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Essie's Shame

by Cassidy Barker about a year ago in humanity
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Cassidy Barker

She felt guilty just looking at it. Essie’s cheeks burned as she took quick looks about herself in all directions to make sure nobody was around. She wiped her face then shoved her arm into the trash can, feeling the lumpy almost liquid of her own throw up. She grabbed the first bundle and stuffed it in her bag, not caring that it was covered in small chunks of regurgitated chicken. At first, she thought she was seeing more than double because she was drunk. But Essie kept fishing a skinny arm into the garbage and coming up with folds of money.

The more she found, the more feverishly she moved. The deeper she went, the more nauseous she became, and she did her best to hold more waves of vomit at bay. She was bent over at the waist in the trash can now, getting that last clump. Her hair fell all around her, sticking to the soaked lining of the trash bag. Not satisfied, she brought out the flashlight on her phone and scanned the contents of the darkness. Crumpled in a discarded clear plastic cup was one last hundred-dollar bill. She snatched it up and stuffed it in her purse with the rest.

Essie straightened and stumbled to the sink, washed her hands then continued the scrub up her arms. She pinched a chunk of hair and wrinkled her nose, then decided to stick her whole head in the sink and give a quick wash. She waved an arm under the high-pressure hand dryer and squatted beneath it, giving her head the same shake that you might see from a dog sticking their head out the car window.

The bathroom door opened, and a pair of giggling girls came in. They only gave her a glance, she flashed a peace sign, and then they picked the handicapped stall so they wouldn’t have to separate to pee. Essie braced herself at the sink, hands gripping its sides, and gave herself a onceover. She looked clean enough and let herself out of the bathroom, beelining for the bar.

“Lemme get a triple of your most expensive tequila,” she said to the bartender. She was already pulling a bill from her purse. “Please.”

The young man behind the bar was new to the game but could tell this woman was beyond intoxicated. He swallowed and glanced at his coworker at the other end. “I, I don’t think I can serve you.” He was remembering the main rules from his manager. No serving somebody under 21, no serving somebody who was already intoxicated. The manager had told him horror stories of a girl who over served a couple that later went on to drive home and take out a car full of four people in the process. The bar was liable in the case. The couple declared bankruptcy, so the lawyer of the family of the deceased went after the bar.

“Sure you can. I have a big tip waiting for you. Go ahead and pour it.” Essie put her chin in her hand. It slipped out of her palm almost instantly and she nearly face planted into the bar.

“Um, I don’t think I can legally even pour a triple.”

“What?” Essie leaned forward, unable to hear him between the drunken roar of the night in her ears and his mumbling.

“I can’t serve a trip-”

“How ‘bout a double then?” She smiled sweetly at the kid who might have been three years her junior.

He grabbed a plastic cup and shoved it through the ice. He uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for the slow pour of water from the soda gun to fill the cup. “Here’s a water for right now.” He placed it on the bar and went to consult with his coworker. The younger boy scratched his temple while he explained the situation to the other bartender. She looked up at Essie who once again delivered a kind smile, one she hoped made her look sober enough. The woman nodded and then gestured for the kid to take over her corner of the bar before making her way to Essie.

“I’m sorry, hon. We can’t serve you anymore. I can get you any soda you’d like, though, on the house. Or we can get you some food? The kitchen goes until midnight. Not many options, but it’s all good and fried.”

“I’ll just take a single shot.” Essie frowned, irritated.

“It’s not going to happen. You’ve been cut off. Have you already closed out? I’ll get your card back to you. Last name?”

Essie waved a hand at the bartender and un-balled the crumpled hundred from her sweaty fist. It would more than cover her tab, and that credit card they had for her sitting in the drawer wouldn’t go through if they tried. The thing was beyond maxed out. “Night,” she said.

“Thank you…” the woman grabbed a pair of latex gloves and held the bill up to the light inside the beer cooler, wiping a smear of bile away so that she could see the water mark. It was legit.

Essie chugged the water and wiped at the corners of her mouth where the liquid had poured out of the sides of the cup. She went to the front door, nodding respectfully to the bartender, and pulling up both her Uber and Lyft apps on the phone. She set her destination to her apartment and began the tiring process of tapping payment methods to see which would go through. None of them. “Where’s an ATM?” She asked the stoned guy checking IDs at the front door.

He looked up from a freshman’s fake ID and jerked his thumb to the left. “That way, around the corner, just outside the strip club.”

