Sand Dollar

Forty-five years in, Sherry’s life doesn’t amount to much. But then, she meets a pair of sisters almost twice her age who could redeem her. Except…

Three o’clock on a Thursday morning and the main drag in Myrtle Beach is lit up like Vegas, or the Vegas Sherry imagines. She always thought she’d make it out there, see those flashy casinos for herself, but she barely scraped the cash together to cross the South Carolina line.

Her strappy black sandals dangle from her hand. One heel fell off an hour before sundown, and even though the callused soles of her feet are tough, she has to watch for beer-bottle shards scattered along the sidewalk.

The high-rise hotels looming over two-story Mom and Pops block any view of the ocean. But it’s Bike Week. Sherry knows nobody’s thinking much about the vast Atlantic. Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. That’s what the boy’s T-shirt said, the one who paid for his blowjob with a wad of five-dollar bills.

A souped-up Harley swerves too close to the sidewalk.

“Watch where you’re going, motherfucker,” Sherry hollers. Her scolding comes out hoarse and sets off a coughing spell. She drops her cigarette and stumbles against a cracked concrete planter holding a prickly pear cactus. Dried up and mostly dead, the cactus still holds enough thorns to pierce Sherry’s skin. She pinches tiny barbs from her thigh, and rubs her wound, smearing blood.

Devil’s Tongue. That’s what her mama used to call the cactus that grew in a rock garden beside their house in Cheraw. It bloomed yellow in the spring, and her mama took pictures of Sherry and her sisters standing beside it.

“Now take one of me,” her mama would say, handing Sherry’s older sister, Martha, her Kodak Instamatic. Sherry would give anything to have one of those pictures. Proof there’d been a time when she was a pretty woman’s baby girl.

Sherry thinks maybe she should walk on the beach back to her motel. The sand would be easier on her feet. But the whistles and bursts of bottle rockets remind her there’s all kinds of partying going on down by the water, all kinds but the paying kind. That’s how you get gang-raped and end up dead.

The whistles and bursts of bottle rockets remind her there’s all kinds of partying going on down by the water, all kinds but the paying kind. That’s how you get gang-raped and end up dead.

By the time the half-lit sign for the Sea Rise comes into view, Sherry’s lightheaded and out of breath. She climbs the stairs and pushes open the door to room 214. The window-unit air conditioner drips and moans, and the stench of mildew brings bile to her throat. She turns the knob to high and bends to let the cool air blow across her face until the nausea passes. Her gallbladder is acting up, but a doctor is just one more thing she can’t afford.

Bike Week used to mean an easy five thousand dollars, but after two nights working Ocean Boulevard, Sherry has less than five hundred hidden under the motel mattress. She hates the thought of going back to Fayetteville and hearing all the I-told-you-so’s.

A girl she works with at The Palace tried to talk her out of making the two-hour trip.

“Too many ho’s down there giving it away. You’re better off up here where the U.S. Army guarantees all the horny hounds we can handle.”

There are fancier strip clubs in Fayetteville, but The Palace’s owner, Percy, makes sure the boys stationed at Fort Bragg get their money’s worth, and his discounts for the men in blue keep the undercover pricks away.

But Percy’s new crop of fresh-faced lap-dancers are getting all the nods for backroom dates where the real money’s made. Even Sherry’s regulars have moved on, and it’s time for her to do the same. Bike Week was supposed to get her out of the hole and closer to having the cash she needs for massage school. She could get certified in six months, but it costs eight thousand dollars, four up front.

Back at The Palace, the girls kid about their “retirement plans.”

“Yeah,” says Arlene. “When Percy kicks me out of here, I’m going to hang out at the V.A. and service my regulars.” They joke, but the worry’s real.

Now that Sherry’s forty-five, the freckles that used to make her look young have grown together and turned a dirty brown. Deep wrinkles circle her eyes and mouth. Her last two tricks under the pier were just boys. One pushed her face up against a piling until splinters pricked her cheek, while the other cracked, “Does that dumb old whore still have her teeth?” When the second boy finished, he threw a couple of twenties on the sand and said, “Here, Granny, go buy you some snuff.”

