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Mama Called Me Money

Chapter One

By M. Fritz WunderliPublished 7 months ago 11 min read
First Place in Next Great [American] Novel Challenge

Mama called me Money.

She’d scoop me up and say she had all the money she’d ever need in her arms.

We were poor. Never had enough money to buy nothin’ new. My clothes came from thrift shops and donation centers. My food was bought with State money or donated from local churches. I ain’t ever seen a bill larger than a ten before I was twelve. Never had a television, never went to see movies, or went out to eat. It was just me and Mama in our small apartment, stuffing the windows and vents with towels or spare clothes to keep the heat from leaking out during the winter.

But no matter how poor we were, Mama never resorted to thieving. During a Christmas production at a local church, I nicked a winter coat from the lost and found. Mama found out and made me take it back and apologize to the preacher. She found a wad of money in the parking lot of the Health and Human Services Building, and I thought the Lord was blessing us. But Mama took the money inside, handed it to the security officer and walked out. It weren’t a blessing, she’d said. It was a test. One day, for all our trials and tribulations, the Lord would bless us even more.

It was hard to be mad at Mama. She was principled, which means I could always count on how she’d respond when I got in trouble. Not that I got in trouble often. But when I did, she was patient yet stern. Never laid a hand on me, but sometimes her words cut deeper than a welt from a belt and had a more lastin’ impression.

Mama worked for a man, a wealthy man, cleaning his mansion, tailorin’ his fancy clothes, cookin’ his meals. Parley Driggs. A man so wealthy, he never touched his money. He paid her pennies, but she stayed there anyhow. I could never understand why. But she’d often bring home books from his library and teach me to read or read them to me at night.

It didn’t last too long. Mama died when I was twelve. Left me alone. I ‘spected the state to find me, take me to an orphanage. Sure enough, they showed up on the doorstep, and flashed a badge through the screen door as if that meant something to me. Everything I owned and cared ‘bout fit in a canvas green duffle that I slung over my shoulder as I walked out the door. Gawd, it was hot that day. Humid. I could feel the sweat dripping down my back, soaking into the waistband of my jeans.

I didn’t stay in Louisiana. Nope. Ain’t enough foster families. And I ain’t got any other family, at least none that wanted to take in another mouth to feed. I was sent north, up to West Virginia, to live with the Pritchetts. They were nice, in a puritanical kinda way. Studied the bible every night, prayed in the morning and before bed and at every meal. Even in public. They had seven kids, all with the same auburn hair, freckles, and brown eyes, rangin’ in age from four to seventeen.

Mrs. Pritchett homeschooled the kids while Mr. Pritchett worked as a CPA. He wore a tie everyday, and she wore a house dress, jugglin’ chores, the children, and meals while tryin’ to teach them their ABC’s, algebra, and science. She had to start from the beginning with me, as I had never learned most the stuff she was talkin’ ‘bout. Not a mean word was ever said ‘bout it, though. They was nice. The oldest daughter, Mindy, spent extra time going over my studies.

But a year later, the facade cracked. Mr. Pritchett ran away with a woman from the IRS he’d been sleeping with for several months. The Division of Children and Family Services had to remove me from the home.

After that, no family kept me ‘round for longer than a few months. The Monroe’s, the Carpenter’s, the Hodges, the Purcell’s, the Wetsel’s, the Briggs, the Talmadges, and the Gardener’s. I was too old for adoptin’ and the folks that took me in all had their own share of problems to deal with, which meant there weren’t enough room for me in their lives.

That’s ‘bout when I realized I gotta take care of myself. At sixteen, I left. Went off the grid, no longer subject to the rules of other households. And that’s how I ended up sittin’ beneath an overpass in Jersey, sharing a space with two men wrapped like burritos in sleeping bags, tryin’ to figure out where to go and what to do.

My stomach growled. The mound of lumpy blankets and stinky clothes next to me wriggled and sat up. His squashed face was caked with grease and grime.

“You ‘ungry?”

“I’ll be fine, Pilfer. Go back to sleep.”

“Nope, nope, I’m up now. Gotta get me food.” He groaned and got to his feet. “Come on, Money, let’s go find somethin’ to eat.” Pilfer swayed, burped, and swallowed back some bile, then smiled down at me. He was missin’ a front tooth, and the rest were dark yellow.

I knew Pilfer’s preferred spots for grub usually meant the back alley between Ritucci’s Italian and Gambina’s bakery. Dinner and dessert, which he thought was funny as hell. But I wasn’t hungry enough for dumpster diving.

