “I’ll flip the coin. You say Heads. But if it lands heads I’m gonna sock you in the arm. Hard.” Ralph made a fist. Billy gulped. “Ready?” asked Ralph. Billy nodded. Ralph flipped the coin high into the air.
Billy yelled “Heads!” Then he closed his eyes. He thought about getting punched in the arm. He hoped the coin landed tails. ‘Please land tails’ he thought.
“Tails!” hollered Ralph joyously. “You did it!” Billy opened his eyes, expecting to see a happy Ralph, but instead he saw Ralph’s fist.
“OK. We’re going to try that again. We have to make sure it isn’t just luck.” Billy nodded, wishing Ralph would put his fist away, not sure if asking Ralph to help was such a good idea in the first place.
“This time,” said Ralph. “You say ‘Tails’ but hope for heads.” Billy nodded. Ralph warned, “And don’t forget what happens if you get a tails. Billy nodded faster.
They tried the experiment four more times. Each time the coin landed what Billy wanted and not what he said. By then, Ralph was so antsy he was dancing around Billy, coin held high in the air, singing, “We’ve got a lucky coin! We’ve got a lucky coin! We’re going to be rich! We’re going to be rich!”
‘We?’ wondered Billy. But he also wondered how the coin was going to make them rich.
Ralph handed the coin to Billy and hugged him. “You know,” he said. “I was never really going to punch you. I just wanted to make sure you really, really, really wanted it to come up what you didn’t call.”
Billy nodded and smiled. But he wasn’t so sure.
Chapter Four: What Happened Next.
It was in the middle of dinner, poking at his peas, when Billy realized why Ralph had made him say one thing and think another. Because no one would play with you if you always won. But if you could lose sometimes, only when you wanted, and win the rest of the time, then people would just think you were being extra lucky.
Billy shook his head in amazement. Ralph was one smart guy. But Billy also knew that Ralph was trouble.
The real question, thought Billy, was what to do with the lucky coin. Billy must have been thinking about his coin for a while, because his Mother chided, “Billy, if you don’t hurry up and eat your peas, you won’t have time to go out and play after dinner.”
So Billy quickly ate his peas, not really thinking about them, and then, after being excused from the dinner table, went outside.
As soon as he got out the door he knew exactly what he wanted do with his lucky coin. At that same moment he saw that Ralph was running towards him.
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