Sand scatters when Sherry pulls the black knit minidress over her head. The fluorescent light above the bathroom sink tints her reddish blonde hair to green, but not as green as the hair on that one girl up by the Tiki Bar. Green hair, purple hair. Girls with their noses and lips pierced. Some no older than fifteen. Runaways most likely, and cocky in ways Sherry never thought about being.

She gets the shower water as hot as she can stand and lets it fill her mouth. She soaps her crotch and feels the burn. Once upon a time, she was dumb, like that man said, but whoring knocks ignorance sideways. There’s no fooling yourself when a man you don’t know holds your head between his legs until you gag. You don’t rise up from that with any big ideas, with any daydreams about the world being anything other than the way it is. You know the world down to its harsh, salty taste. And what Sherry knows is she’s going to have to find another way to live in it.

A thin strip of light slips between the drab, green motel curtains. The dollar-store digital clock glows red: 8:32. Morning television’s happy talk beats through the wall behind the bed, and other voices come from outside her door.

Goddamn it. Sherry throws back the slick polyester spread. She fell asleep wrapped in a towel, but she’s naked now and shivers in the air-conditioned chill. She stomps to the window and pokes her head between the curtains. Two gray-headed women sit in white plastic chairs. Talking up a storm.

She knocks on the window intending to tell them to shut the fuck up, but they turn to her and one calls out, “Good morning.” Sherry shifts the curtain to cover her nakedness. “Come join us,” the woman says. “We’ve got the coffee ready.”

Sherry backs away from the window and puts her hand against the wall to steady herself. Goddamn gallbladder. She wanted a pack of crackers and a Coke before she went to bed but didn’t feel like walking back downstairs. She wonders if the women have a Coke. She pulls a T-shirt and a pair of jeans from her duffle bag. Digging deeper, she finds a scrunchie and twists her hair into a ponytail.

When Sherry opens the door, the humidity thaws her, but the morning light stings her eyes. The women smile like Sherry’s someone they’re happy to see.

“Honey, you be careful. These motor scooter riders are thick as thieves,” Betty says. “My son Bradley tried every way in the world to make us stay at home this year.”

“We’re your neighbors. I’m Doris and this is my sister, Betty. Let me get you a chair.”

Doris pushes up out of her chair, almost losing her balance. The sisters wear matching light blue cotton robes and slippers. Both have gold, wire-rimmed glasses. Their hair, cut short and permed in tight curls, reminds Sherry of the old-fashioned bathing caps her mama used to wear. They’re almost identical, except the left side of Doris’s bottom lip droops, making her face lopsided.

“Get that one over there,” Betty says. “That man never sits in it.” She looks up at Sherry and wrinkles her nose. “He goes straight to the beach and stays down there all day long. I’m surprised he hasn’t burned slap up.”

Doris drags a chair up next to Betty’s.

“I’ll get you some coffee. Do you need cream and sugar? Does your husband need a cup?”

“I told you, she’s by herself,” Betty says. “I saw her check in.” She smiles at Sherry, “Looked to me like you were by yourself.”

Sherry coughs. “Y’all don’t have a Coca-Cola, do you?”

“We have a bottle of Sam’s Club Cola. Is that all right?” Doris says. “And, how about a piece of pound cake?” She disappears through the wide-open door of their room.

“We’re from Pine Bluff, North Carolina,” Betty says. “Now, sit down here and tell us who you are.”

“Connie. Connie Wheeler.” The name on the fake driver’s license Sherry used to register at the motel slides easily from her lips.

“Where are you from?” Doris asks, coming back out on the porch with a red plastic cup of cola and a chunk of yellow pound cake on a thin paper plate.

“Raleigh,” Sherry says, telling another easy lie. The cola soothes her throat, and she hopes it will settle her stomach.