“Don’ be takin’ him to no garbage heap, Pilfer. It’s Thursday! We goin’ to Mal’s.” Another heap of rags and dirty sheets had moved and a head popped up out the pile, with a wool beanie pulled down low over his brow, and straggly beard growing out from a weak chin.

“Oh, ya know, Bron, yer right! Let’s head to Mal’s, Money. Them folks over there hand out the leftovers from Latin Nights. Tamales and Mexican Coke,” Pilfer said with a glossy look in his eyes.

Bron pushed aside his blankets and unzipped an old blue sleeping bag with dark stains. He was skinny, like Abraham Lincoln skinny, but his neck goosed out so it looked like he was sticking his head forward all the time. Arthritis was startin’ to warp his joints, so his movement was clunky. On the other hand, Pilfer was short and round. His cheeks were always flushed red, on account of his rosacea, at least that’s what he told us. He had small hands with porky fingers.

On the other side of the overpass, a few hobos had set up a couple tents. Most of the poles were missing or broke, so the tents were limp. Even if lame, I’d prefer one of them tents, ‘specially during the rainy nights. I thought the overpass would be enough, but that ain’t true. See, when it rains, it often comes with wind, which means the rain ain’t fallin’ straight down. Nope, it comes from the side. But that’s life. When you think you prepared enough, it hits ya from another direction when ya ain’t lookin’.

Just like the man that came wandering up to us, clearly outta place in khaki pants, the kind with the cuffs at the ends, and a pair of New Balance sneakers that were clean white. He wore a navy blue Polo shirt, and had his phone clipped to his belt. In one arm he carried a clipboard with a stack of papers, and the other hand he twirled a pen ‘round his fingers. A pair of round glasses were perched on the bridge of his nose. He kept sweepin’ his blond hair back with one hand.

Immediately I saw Pilfer and Bron stiffen.

“Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Paul Gadfield. I’m a private investigator. Wondering if I could ask you a few questions.” The man had one of them smooth ways of talkin’, like a salesman or a lawyer.

“You lookin’ for a fugitive?” Pilfer asked.

Paul laughed, flashing pearly white teeth. At the same time, his upper body clenched, and the muscles in his arms bulged. I wasn’t too sure it was intentional, but if it was, the demonstration was enough to make me doubt my chances of fightin’ or runnin’ from the man.

“No, no. I’m not that kind of investigator. I’ve been hired by the estate of a man who recently passed away. I’m trying to track down his only living heir.”

Bron nodded thoughtfully and began twirlin’ his gnarly fingers in his wiry beard. “Well, ser, why don’ you tell us the name?”

“Oh of course, sorry about that. The young man’s name is Money Jackson. He’s originally from Covington, Louisiana, but I’ve managed to track him all the way up here after he ran away from foster care about six months ago.”

I could tell Bron and Pilfer weren’t lookin’ at me. Pilfer in fact had shuffled sideways to stand between me and Paul. He sucked at his teeth as if he was thinkin’ hard. “How we know this ain’t a trick? I mean, why would he be in the foster system if he had family, eh?”

I felt something tickle up my spine, and goosebumps grew along my arms. Pilfer was right. My only family was mama, which is why I was dropped into the foster care system without a second thought. He was probably tryin’ to find me so he could throw me back into another foster home. But I was done with that and there weren’t no way I was goin’ back.

Paul’s smile didn’t falter. He still beamed at Pilfer. “Well, that’s because we didn’t find out until after the man passed away. It was written in his journals. So, when it was confirmed, the estate hired me to try and track him down before everything goes to the State.”

“What was the man’s name?” Pilfer asked.

“Parley Driggs.”

I nearly choked on my own spit at that point. Ain’t no way mama’s former employer was my daddy.

“A rich man?” Pilfer pressed. Course Pilfer don’ know who Parley was. If he did, Pilfer would be claimin’ to be me in a heartbeat.

Paul didn’ answer though, as if he knew what would happen if everyone knew a rich man’s estate was lookin’ for his long lost son. Instead, he reached into his back pocket and took out a business card and handed it over to Pilfer. “If you do see Mr. Jackson, please have him contact me as soon as possible. The deadline for him to claim his inheritance is on October 17th. A little more than just two weeks.”

Paul walked away towards the hovel of tents across from us. Pilfer pivoted towards me, stepping away from the clump of blankets at his feet. “Well, Money, looks like you got yerself an inheritance! You know this Parley Driggs?”

