500 Dollars

April 22, 2011
By OrelICE BRONZE, Herzliya, Other
OrelICE BRONZE, Herzliya, Other
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Rebecca Miller lived on the fifth floor of a ten-story apartment building. Her apartment was small, but the rent was cheap enough that she could afford to live there with her two children, overbearing mother, and one pet mouse named Cheezers.
A day at Rebecca Miller’s household always began with the three screams:
The scream of Rebecca’s alarm clock, blaring out a high pitched screech that would pull her out of the deepest of dreams.
Rebecca’s desperate screams of: “IT’S 6:00, IT’S 6:05, IT’S 6:10, IT’S 6:15--!” as she tried desperately to get her sluggish 12 year old daughter, Hannah, out of bed.
And finally, the loudest scream of the morning: the screams of her two year old son Jacob, who had been having terrible tantrums for the past few weeks.
But the morning would always brighten up as Hannah crawled out of bed and got ready for school, and Jacob’s kicks and cries were soothed by handing him a bowl of brightly coloured Froot Loops. Rebecca’s mother Leah would slowly make her way into the kitchen, a bright pink sleep mask still plastered to her forehead. When asked how she could possibly sleep through the thunderstorm that was the morning, she always replied: “Grandmothers can sleep through everything, after we live through it as mothers!”
This morning, like all the rest, began with that special brand of chaos known only to guardians of 12 year olds and toddlers. It ended with the crunch-crunch of Froot Loops in Jacob’s drooling mouth, and Hannah’s sleep farewells to her mother and grandmother as she left for school.
Rebecca checked the time on her microwave: 7:25. She signalled to her mother to keep an eye on Jacob, and left the apartment. She crept quietly down the hallway—for most of the residents on her floor were elderly, retired, and thankfully able to sleep in!—and down five flights to the main lobby of the building. She retrieved a bundle of newspapers, each labeled with apartment numbers, from a box marked FIFTH FLOOR. Each resident was supposed to get their own papers, of course, but Rebecca was fond of doing little good things. Besides, she had reasoned with herself early on, the early morning exercise up and down the stairs gave her some much needed exercise!
She swiftly deposited each paper beside the designated apartment, and went back inside her own home, eager to prepare for work.
“I don’t know why you do that every morning,” her mother said when she entered. Leah sat at the table with Jacob, reading a magazine. “You never brought in our paper when we were living in the old house!”
“I only bring in the papers for the elderly, mom,” Rebecca said, walking into the bathroom to change into her suit. She stuck her head out of the bathroom door. “And you were young then!”
“I can tell when you’re mocking me!” Her mother said, wagging her finger.
Rebecca changed from her pyjamas into a casual dark blue suit for her secretarial work at a small advertising agency. She wished she worked at a busier agency in the city, but this one was close enough to save her money on gas for her car, and to ensure she was nearby in case there was any sort of emergency at home.
She swept her hair into an easy bun and stepped into the kitchen for some toast.
Immediately, her mother Leah asked.
“You’re going to work with your hair in a bun again? Back in my day, we spent an hour each morning curling and perfecting our hair-does! You girls today just throw it up or back and go right outside! Such a shame, such a shame.”
Rebecca kissed her son on the head, and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek. “Yes, yes, I’m sure our clients are very concerned about the state of my hair and not the state of our designs!”
She walked back down the five flights to the main lobby of the apartment building, stopped to hold the door open for some delivery men, and navigated to the back parking lot where all of the tenants cars were kept.
Suddenly, there was a voice from behind her.
“Becca! Hey Becca!”
She turned around to see June Harper, her next door neighbour, running in her slippers towards the parking lot, holding a paper bag in the air. June panted, and held out the bag.
“Becca, Kyle forgot his lunch again! Is there any way you can you drop this off at the school? It’s right on your way to work, isn’t it?”
Rebecca took the bag without another thought. “No problem, June! I’ll just run it into the office.”
June departed quickly, no doubt eager to get inside, as the passers-by staring at a woman in her slippers and nightgown were beginning to grow!
