The Silver Coin
One night before I crawled up to bed in the loft below the eaves where I slept, my father called me to his side. He sat in his favorite chair in front of the fireplace where a small fire burned low. The room was dim through the wavering candlelight and the flickering firelight cast shadows against the wall. He smoked a long pipe, and I loved to watch the thin streams of smoke float to the ceiling where a heavy cloud of smoke hung. My mother sat in a smaller, more comfortable chair and looked up from her sewing. She had a bright smile and I was proud of her beauty. My father reached inside of his coat pockets and removed an object—a small silver coin. He held it out to me.
“This is yours to keep,” he said with tender authority. “This coin is very special.”
I took the coin from his hand and felt the weight of it, the thickness of it, and I knew that my father spoke the truth.
“Put this coin in your pocket and always keep it with you, Johan. This is a magic coin, a charm, and it will bring you good luck. But you must never give it away, do you understand?”
My father stared into my eyes thoughtfully when he said this, and I could feel the gravity of his words like they were being attached to me with chains. He smiled as he spoke and I knew that this was a special moment for him as well as for me. I turned the coin over and over in my hand and felt its heft as a comfort, and I knew that I would always keep this with me just as my father said.
“You must be very careful with this magic coin, Johan, for someday you will not have it.”
“But you said that I must always have it,” I cried. “You said that I must never give it away.”
“And so that is true,” he responded. “You must never give it away. When the time is right, the coin will give itself away. Do you understand?”
I did not understand, but I nodded.
“You are just a boy, Johan, and therefore you cannot know all of these special things attached to special purposes and magic coins. Just trust me when I say that you will know when the time is right.”
I looked at my mother who watched me with a curious smile. She did not say anything, but I felt that she knew the secret of this magic coin. She saw the puzzled look on my face and then she said. “It is time for you to crawl up to your room, Johan. Tomorrow is a school day and you must be well rested, for learning is also a special gift for little boys and there is much to learn. Now give me a kiss before you go.”
I went to my mother and kissed her tenderly. She hugged me close and I could feel the warmth of her body and strangely a tear came to my eye.
“Why do you cry you silly boy,” she said.
“I want you to be proud of me,” I answered without thinking.
“I will always be proud of you,” she answered. “Now hurry, Johan, for the night is getting old.
As I climbed back up the steps to my loft I heard the final words of my father.
“Now you remember what I said, my son. You must never give it away.”
And then I was safely in my bed beneath the warm covers, but I still held the silver coin in my hand. Sleep came quickly and I was visited by a nightmare in which my hand was being pried open by a strange creature as I slept. My hand held the coin tightly but still the creature tried to pry my hand open to get at the coin. I knew that unless I woke up in time, the coin would be torn away from me by the creature, so I forced myself to wake up, not into my bedroom beneath the eves, but into another dream in which I could escape the creature. The next morning when I heard the calling of my mother from below, I still held the coin in my hand. I had made it thought the first night.
After a breakfast of an egg and a piece of toasted bread with butter I put on my heavy coat and left my house to travel the snowy street that would take me to the schoolhouse where I went every day to learn the rigors of letters and numbers. The coin I kept in my pocket, and I decided that I would tell no one about it, lest they too, try to wrest it from my hand.
At school I worked hard and did all my assignments because I wanted to learn and I wanted my mother to be proud of me. My father was a street sweeper and it was my hope that I would not have to follow him into such a hard and demanding job. I was proud of my father because he never complained but only went to his job with a smile. He came home with a smile too, and even though his cloths would be dirty and dusty he never complained and his voice would be the loudest during our prayer before supper.
When I got home from school I would check my pocket to be sure that the silver coin would still be there. Sometimes I would hold it in my hand and look at it. There was a symbol stamped into it, but I never knew what the symbol was or what it was supposed to be. Sometimes I thought it looked like a man with wings, but other times I thought it was an angel, and though I had never seen an angel, I supposed that this is what an angel would look like. The angel looked to be flying over a vast ocean. I would look at the silver coin and imagine that I was the angel and that it was I that flew across the vast ocean. I imagined that I had a very important place to visit, but I could never imagine what place that would be.
As time went by I looked at the silver coin less and less, but I always carried it with me as my father had instructed. One day when I was still a young boy there was a fishing accident, and one of the men was lost at sea. I was walking along the wharf and I could hear news of the accident and hear the terrible wailing and lamentations of the women. The men did not wail, but they were grieved in silence and I felt that there pain was even greater but for the expectation that they be strong.
I had a strong desire to give the coin to the woman who cried with the greatest passion, and I thought that perhaps this was a sign and that I was meant to give the coin away, but I resisted because I could still hear my father’s voice telling me to keep the coin. Instead, I merely looked at the woman with great sorrow, and I felt great pity for her. She saw me looking at her, and though she did not stop crying, I felt that in some small way I may have given her some comfort. That night at supper I told my father about my experience, and I told him that I almost gave the coin away, but that I resisted.
“When the time is right, the magic coin will give itself away,” was all he said, and then he smiled at me as if I had made him proud.
That night I had another terrible dream, but this time the dream was different because the coin had given me strength. In this dream I worked a small fishing boat off the coast of Peel. I was still a boy in my dream, but I was treated like a man. The sky was dark blue, with a hazy tone that was almost impossible to see through. We worked the sea in almost total darkness. The captain gave the order to haul in the nets, and I dragged with great difficulty, the nets from the murky dark sea. Some fish were captured and thrown into the hold, and I pulled the nets in silence, but then something terrible happened.