“We brought that cake from home,” Doris says. “With the motorcycle folks down here, we can’t get the car out on the road, but we have a kitchenette. Do you have a kitchenette?”

“No,” Sherry says. She takes a bite of cake. “This is nice. Thank you.”

“Well,” Betty says, “we enjoy getting to know people. We know everybody in Pine Bluff. We know their children, their cousins, everybody alive and dead, and we’re dang tired of them.”

The sisters laugh like Betty has said the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. Doris settles back in her chair. “And you’re down here by yourself?”

Sherry, her mouth full of cake, nods.

“Honey, you be careful. These motor scooter riders are thick as thieves,” Betty says. “My son Bradley tried every way in the world to make us stay at home this year. I had a little place taken off my arm, and we had to change our week, but we always come in May. We’ve been coming to Myrtle Beach since before there were motorcycles.”

“We’re people watchers.” Doris giggles like she’s told Sherry a dirty secret. “That’s why we like this room. Lord knows, we know what the ocean looks like, but there are things going on up and down Ocean Boulevard that we ain’t nevah seen!”

Betty laughs. “We sat up here last night until after ten o’clock. Doris said she saw a naked woman, but I don’t believe that.”

“Well, I sure did. Naked as a jaybird. The other night we saw a man with a snake wrapped around his neck. That thing was big around as your arm. He had it right down yonder on the sidewalk.”

“My daughter and her husband begged me to go with them to the Grand Canyon,” Betty tells Sherry. “Now why in the world would I want to go all that way to look at a hole in the ground?”

“A boa constrictor,” Sherry says. She knows the man they’re talking about.

“We didn’t ask its name,” Betty says. The sisters break out laughing again, and Sherry can’t help but join them.

She lets the cake lay on her tongue until there’s nothing left but the taste of butter.  Didn’t her grandmother used to always have a pound cake with a thin dish towel thrown over it to keep the flies off? It seems like she did.

The people Sherry knows pride themselves on being tough, living on the edge. There’s a song on the jukebox at The Palace that Percy plays over and over. Get right down to the real nitty-gritty.

“That’s where we are, girls,” he says, trying to sound sexy like Elvis. “Down in the real nitty-gritty, where it’s dark and a little bit nasty.” Percy thinks he’s funny, but the truth buried in his ugly talk makes Sherry uneasy. She never meant to stay so long at The Palace. She never meant to become one of Percy’s girls.

The sweet smell of freshly fried doughnuts drifts by from the Krispy Kreme down the street. Sherry settles into her chair, relieved that the sisters are happy to do all the talking. They tell her they’re widows. Doris is 75 and Betty is 78. They come to the Sea Rise every year.

“We started coming here when the children were little,” Betty says. “It’s gone down right much, but it still feels like home. Bobby looks after us. We knew his mama and daddy.”

Sherry remembers the surly man in the office downstairs. He had one vacant room because of a no-show and didn’t mind her paying in cash, but without looking at her, said, “No visitors, you hear what I’m saying? We run a family motel.”

“My daughter and her husband begged me to go with them to the Grand Canyon,” Betty tells Sherry. “Now why in the world would I want to go all that way to look at a hole in the ground?”

Every May, for nearly fifty years, Betty and Doris had come to the Sea Rise.

“We feel as safe here as we do back home in Pine Bluff,” Doris says. “But the children are threatening to make us stop coming.”

“They say it’s too dangerous, too many rough people,” Betty says.

Sherry goes in her room and gets her cigarettes. By ten o’clock, the women have told her how their husbands died, about their children’s unfortunate marriages, the funny things their grandchildren say, and the ailments that hinder their days. They tell her all they know—things Sherry would never dream of asking. Mostly, they tell her about their mama, Granny Maude.

“Mama used to come down here with us. She died two years ago at ninety-eight years old,” Betty says. “We miss her every day.”

“Come in here and look,” Doris says. “We’ve got her picture.”

