Friday, December 17, 2021

the bill

by horace p sternwall

when al sax was a little boy, he was walking down the street one day with his parents when he saw what looked like a dollar bill lying in the street. he bent to pick it up.

his mama, edna, told him, don’t pick up that nasty thing, you don’t know where it has been.

his dad, ed, said, how do you know where any dollar has been? they give you a dollar in change at the store, how do you know where it has been?

al hesitated, and edna said, if you let that child pick that bill up, i will never speak to either one of you again.

as edna wore the pants in the family, they all moved on, leaving the dollar - if it was a dollar - for the next person to come along.

al always felt sorry for ed because of the way edna treated him, and he resolved to always pick up money in the street if he got the chance.

many years later al was walking down the street, alone, as it was getting dark, and he saw what looked like another dollar in the street. he almost did not stop to pick it up. it was cold, it was probably just one dollar, which did not go nearly as far as it used to, and his back was hurting him so did not really want to bend down to pick the thing up.

but he remembered ed and his resolution so he took a deep breath and picked the bill up.

to his surprise, it was not a one dollar bill.

it was not a five dollar bill.

it was not a ten dollar bill, or a twenty dollar boll, or even a one hundred dollar bill.

it was a one hundred billion dollar bill!

whoa! al looked around. there was nobody in sight.

he casually slipped the bill into his wallet and walked the remaining three blocks to his house, which he now lived alone in, ed and edna having both passed away some years ago.

al’s head was in a whirl. he wondered who the bill belonged to - probably the government, but what did he know? - and if they would be looking for it - why would they not? and how it had come to be lying in the street like it was.

he carefully put the bill into the old family bible that he never looked at, and put it on an even higher shelf than it had been on.

the next day he watched the news on tv, which he usually did not do, and read the news in the paper, not just the sports and comics, to see if there was anything in them about a missing one hundred billion dollar bill.

there was nothing that day, but the day after that there were stories about a hundred billion dollar bill mysteriously missing from an air shipment from san francisco to washington d c. the story just said that an investigation was ongoing.

so it was real! the bill must have fallen out of the plane and could have fallen out anywhere in the country.

al did a search and found out that the richest man in the world only had ninety three billion dollars. so that meant that he, al sax, was now the richest man in the world!

it gave him a good feeing.

but where could he cash the bill? and would he be allowed to keep the bill just because he found it? the stories said there was a reward for finding it - nothing about keeping it.

al decided to keep the bill and sit tight. maybe something would happen, like a revolution or an invasion from outer space or something and he could use it then.

al went back to work like nothing had happened. the years went by.

the missing bill was sometimes the subject of conversation in the break room at work. al never put in his two cents in these conversations for fear of giving something away.

one day fred smith said, even if somebody has it, they do not really have it at all because they can not spend it. fred, who was one of those guys who thought he knew everything, added some nonsense about smomingdiggle’s or some name like that’s cat in a box that did not make any sense.

i still would not mind having it, bill marker said, and everybody but fred agreed.

i think it is terrible that somebody might be hanging on to it, milliie miller said. that money could be used to buy poor kids presents at christmas.

later, al thought about millie’s comments. he, al, was getting old. he suddenly realized that he would probably never get to break and spend the bill.

it was almost time for christmas. al had read somewhere that people mailed money to santa claus and the money was sent somewhere by the post office to buy toys for kids.

he put the hundred billion dollar bill - which was not worth nearly as much as it had been when he found it - in an envelope and addressed it to santa claus, north pole. he drove to chicago and put it in a mailbox downtown there.

al never saw anything in the media about the bill being recovered.

what do you think happened to the hundred billion dollar bill? were you ever a poor kid and got any extra presents at christmas?


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