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Cheat_'s Remorse

Page history last edited by Sheridan Hay 14 years, 3 months ago

 

The Cheat's Remorse by Morley Callaghan.

Phil was sipping a cup of coffee in Stewart's one night, sitting at the table, when he saw a prosperous-looking man at next table pushing a sandwich away from him slowly as if the sight of it made him sick. by the way the man tried to concentrate on the untouched sandwich anyone could see he was pretty drunk. He was clutching his food check firmly in his left hand as he used the other to tug and fumble at a roll of in his pocket. He was trying to get of himself, to get ready to walk up to the cashier in a straight line without stumbling, pay his check, and get home before he fell asleep.

 

The roll of bills that was in the man's hand started Phil thinking how much he needed a dollar. He had been across the country and back on a bus, he was broke, his shirts were in a hand laundry, and a man he had phoned yesterday, a man he had gone to school with, and who worked in a publisher's office now, had said he might be able to get him a few weeks' work. But they wouldn't let him have the shirts at the laundry unless he paid for them. And he couldn't bear to see a man he had grown up with who was making a lot of money unless he had at least a clean shirt on.

 

As he was watching the man's fingers thumbing the roll of bills, a wonderful thing happened: a bill fell on the floor. Phil's heart gave a couple of jerks. And he had such a marvellous picture of himself going into the laundry and getting the shirts.

 

A girl in a worn coat a girl with untidy fair hair and with a pale face, came over and sat down at his table. An unpaid food check was in her hand. The dollar bill on the floor was about two feet away from her foot. Phil glanced at the girl, their eyes met, then her glance shifted to the floor.

 

Phil got scared at the bill, one knee on the floor as he grabbed at it, but she knew just where the bill was, and her foot swung out and her toe held it down with all her weight.

 

'I guess some one lost it,' he said, looking at her.

'Looks like it,' she said , her toe still on the bill, her face tense with eagerness.

'What do you think we should do?' he said, shrugging good-humouredly.

'What do you think yourself?'

''Tell you what I'll do,' he said. 'Figuring maybe we both saw it at the same time and we both need it, how about if I toss you for it?'

She hesitated and said. 'Seems fair enough. Go ahead.'

He took a nickel from his vest pocket. 'Heads I win, tails you win,' he said getting ready to toss the coin.

'Let it land on the table and don't touch it and let it roll,' she said, nodding her head.

He spun the coin beautifully and it rolled a wide arc on the table.

'Heads, eh? Heads,' she said. Her face was close to his, and there were tears in her eyes, but she turned away ad said faintly: 'Okay, pal.It's all yours.' She raised her foot.

 

She went to the cashier to pay her check. While she was speaking to the cashier Phil was looking at the coin in his palm feeling dreadfully ashamed. It was heads on both sides, the lucky phony coin he had found a year ago. But he could see nothing but the expression on her face as she watched it spinning on the table, as if all the hope she had ever had in her life was put on the coin. He felt that somehow her whole fate depended on her having the bill. she had been close to it, and then he had cheated her.

 

She was going out and he rushed after her. 'Just a minute, lady. Do me a good turn, will you? Take the buck, that's all,' he said. 'What's this, mister? You won it fair and square enough. Okay. Let it go at that.' 'No, I didn't win it on the level,' he said. 'Here, miss, take it please. That was a phony coin I tossed, don't you see? You didn't have a chance.' Mystified, she said: 'Look here, if you cheated me, and I might have known it would be phony anyway, but -' 'I thought I needed the buck badly. I needed to get my laundry tomorrow. I needed a clean shirt.' 'Listen, you figure a clean shirt'll help you?' she said. 'I figured itwould give me heard start, that's all.' 'Maybe it will. Go ahead. Get the shirts.' 'No, please, you take it.' 'A clean shirt won't help me, nor the price of one,' she said harshly. 'So long.'

 

But the clean shirt became an absurd thing, and the dollar felt unclean in his hand. He had to get rid of the dollar or feel he'd always see her walking away with her hands deep in her pockets.

 

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