“We called the paper to place an ad asking if anyone had lost a wallet, an earring, and a cash wad.”
Rebecca Curtis is from NOON’s treasury of stories, traditions, legends, humor and wisdom from 2000 through 2016.
—Diane Williams, editor
Recently my husband and I came into a large sum of money. The way we came into it was, we found it lying on the sidewalk in the form of someone’s wallet. We also found one diamond earring nearby and a wad of cash. We took it all right home. But after touching everything for a while, we put it down on the table and called the paper to place an ad asking if anyone had lost a wallet, an earring, and a cash wad. We hoped no one would answer, but we wanted to do things the way the regulations required.
Soon enough there was a call. When I really thought about it, I knew there’d be a call. The woman on the phone called herself “Amy,” and she spoke in a teeny, tiny voice, but I knew she was really Sue, my friend from college, and I knew she’d probably spent the whole morning reading the paper looking for ads that asked people if they’d lost any money. That was the kind of thing Sue would do. It was probably how she was getting by. My husband and I are honest people and we both work horrible teaching jobs and we live in an apartment that smells like sauerkraut and has only two windows, both of which look on to the interstate, so I resent people like Sue.
Hello, I said, what’s your name?
I’m Amy, the woman said. Amy.
All right, I said. I was already disgusted. Well, I said, I need to ask you some questions the regulations require me to ask. I sat down at the table in front of a yellow legal pad, the kind my husband likes and keeps hundreds of around to take notes on.
All right, she said.
Where do you live? I said.
New York City, she said. It was nowhere near where we’d found the money.
Who is your health insurance with? I said.
There was a pause. Silver Castle, she said.
Fine, I said. I wrote it down, “Silver Castle,” a respected name in health insurance.
Wait, she said. I don’t really have health insurance.
You don’t? I said. I was surprised that she’d lied so soon, but I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t have health insurance. She’d had a lot of problems in college, and she’d almost dropped out at one point. I crossed out “Silver Castle health insurance.”
I have called them several times though, she said, to ask health-related questions, and they’ve been answering me, and they’ve given me advice. So I guess in a way I do have Silver Castle health insurance.
Oh, I said.
The man I spoke with was Richard Walton, she said, and he’s in claims and appeals.
Her answer seemed official, so I wrote down, “Richard Walton, Silver Castle health insurance.” I knew I could check on it by calling up Silver Castle and asking for him, but I also knew I’d probably never do it.
Well, I said. I guess I asked you the questions. I’ll call you when we’ve submitted the answers and gotten the results.
You still need to ask me how old I am, she said.
She was right. There were several questions I hadn’t bothered with because I knew it was Sue on the phone.
How old? I said.
Twenty-nine, she said.
That was Sue’s age. I wrote it down.
What do you do? I said.
I buy a lot of makeup and jewelry, she said.
I wrote down, “Buys makeup and jewelry.”
Do you get paid for that? I said.
No, she said. I don’t. Right now I don’t really have a job.
Fine, I said. Good-bye, Sue. Then I hung up.