I was still too stunned to open my mouth. I stared off into space, imaginin’ a different life I woulda had if Mr. Driggs had been honest sooner. Course, the man was still married when mama died. Catherine Driggs was frail, from what mama told me. Probably passed shortly after mama did. They didn’t have no kids, neither. But still, the possibilities ran through my head. I wouldn’t be homeless. No foster homes. No dingy little apartment for me and mama. Nope. Instead, a great big house, private school, no secondhand clothing, and all the food I could ever want.

Bron rested a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back to the present. “Money? You okay?”

I nodded. “Y-yeah, I knew Parley Driggs. My mama worked for him.”

“Well, what you wanna do?” Bron asked, his dark eyes fixed on me.

I sucked in a deep breath. “You think he’s tellin’ the truth?”

Pilfer waddled over. “He didn’t look like he was lyin’, and you did know the man. I mean, we could always check it out.”

Bron looked at Pilfer, his brow furrowed so low it shaded his eyes. “What you talkin’ ‘bout?”

“I mean we take ourselves a road trip to Louisiana!” Pilfer smiled, his chubby cheeks swelling and causing his eyes to squint. “Let’s go and check it out ourselves. See if the man is tellin’ the truth.”

Bron chuckled. “You outta yer mind, Pil. How we gonna get there? All the way from New Jersey to Louisiana. We ain’t got no money, unless you been holdin’ out on me.”

Pilfer got a mischievous look in his eye. “The old American way, Bron. We hitchhike.”


About the Creator

M. Fritz Wunderli

I love storytelling and the transformative process it brings for both readers and writers. I hope my stories have that same effect.

Check out my Instagram page- @vunderwrites.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

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Comments (32)

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  • Sariah5 months ago

    Oh wow I didn't want this to end. I really loved how seamlessly you tied in Money's background at the beginning to the present. Everything about this story is perfect. The pacing, the characters, the sense of adventure--all of it! Amazing job :)

  • Ben Shepherd5 months ago

    Awesome! Can’t wait to read the next chapter.

  • Shirley Belk5 months ago

    I love your characters! Congratulations, too!

  • Renessa Norton5 months ago

    Fantastic chapter! Really well done!

  • Kelsey Clarey5 months ago

    Congrats on the win! This definitely seems like a great opening for a novel!

  • Deasun T. Smyth5 months ago

    Congratulations! This is an incredible story. 👍💯

  • Donna Renee5 months ago

    absolutely wonderful, definitely can see why this won!!

  • Teresa Renton5 months ago

    Fabulous work! Such a great story. I do hope you continue. Congratulations for your win! Great achievement! 🥳

  • Daysean Higgs5 months ago

    Congratulations. Not sure if you plan on finishing this story, but if you do, i'll be following. Again, congrats.

  • Patrick M. Ohana5 months ago


  • Amazing work✨📝💚👍🎉🎉🎉🎉CONGRATULATIONS🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

  • Veronica Coldiron5 months ago

    Wonderful story! Congratulations!

  • Wow, this is outstanding! What a worthy winner! Congratulations!

  • Ava Mack5 months ago

    Congrats on your win! This first chapter sets up the novel to come so cleanly and concisely, I want to read the whole story!

  • Adam Patrick5 months ago

    Excellent stuff, congrats on 1st place!

  • Babs Iverson5 months ago

    Fabulous story!!! Congratulations on the win!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Darkos5 months ago

    Fantastic just when I read the title and saw the image I was attracted immediately to reading and it was a great experience Looking for more! Congratulations on Winning so Happy for You! :)

  • JBaz5 months ago

    This is awesome. Congratulations on the win It was a wonderfully written story.

  • Gerald Holmes5 months ago

    Excellent story-telling. Congrats on your win.

  • Natalie Wilkinson5 months ago

    Congratulations, I had read this one and thought it was great early on! Maybe we’ll be reading the rest of it! ?

  • Jazzy 5 months ago

    I love this so much! Congrats on the win! This was so well done, omg. That twist! Now I need the whole book please and thank you!!!

  • Hannah Moore5 months ago

    Wow, such a worthy win, this was so engaging.

  • JBaz6 months ago

    You created a beautiful character with a deep backstory, This is one of my favorites that I have read so far for this challenge. And the adventure is just beginning.

  • Natalie Wilkinson6 months ago

    I would definitely read more of this.

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