Her husband rushed into the room waving both hands toward the floor, palms down. “She just fell asleep. Would you quiet down?”
Nancy scowled at him.
“What?” He snapped in return.
Neither of them actually recognized him, but former President Grover Cleveland was looking up at them from five recently wadded-up one-thousand dollar bills. “They were in her pockets,” Nancy said.
“She must have found them somewhere today. No one just gave a little girl five-thousand dollars.”
“Jim, no one is going to believe our two-year old took this. Think about it for a second!”
“Would you please calm down?” Jim asked. “No one’s in jail. We’ll get through this.”
“There are surveillance cameras everywhere!” Nancy snapped.
“We didn’t steal anything. At the worst, the only thing they have video of is our two-year old picking up something she shouldn’t have, and I don’t believe she did that, either.”
“You don’t think I took it!”
“Of course not,” Jim said. He tried to wrap his wife into a hug, but she was as stiff as a board.
He could feel her struggling to hold back the tears that had been all-too-frequent visitors into their lives lately. “I can lose my home, but I can’t lose you, too.”
“We’re not going to lose anything, Nanc.”
“We’re out of money!”
He squeezed her tighter. “Something will change.”
“Yeah, a criminal record is all we need.”
“Now, let’s think about this,” Jim said once she’d calmed down. “We had a picnic in the park, and we walked around looking that the artwork in the churches, right?”
“We were downtown half of the day, Jim. She could have found it anywhere.”
“She would have had to get away from both of us, Nanc. Where did we let that happen?”
“Not at the park,” Nancy said flatly. “We’d never-“
“You’re right. We wouldn’t let her out of our sight at the park.”
“It had to be one of the churches.”
“There’s no way a church in New York City would have a statue with five thousand dollars hanging off of it, Nancy. If it was that easy to grab, someone else would have made off with it a long time ago. Something else has to have happened.”
“We have to try and give it back, Jim,” Nancy said.
“All right. We’ll be back downtown in the morning for service. We’ll figure it out,” Jim said. “It’ll be all right, Nanc. I promise.”
Nancy had a tough time sleeping. A little bit of her found relief in the fact that Jim could still sleep so well, even with their world falling out from underneath them. He was working so hard, trying to make up for the fact that she couldn’t find work it all.
It was far easier to feel like a failure than a good wife and mother.
She loved their life together, and being a mother was everything. She’d just gotten caught up in Jim’s never-lose-hope attitude toward life and forgotten about her own.
Never let yourself get boxed into a corner.
Nancy knew she was a good graphic designer, but the advent of decent computers and over-the-counter design software had made her education and abilities a thing of the past akin to a quill and parchment. Just the minute she got laid off, she started working on her résumé and an illustrated children’s book she’d always dreamed about on the off chance it could make some money to get them through.
But it hadn’t. And it wouldn’t…
To Jimmy, the answer had been clear – turn his one job into two. He drove a delivery truck for the first end of the week, and cleaned office buildings on nights and the weekend. She’d offered to find something to help out, but there just wasn’t anything that would make them more than childcare would cost.
He’d told her to stay home, take care of their baby, Mary, and keep trying to earn what she could. They’d never lived extravagantly, but even with their savings, the ins weren’t meeting the outs. Their bank account had dwindled as they’d passed the point of no return – they no longer had the money to leave, but they weren’t going to be able to stay much longer, either.
She’d found a lot of peace in the first year and a half, honestly. The shame she felt in being furloughed was tempered by the joy she felt in being there for Mary’s life. Seeing the world through her child’s eyes, she felt a wonder that she’d long since forgotten herself. She’d tried hard to capture it in her books using shapes and bright colors to show all of the new things the city held, but children’s book publishers didn’t seem to share her vision.
Jim claimed to have enough hope for the three of them, but one could only live on hope for so long – after a while, you just needed a cheeseburger.
Jimmy didn’t have trouble sleeping, and his dreams never bothered him – work never did. He spent his sleep the same as he spent his days, making deliveries and shining floors. There were, as they say, worse things.
“You know, this is a fool’s errand,” Jim said as he watched Mary feed herself oatmeal.
She was such a good little kid.
“Jim, we can’t just keep it!” Nancy snapped.
“Nanc, think about it. Do you really want to go through downtown New York City asking people if they lost five large?”
“It’s not a world where this happens, Jim. We could go to jail.”
“How do you figure that?”
“We stole five thousand dollars!”
“How do you figure that?”
“Because you have five thousand dollars in your pocket that isn’t ours.”
“I do!” Beyond frustrated, Nancy added, “Can we just get ready for church?”
Their Sunday routine was just that, a routine. After breakfast, Jim got himself ready and kept an eye on Mary as she played a bit. Then he set about getting her dressed in her Sunday best, which had been the same floral print dress for about six months now. It had been too big for her when Nancy had picked it out at the thrift store, and it was just about too small, but that was the drawback of being poor.
As Nancy emerged from the bathroom to complain about how he’d done Mary’s hair, Jim admitted it was about the only drawback. Even in her worn winter dress and fresh-faced with no makeup, she was a vision. She hummed along to the gospel music he had playing on the radio as she fussed over the final bits of making sure they were presentable.
“Can I have a kiss?” Jim asked before he opened the apartment door.
“Of course,” Nancy said with a huff of breath.
It was only a kiss in name.
“Kiss! Kiss!” Mary shouted, obviously trying to get her mamma’s attention.
Nancy scooped her into her arms, and it seemed to be the turning point of the morning. Given everything, the simple desire for attention from Nancy helped to frame the priorities of the day.
There wasn’t a need to try to interact with Mary as they made their way through the quiet streets. She was such a curious little girl – even if she had asked about it yesterday, she would likely ask about it tomorrow. She was always testing her memory and trying to see how one piece of the world fit into another.
She was almost always a joy, usually staying close and not sneaking away.
Today was not that day.
Once inside their church, Mary ran to her favorite statue. She liked to look at the bird the monk carved from stone was holding. It was against Mama’s rules, and she couldn’t quite reach his bird, but she touched the statue. Mama’s hand reacted quickly, but it brushed the statue as it pulled Mary’s little fingers away from the aged marble.
It was only a flash, but Nancy still stumbled away from it. She had tears pushing at the corners of her eyes when she looked at her husband. “You were right, Jimmy. I’ve been a butt about his money.”
He was shocked by her turnaround. “It’s going to be all right. You know that, don’t you?”
She swept Mary into her arms, who seemed intent on cuddling into her shoulder. She’d be asleep in minutes. “I do now. I need to be better about accepting a gift.”
He smiled. There was so much more he wanted to say, but he settled for, “We’re going to be all right, Nancy.”