Essie thanked him and weaved her way through throngs of people. Once she turned the corner, the crowd thinned, and she was able to get to the ATM. She stuffed her debit card into the slot and entered her pin, then tried to feed two one-hundred-dollar bills into the dispenser. The machine wouldn’t take them, so she groaned and began wiping them down and then flexing them across the sides of the machine. She tried again and they went through. Essie smiled triumphantly and returned to the Uber app, selecting her debit card as payment. Success.

Essie felt sickness coming on again during the short ride home and pressed her forehead to the cool glass of the window, determined not to throw up and incur yet another expensive cleaning fee on her account. She leapt out of the car as he rolled to a stop in front of her place and hurriedly stuck her key in the lock, threw open the door, and whipped her purse to the floor before darting to the bathroom where she spent the night.

She woke at about ten in the morning splayed out on the bathroom floor with her bathrobe bunched under her head as a makeshift pillow. Her head was pounding, and evidence of her night proudly floated in the toilet water. She filled herself a glass of water and sipped it slowly, careful not to throw off the delicate balance in her stomach. Her front door was cracked and she cursed herself out loud, “Essie, you goddamn idiot.” The keys were still hanging in the lock outside the door. “Fucking moron,” she scolded. She grabbed her purse from the floor and threw it onto the couch. A few of the contents tipped out and her jaw dropped. “What the hell?” She whispered.

Her heart began to race with excitement as she ran over to confirm what was in her purse. Happy tears sprang to her eyes as she counted out the bills in her bag. She counted twice, then grabbed her phone’s calculator and a pen and paper to triple check her work. There was $19,700 in cash. She stared at the filthy stacks as the memory blotted its way into her brain. “I can’t believe it,” she breathed. She stood, shaking, and grabbed the little, black, almost-leather book from her desk.

She once used the Moleskine for shitty poems and shittier drawings. She didn’t tear the early pages out, rather drew a large “X” through the pages so that if anyone should find her notebook, they wouldn’t think that she thought her work was good. She flipped to the page marked with the thin ribbon and scanned the columns of numbers. The book had become her ledger for keeping track of credit card debt. The number amounted to a staggering $8,764.92, a number high enough to make any college senior weep. This, of course, did not include her student loan debt. But now, now all of her problems were solved. They were more than solved.

A flicker from her guilty conscious tickled at her brain. She tried to ignore it. It grew stronger and she squeezed her eyes shut, blocking the message. Essie went to the kitchen and put a piece of bread in the toaster, pulled out some peanut butter, and waited for the bread to pop out as toast. Impatient, she brought it out early and lathered it up. She took a bite and spent what felt like an hour chewing it. She couldn’t take another. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t her money.

"But I need this." Once again, tears squeezed from her eyes, this time in frustration. She began to argue out loud with herself. “Come on, it’s not like I found it on the road or in someone else’s bag. It was in the garbage for God’s sake!” The nagging voice in her head fired back, It still isn’t yours. You should turn it in.

“Fuck.” Essie grabbed her phone and started to dial 9-1-1. She stopped and instead put a search into Google. “lost large amount of money Athens, Georgia.” Nothing relevant popped up to prove that someone reported this money stolen or missing, just results that matched two or three of the words at a time from her search.

I’m not going to turn this into the police if nobody’s reported it. If it was a drug dealer’s, who cares? I don’t feel bad about taking money from one of them. It’s not like a nun dropped a collection for the Church in a trash can at a bar.

Now the rebuttals against keeping the money were the ones spoken aloud. “But it’s not my money. This is karma. This is some seriously bad karma. I can’t keep it.” She looked over to the cash laid neatly on her couch. It had become a living thing, kidnapped, waiting patiently to see what its captor would do, if it would ever return to its rightful home. Essie couldn’t exactly paste “Found” signs all over the city, not that she wanted to. And she wasn’t going to call the police. What if it is a drug dealer’s and they come after me? Now her thoughts and voiced expressions were on the same team. “What do I do? I don’t know what to do,” she wailed, glaring at the money. “Fuck you!”

She punched her fists to her eyes as she cried, and her mind ran rampant with thoughts in all directions. There was a break in thought and at once she grabbed up all the money, chucked it in the steel garbage bin in her bathroom, struck a match from the box that sat next to her “toilet candle,” and dropped the flaming stick into the tin, watching the yellowy-green burn slowly at first, and then all at once. She smiled serenely; the wail of the fire alarm fogged out by the peace in her brain.

humanity

About the author

Cassidy Barker

Cassidy Barker is a graduate of the University of Georgia living in the Atlanta area. Barker has one book published, Spoon Licker, and is at work on a second.

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