As I continued to draw the nets aboard, the nets emerged from the depths and they were filled with the bodies of men, trapped and all twisted together inside the nets. I gasped, but the other men told me to continue pulling them up and that we could do nothing for them because they were lost at sea.
“Man those nets!” the men shouted at me as they disentangled the bodies and cast then into the hold. I was horrified, and looked for the captain to tell him that I would not do this any longer, but the captain had been transformed into a terrible and ugly sea creature. He was ferocious.
“Haul up!” he cried, and he threatened the men with frightening gestures.
The men started bringing up the nets, but they stopped suddenly. The seaman who worked alongside of me gave out a mournful yelp.
“That is my brother Hans!” he cried, pointing to a young boy tangled in the net.
“That is my father!” another fisherman cried.
Everybody was pointing to the deadly catch and they all saw someone they knew. It was dreadful and frightening.
“We have to stop the harvest!” I shouted at the captain.
“See to it that I don’t harvest you,” he shouted back at me.
“I’ll pay,” I replied frantically trying to make him listen.
“Pay with what?” the captain answered with bitter anger.
I remembered the silver coin, and I took it out of my pocket and showed him. Suddenly the captain’s expression changed. It happened in an instant, and he was no longer a creature. He pointed to two of his strongest seamen.
“You men get down in the hold and start hauling up those bodies! Lay them on the deck carefully so that they thaw. They’ll be alright.”
After that, all my dreams were different. Everyone in dreamland knew me, and they all did whatever I asked. I was important in this world, and like a king, I gave orders and watched them carried out.
“Did you give the coin away?” my father asked.
“No,” I answered. “I showed the coin to the people, but only in the dreamland.”
“But how will you know if you are dreaming?” he responded. “What if you give it away? What if you give it away but you are not dreaming?”
At first it was easy to keep the dream separate from my waking life, but there soon came a time when I found myself thinking about the silver coin during my waking life moments. I caused no harm to myself and I harmed no one, so I did not pay much attention and more than once I reached into my pocket for the coin so that my commands would be followed. Truly the coin was beginning to alter my behavior. I knew that in my dream world I was a king, but I found it much easier to remain just a boy in the real world, for I knew that just as soon as I would go to sleep, I would go back to my kingdom. I wanted nothing more than that I should be a good king.
My father had told me that the longer the coin is kept, the greater shall be its power. One day I hoped to stay in my kingdom and not have to come back again.
When I would come back again and wake up in the real world in which I was still a boy, I was happy for my innocence and that I should not have to make so many decisions for all my people, because I had no people in the real world, and I was just an ordinary person in a world of ordinary persons.
Through the high snowfields I would walk on my way to the schoolhouse, and I would stamp the wet snow off my boots inside the door. And then I would learn all the things that I needed to learn so that I should be important in this world and that I would never sweep the streets like my poor father who worked so hard.
Never did I tell another soul about the silver coin. I thought it best that they never knew so that they would never be tempted to steal it from me, or by some clever device, trick it out of my hands. Many dreams did I travel to, and many adventures did I have and no one knew, for I was diligent in my promise to keep it secret.
I was with my father the day he died. He was very sick and he held me in his arms like a baby. He was very weak, but he looked into my eyes as if to fix them in his mind. He spoke to me softly, for he was slipping away, but he wanted to tell me something and he spoke with passion.
“You will have to go on without me,” he said at last.
I tried to speak but he continued to speak and would not allow me to interrupt him. He pushed me away gently so that he could look into my eyes.
“I am leaving you now,” he continued. “You must be strong and you must find your way without me. I take the image of you into my soul, and so it shall be that you shall guide me.”
I could not bear it any longer. “I have the coin,” I said hopefully. “I can use it to make you better. We can call for a doctor and one will come.”
“No, no my son,” he answered with a tear in his eye. “There is something you should know now. I never told you because I was ashamed, for I am poor, and so you too are poor. The coin is not magic. In truth, I found it in the street one day when I was cleaning. The coin is not magic, my son. The coin is worthless . . . it has no value, and that is why I told you never to give it away. I gave it to you to give you hope.”
“No, no,” I cried. “The coin is magic, father. I know it is, and I believe.”
We both cried, and I felt his life slip away from me until he was still. He died peacefully and I was made strong by his strength. My father was ashamed of his poverty, but I felt richer at that very moment than if I had been a King.
And now the moments of Kings and paupers, and fathers and sons has dissolved into the imaginations of those who know nothing of magic coins and mighty sea serpents, and my sadness is now for them, for I am at peace and I have new dreams.
The sun was almost down when I finished my story. With the coming darkness came a chill in the air from the great north wind. We sat together as a small fire burned low in the fireplace and sputtered with the last dying embers. The flickering firelight reflected in his eyes. He looked at me and I could see a tear in his eye. He waited to see if I would say more, as if to prolong the moment forever. The shadows grew long between us but I could feel us getting closer. My heart was filled with joy at that moment. I felt a great presence of pity in my heart, for no one in particular but for the myriad lonely people like myself who felt such inextinguishable love and could never be comforted. I looked him in the eye as the feeling of pure joy swept through me like the trembling wisps of wind from beyond.
“Now you know the truth, my son. Now you know what this means to me, and so I give this coin to you now, and may it bring you the same comfort and magic that it has given to me all these years.”