The sisters’ beds are made, each with a crocheted afghan in variegated colors folded at the foot. A glass bowl of puny apples and overripe bananas sits on the counter that separates the beds from the kitchenette. On the dresser beside the TV, they have an eight-by-ten color picture of Granny Maude in a silver frame. She’s on the beach wearing a floppy straw hat, waving to the camera. Around the picture, the sisters have fashioned a shrine with a coconut-scented candle and carefully arranged seashells. On the nightstand between their beds, the sisters’ jewelry lays scattered on a white hand towel. Doris shuffles over and rifles through the heap of watches, gold bracelets, and tangled necklaces until she finds what she’s looking for.

“This was Mama’s,” she says, twisting a ring over her knobby knuckle and offering her hand to Sherry. “She called it her dinner ring. Betty and I share it. I wear it six months and then Betty wears it. Mama wanted it that way.”

The ring, a silver setting with three enormous diamonds, one atop the other, looks out of place on Doris’ crooked finger.

“That’s real pretty,” Sherry says.

Sherry sleeps all afternoon, but a little after five o’clock, Doris knocks on her door and invites her to supper. “Come fix a plate. Betty made cornbread.”

They carry plates of sliced ham and tomatoes, store-bought potato salad, and Betty’s cornbread to a picnic table on a patch of sandy grass on the ocean side of the motel, where they can look out over the water. The sky is streaked blue and peach. A briny breeze makes it hard for Sherry to keep her cigarettes lit and her hair out of her face.

With their stories told, Doris and Betty want to know about her.

Sherry’s lies come easy. Not because she’s ever told them, but because of the countless hours she’s spent imagining how things might have been. She tells how her sister, Martha, tries to run her life. How her younger sister, Linda, married to her high school sweetheart, is happy as can be, although the boy she married is as worthless as teats on a bull.

Back upstairs, outside their rooms, the sisters watch the bikers and rowdy passersby on Ocean Boulevard. “I wish you’d look,” Doris says. “It’s like a circus.”

She tells them she works as a hostess at a steak house, and that she divorced after she caught her husband with another woman. “One of my best friends,” she says, worsening the made-up situation. She even claims to have a child. “My daughter, Sherry, is named after my sister who ran off.” This last one comes out quick. She doesn’t know why she said it.

“Ran off?” Doris says. “Where’d she go?”

“We don’t know. She just left.” Sherry bends and grinds her cigarette into the grass.

“What a heartache,” says Betty. “That must’ve broken your mama’s heart.”

After Sherry gets to talking, she can’t stop. She can’t recall one soul who gives a damn one way or another about her life, and even though most of what she’s saying is a lie, it feels good to speak it. Doris and Betty’s murmurs and nods tug at memories long buried.

“She was dead by then,” Sherry says, slipping into the truth. “Cancer. She died when I was eight years old.” Speaking that one truth leads Sherry to tell others. “Before Mama died, we came down here to the beach every summer. Me and mama would always burn our shoulders. She was red-headed and freckled like me, but my sisters got brown as Indians. They take after Daddy.”

Old truths lead to new. She tells them about needing gallbladder surgery, about not having insurance, about wanting to find another job. “I’ve been thinking about going back to school.”

The sun sets and the tide moves in. The crashing surf makes it hard for Betty and Doris to hear. Sherry clears the table, throwing away their paper plates and plastic knives and forks.

Back upstairs, outside their rooms, the sisters watch the bikers and rowdy passersby on Ocean Boulevard. “I wish you’d look,” Doris says. “It’s like a circus.”

Sherry leans over the railing. Dusk has brought the flashing neon signs to life. Hot Donuts! Free breakfast buffet! Ocean view! She needs to get downtown. She needs to at least make enough to pay Percy back the money he loaned her to get here, but with her belly full and her mind upended by memories, she settles into a chair and lights another cigarette.

The next morning, with the bikers asleep and the streets clear, Sherry drives the sisters to the mall in Betty’s powder blue Cadillac.