I sat down on the couch. My husband sat down next to me. The couch smelled, because of all the food crumbs he’d dropped in its cracks, because he eats on the couch and is clumsy. The smell made me hate him a bit, along with the fact that the couch had cracks, but he was acting husbandly and touching my hair. He wanted to know what I was thinking and what Sue had said on the phone. This is what I was thinking:
The fact that Sue didn’t have a job didn’t surprise me. The last I knew, after college, she’d been working at a large department store. But I always thought she’d lose the job, especially because she was so small—she only weighed ninety pounds and she was only five feet tall. Her smallness seemed to point to something about her everyone could see, that she was untrustworthy and could be easily beaten up. Not many people had trusted her in college, and a lot of people had beaten her up. She had a knack for getting into bad relationships—she’d dated a rapist, a wife beater, a narcissistic guitar player, and another rapist, in that order. Both rapists raped her, the wife beater beat her, and the guitar player wrote her a lot of narcissistic love poems before leaving her for a big blonde debutante who walked like a duck. The rapists didn’t exactly leave her—one of them raped her for quite a while. With the wife beater, the relationship just kind of fell apart. She wanted to get married and he didn’t, was the problem. Of course, I tried to be a good friend through all this. For starters, I loaned her money. She wasn’t good with money, and although we were only in college, she already had several credit cards, Afterward, she never paid me back, although she claimed she had—she claimed she’d put the money in my mailbox one day, but it was never there. I looked many times. When I told her the money wasn’t there, she said someone had probably seen the money and taken it out, which made sense since the mailboxes had no doors. I didn’t believe her, but I still tried to be her good friend. I ate in the dining hall with her, and I nodded my head when she said that one day she planned to go to the gym and work out. I went to parties with her so she could meet up with the men who raped her, and after she met up with them I wandered around by myself, looking for someone to have my own bad relationship with, until eventually I gave up and went home. Neither one of us knew why she kept dating the men who raped her, except that they were handsome and she had fun with them sometimes. She never had fun with me because I was a big drip at that time. But in the afternoons, after she’d been raped, I would always listen to her cry and comb her hair while she sat in awkward, painful positions on the floor, and I always repressed the urge to rape her myself. She had long black hair, a tiny body as I’ve said, a heart-shaped face, and beautiful little brown legs like a table in the Rococo style. I knew our friendship wasn’t healthy for me, because she often hurt my feelings by telling me I looked fat from the front but not from the side and that I should stand sideways most of the time. She also said I was depressing, which was why I didn’t have any friends. But her friendship brought me a lot of benefits, like the way we held hands when we entered a party, and how all the guys thought that looked good, and when I thought about the money I’d loaned her that she never paid back, I knew that in a way she thought I owed her the money, because of all those times we’d held hands.
My husband touched my hair. Then he asked me who’d called, and I explained that it was Sue, my friend from college, but that she was calling herself Amy now and didn’t have a job. I told him she’d been looking through the paper and seen our ad and called.
Don’t give her the money, he said. Promise you won’t.
He said that because I’m soft at heart.
All right, I said. But I knew I would.
She called again the next day, to ask who else had called to claim the money, and I admitted no one had.
I tried to ask her some trick questions, but she gave good answers right away.
How much money? I said. How much money in the wad?
A lot, she said. All I had.
What did the diamond earring look like?
Like glass, she said. But not.
That’s right, I said, so far, but whose name was on the credit cards in the wallet? I was sure I had her there.
Look, she said. She paused. I can’t tell you the name on the credit cards. I use fake names sometimes and I can’t repeat them on the phone. But it’s mine. You’ve got to believe me. I answered all the other questions right. And I need the money. I don’t make much money buying jewelry.
I thought you didn’t get paid, I said.
I don’t, she said. I buy the jewelry and wear it and then I bring it back the next week. I always shop at different stores.
I could see my husband making violent motions in the kitchen. Then he held up a head of lettuce to indicate how much we needed money ourselves.
I’m trying to be fair, I said to Sue, but we both know the money is better off with me.
That may be true, she said, but it’s my money, and I need it more.
I thought about when my husband and I found the money. Sue was nowhere in sight. But she could have been down any alley, beaten to a pulp, and even though I hadn’t done it to her, I had done it to her in my head many times.
I saw my husband watching from the kitchen.
Don’t you give her the money, he said.
Let me ask you one last question, I said, and if you answer right, I’ll give you the money.
Go, she said.
Tell me truly, I said: Are you really Sue?
No, she said, I’m Amy. She used her teeny fake voice to say this.
No, I said, you’re not.
If I say I’m Sue, she said in a teeny voice, will you give me the money?
Yes, I said.
I’m Sue! she said. Her teeny fake voice fell away. I was Sue all this time, she screamed, in her more regular voice. Ha ha ha!
I knew I’d lost. I told her to tell me her address and she did and I wrote it down. I am a woman of my word. I could see my husband despairing in the kitchen, holding up piles of unpaid bills. He was a good man, a loser who loved me and was saddled with loans. How could I explain to him? The truth was, I could not. I could never explain to him, because he would never understand the attraction in someone like Sue, how she could wrap her teeny tiny self around your heart and squeeze it until you were purple.