1st Place Category 4: His Lucky Penny
Winner Category 4 (Ages 13 to 14)
by Morgan Gibbs
His Lucky Penny
Our footsteps ricochet off of the sterile white walls as we pace through the empty hallway. Finley’s pink and white shoelace unties itself, and she stumbles along the hard tiles, clutching my hand tightly as she slips. My face is grim as I pull her up from the floor, and I wince as her brand new shoes squeak loudly across the ground.
Finley swings our arms back and forth as we trek on. “Penny,” she whines, “how much longer?”
I sigh and push my bangs away from my eyes as I stare at the map. “I don’t know, Fin. This place is starting to seem more like a maze than a hospital.”
Finley clings to my forearm as I squint at the map. The colours all seem to blur together and I pull back from the wall, shocked. My fingers go to my eyes and come back dampened with tears, and I quickly wipe my face on my shirtsleeve.
You can’t let Fin see you cry, I think. You have to be strong for her.
“Are you crying?” Finley asks nervously. “I thought you said there was no reason to cry. You said that Grandpa is going to be just fine.”
I exhale, my shoulders sagging in defeat. “Yeah, well, I say a lot of things, Finley. Just because I say them, that doesn’t mean that they’re true.”
Finley stares at me, open mouthed. She scrunches up her face, and I immediately regret what I said. “No, Fin, don’t cry,” I whisper. “It’s going to be—”
A tear trickles out of the corner of her eye as she stares at me, horrified. “Don’t tell me that everything’s alright,” Finley snaps, “because it’s clearly not. I’m already eight years old, Penny. I know when I’m being lied to. So don’t bother to next time.”
Tears well up in my eyes as I see her rise to her full height—which is no real height at all—and begin to head down a dimly lit corridor. A wry smile reaches my lips as I softly say, “Fin, you’re—”
Finley spins around, sniffing sadly. “Don’t you dare get all lovey on me, okay? We’re in public, for Pete’s sake! Save the hugs.”
“No, it’s just that Grandpa’s room is in the other direction.”
Finley glares at me and begins to stomp the other way. I walk quietly behind her, my hand in my pocket. My nerves begin to fade as cool metal clangs against my feverish fingertips. I stare at the rooms, ticking off numbers in my head.
Finley and I stop at the heavy wooden door, staring at the brass plate with the number 303. Finley gulps and clutches my hand. My arm trembles a little as I reach for the doorknob, and I curse myself for it. I brace myself and twist the handle.
My nose wrinkles as the smell of disinfectant passes through my nostrils. Finley hides behind me as we make our way into the tiny room. Lying propped up on the bed is our grandfather, shriveled and worn, and reeking of antiseptic.
“Penny!” He calls gleefully. “How’s Oreo been? I’ve missed you and your sister so much!” His eyes raked over the room. “Speaking of which, where is Finley?”
I swallow, afraid, but manage to smile at him. Oreo had been my pet hamster, until he died…a year ago.
Finley peeks out from behind me, her eyes wide. Then she rockets out from her spot and clambers onto Grandpa’s bed, being careful not to disturb his frail legs.
I slowly reach my hand into my pocket, pulling out a shiny penny. It was the last one he gave me before he got stuck in the hospital with Alzheimer’s. I hold my hand out, the coin resting in my palm. Grandpa stares at me for a second, and then takes the penny. “Thanks,” he says nicely. He sets the penny on the nightstand and turns to Finley.
He never ever gets to ask her anything, because Finley’s already bawling her eyes out. “HE DIDN’T FLIP IT!” She cries, jumping off of the bed as though she’d been electrocuted.
Grandpa grabs the coin, cutting off her sobs. “You want me to flip the coin?” He asks kindly. I can see in his eyes that he’s confused. Finley manages to nod her head as she wipes her nose on her sweater.
“Heads,” Finley calls out, still choked up.
Grandpa tosses the coin into the air. I watch it, entranced and hopeful. I send up a silent prayer as he catches the penny and turns it over in his palm. Grandpa’s fingers unfold, and my heart falls. “Sorry, girls,” he winks at us, waving the coin proudly in the air, tails-side
Grandpa turns to me. “So, Penny—”
Finley begins to run out of the room, her cries interrupting his question. I smile sadly at Grandpa, who looks defeated, and kneel down next to her. I wrap my arms around her, trying to keep her from bolting. “What’s wrong, Fin?”
“He didn’t let us win.” Finley says softly. “But Grandpa always lets us win. He always calls you his lucky Penny, and me Fin-Fin, no matter how many times I tell him to stop. But what if I want him to call me Fin-Fin now?”
“Is that even our Grandpa?” Finley asks sullenly as she slips out of my arms and out the door.
Grandpa buries his face in his hands. “I’m sorry, Penny.”
“It’s okay.” I turn to leave, but Grandpa calls out, “Penny! You forgot this.” He holds out my penny, hopeful. “Who knows? It may be your lucky penny.”
I take the coin from him and smile.
As I leave him, he stares wistfully out his window, and I am confronted with a sudden truth: no matter how changed Grandpa may be, he’ll always be my grandpa.
And I’ll always be his lucky Penny.
When I was little, the most dangerous and imposing question ever asked of me was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For a while, I thought I wanted to be a ballerina, but I quickly realized that I didn’t have the grace. I then decided I was going to be a teacher, but later I learned that I lacked the patience. I wanted to be a doctor, the president, a lawyer. I wanted to leave a mark on this world, so that even after I died people would still speak my name. Somewhere in there, though, I wanted to be an artist. I’d imagine the perfect painting and whip out my water-colors, but the problem was that the pictures never turned out like they did in my head. Frustrated, I abandoned the hope of becoming a pint-sized Picasso. Then I discovered my passion for writing. It was like a ray of light piercing through the dark, because the words that I thought of in my head turned out the exact same way on paper. I was hooked, and I think that’s when I decided that writing was going to be how I’d leave my mark on Earth.