“Now, if you see anything you want in Belk’s,” Betty says to Sherry, “you tell us, because we get a senior citizen’s discount.”

Doris treats them to lunch at the K&W Cafeteria.

“I just don’t think you can get better fried okra,” Betty says.

“My mama could sure fry okra,” Sherry says. “She liked it with Worcestershire sauce, you know, like people put on their steaks?” At that moment, Sherry wants nothing more than to taste okra like her mama liked it.

“My son, Bradley, could find you a job,” Betty says. “And you could live with us.”

“They’ve got some of that sauce over there with the napkins and such,” Betty points with her fork. “Go get you some.”

When Sherry sits back down, Betty says, “We’ve decided you ought to come live in Pine Bluff.”

Doris reaches over and squeezes her arm. “With your divorce, it would do you good to get a fresh start, don’t you think? Why, you’re going to see that ex-husband of yours with that woman every time you turn around. And didn’t you say your daughter was getting married? You’re going to be all alone.”

“My son, Bradley, could find you a job,” Betty says. “And you could live with us.”

“Our children say we can’t come down here by ourselves anymore,” Doris says. “They worry about these little strokes I keep having. But if they knew you, they’d let you bring us. I just know they would.”

That night, after the sisters go to bed, Sherry stays on the porch. Down on the boulevard, bikers rev their engines. She recognizes the commotion for what it is. Last hurrahs before the bad-boy wannabes head back to dead-end jobs in dead-end towns.

Her cigarette butt sizzles when she drops it into the Coke can she’s using as an ashtray. What if she went to Pine Bluff with Doris and Betty? Started over. Maybe she’d run into her sisters in Myrtle Beach one day and they’d say, “Where are you now?” And she’d say, “Pine Bluff. I married a man named Bradley. We have his mama and her sister down here.”

Wouldn’t that just surprise the hell out of everybody?

She wonders if Martha and Linda ever come to Myrtle. Her daddy brought them one time after their mama died. He’d taken up with a woman from the hosiery mill, and he and that woman stayed in the motel room all weekend. It was somewhere over on the highway, probably torn down now. Sherry remembers how the hot pavement burned her feet when she and her sisters crossed the four-lane road to get to the beach. Linda cried until Martha picked her up and carried her.

That evening, the woman rubbed Solarcaine on Sherry’s shoulders. The cold shock of the white lotion made Sherry jerk away, and her daddy, usually soft-spoken, got harsh and told her to be still. Thinking back on what it was like as a kid was like remembering a show from the TV. Real, but not real.

Sherry grew up to look just like her mama, and after her daddy remarried, neither he nor his new wife could stand the sight of her.

“People are saying awful things about you back home,” she said. “Norman Lewis saw you dancing half naked in here. He’s told everybody in town.”

She quit school at seventeen and followed a boy to Fayetteville, home to Fort Bragg and the 101th Airborne. He told her after he got done with basic training, they’d get married and move to California. When neither of those things happened, Sherry never even thought about going back to Cheraw. The bright lights down Fayetteville’s Freedom Avenue lit up a whole new world.

She met boys from places she’d never heard tell of. Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Lime Springs, Iowa. Ripon, California. She turned eighteen and went to work at the Steak and Ale, where she got friendly with one of her customers. He was married but gave her money and took her places. Her favorite was a club out on the highway where Sherry drank strawberry daiquiris and danced up against tall speakers that pounded the beat of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” right through her bones.

The married man moved on, but Percy asked her if she ever thought about dancing for a living. He had another place down the road called The Palace.

“You’ve got some fine-looking legs,” he said.

It turned out she liked how the men looked at her. She quit Steak and Ale. One night, Percy said. “You wanna make some real money?” She’d seen him talking to a blond boy at the bar.

“How much is real?”

“Seventy-five, give or take.”

The boy wasn’t half bad. She was saving up for a car.

“What do I have to do?”