Rebecca tossed the bagged lunch in the passenger seat and headed for the junior high. Thankfully, school had already started, and she was spared the agony of sitting behind yellow bus after yellow bus as she vied for space in the parking lot. She grabbed the bag and headed inside. A glanced down at the bag revealed something wholly unsurprising—June left her son a sticky note on his lunch: “EAT YOUR SANDWICH FIRST, AND COOKIE LAST! LOVE, MUMSIE!”
A quick stop in the school office, and she was finally on her way to work!
As she was nearing the parking lot of the office, her cell phone rang. She pressed the speaker button.
Her mother’s frantic voice crackled over the speaker. She could hear Jacob screaming in the background.
“Rebecca, I—oh hush I’m telling her right now, no you listen to me, I’m on the phone, well I’m about to tell her if you’ll just—Rebecca, honey?”
Rebecca pulled into a parking space, unbuckled her seatbelt, and picked up the phone.
“What’s the matter, mom? What’s going on?”
“You see, well—what happened was—I didn’t think he’d go ballistic—“
“Mom!” Rebecca said sternly. “What. Happened.”
A long, drawn-out sigh was her response.
“Jacob had himself a fit when you left, so I put him in the time out chair, and well…”
Rebecca took a deep breath.
“He kicked a hole right through the wall!”
Rebecca buckled her seat belt once more.
“I’ll be right there. Let me call the office first.”
Rebecca was thankful for the respect she’d garnered at the office during her three years of work there, for they were often very lenient when it came to emergencies.
As soon as she arrived in the parking lot, she dashed into the building—quickly held the front door open for an elderly man she recognized from her floor—and up the stairs to her apartment. The door was open, and she saw that the manager of the apartment and another man were arguing with her mother over the sounds of Jacob’s tantrum.
“Miss Miller!” The manager said, thrusting his hands in the air. “Look what your son has done! Look at this hole! This is ridiculous, this is outrageous! You will have to pay to fix this, because I cannot fix this!”
Rebecca sighed and ran her hand through the top of her hair. She immediately saw the hole in the wall—it had broken straight through the wallpaper and the plaster!
“Of course I’ll pay for it,” she said, mustering a smile for the manager. “How much will it cost?” She thought that it couldn’t be more than $100, if that. The hole wasn’t too big, she reasoned, so the bill would have to be low.
The man with the manager scoffed. “$100? Try $500. This isn’t just something we can patch right up. We’ll need to redo a huge chunk of the wall.”
“$500?!” Rebecca cried. “I don’t have that kind of money!”
“You’ll have to find it!” The manager said. “This has to be fixed right away, and I’m not liable for the damage your son—“ he gestured towards Jacob, who had quieted down and was staring at the entire scene, “creates! It’s in our contract that a tenant must fix any apartment damage within the month, so I suggest you find the money.”
The mother of two found herself near tears. “Look, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have that kind of money! $500 is—it’s just too much!”
Suddenly, a quiet voice came from the hallway:
“You say you need $500? I will chip in.”
The group turned to the doorway and saw an elderly man standing with his hands folded. Rebecca recognized him as the one she’d held the door open for earlier, and one she often saw when helping out around the fifth floor.
June Harper suddenly stood next to him. “So will I!”
Another tenant Rebecca recognized, a sweet old lady who worked as a fire-eating clown on weekends, stepped into view. “I have some money to spare!”
Soon the manager, construction worker, Rebecca, Leah, and her little son Jacob stared in awe at a gaggle of fifth floor residents who were offering money to help fix the hole in the apartment wall.
The manager then stammered. “W-Well! If you’ll pay me cash, then you can pay her bill for this!”
Rebecca was speechless as her neighbours handed over small wads of cash to the manager, to the sum of $500. The worker told Leah he’d be back the next day to fix it up, and left with the manager as Rebecca and her mother stared at their generous neighbours.
“I don’t know how to thank you!” Rebecca said. “I mean, it’s so much money!”
The elderly man waved his arm aside.
“Ah, don’t worry about it. Consider it your pay-check for delivering our newspapers all these years!”

The author's comments:
Won first place in a municipal short-story contest about generosity.

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