Percy shrugged. His beady eyes darted from one end of the bar to the other. His black moustache twitched. She knew some of the other girls did it. Not every night, just every now and then, for the extra cash. Percy wasn’t like those pimps you heard about who turned girls into slaves. “You can say it,” she said. And he did.

It started slow like that, with Percy keeping his share. Then, he put a trailer out back, and more of the girls who waited tables and danced got into the action.

One afternoon, her sister, Martha, showed up at The Palace. They sat at the bar. Martha, in her denim jumper with pink flowers embroidered on the bib, her black hair cut off at the chin and sprayed stiff. There was nothing about the two of them that would hint at sisters. Sherry ordered two Diet Cokes. Martha kept her hands in her lap and never touched the glass.

“People are saying awful things about you back home,” she said. “Norman Lewis saw you dancing half naked in here. He’s told everybody in town.”

Martha had married Donald Calhoun, and when she told Sherry she could come home and live with them, Sherry laughed. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I drag ass home to live with you and Donald Calhoun.”

Years later, she walked into work and Percy waved a white envelope at her. “You got a letter.”

It was from her younger sister, Linda. Her messy handwriting scrawled between the lines of a piece of yellowed notebook paper.

I don’t know if you’ll get this. I don’t know where you live but I know you used to work at a place called The Palace. I don’t know you very good anymore but we’re sisters all the same and I’d like you to stand with me on my wedding day. I’m marrying Jimmy Wheeler. They live down the road from daddy if you remember. He’s older than me by a year and is working at the sawmill. He’s sweet and cute.

Linda had drawn a smiley face beside “cute.” The innocence of it made Sherry smile. There was a phone number Sherry could call, but she never did. She hasn’t heard from her sisters since.

She can’t help but wonder sometimes if they ever think of her. If her daddy’s still alive. It would be easy enough to find out, but a girl she works with says, “If you know it’s a bag of shit, don’t kick it.”

Saturday morning, Sherry wakes early and walks down to the beach. A semicircle of blazing sun inches up over the horizon. She can’t remember the last time she watched the sun rise. Sherry can’t believe the wonder of what she’s seeing, or that folks walking by her aren’t even paying attention. A path of light stretches across the ocean to where she stands. Orange and gold rays shoot through thin clouds, reminding Sherry of an Easter card.

The salty breeze feels clean against her skin. At first, Sherry stays midway between the dunes and the water, but lured by the shells catching light, she rolls up the legs of her jeans and wades into the shallow surf. She finds a broken conch, then sees a flash of pure white. A foamy ripple hurries over her feet and she thinks she’s lost the shell but just before it rolls out to sea, she catches it. A sand dollar, bleached white, as perfect as one on a gift shop shelf.

She studies what looks like an etched flower on the smooth surface and wonders how something so fragile has kept from getting broken all to pieces. She wants to show the sisters.

When she comes up the sandy stairs from the beach, the motel man, Bobby, is hosing off the walkway that bridges the dunes.

“Good morning,” Sherry says. Before she can say look what I found, he comes toward her, splashing her legs with his hose.

“I’ve seen you with Doris and Betty,” he says.

“Don’t get cocky just because you fooled two half-blind old ladies. You ain’t fooling nobody else. All the cops’ll have to do is take one look at you to know you’re nothing but a damn whore.”

“They’re good people,” Sherry says.

“They are, and I wouldn’t want them mixing with the wrong kind, you know what I’m saying? You need to get the hell out of here before I tell them what you really are.”

She feels like Bobby just hit her.

“And what’s that?”

He steps so close she can smell the nicotine on his breath and see the comb marks in his greasy hair. “If you aren’t out of here in the next hour, I’m calling the cops.”

Sherry lifts her chin. “Mister, you got some kind of nerve.”

“Don’t get cocky just because you fooled two half-blind old ladies. You ain’t fooling nobody else. All the cops’ll have to do is take one look at you to know you’re nothing but a damn whore.”

On shaky legs, Sherry turns toward the covered corridor that leads to the front of the motel. “You can’t prove shit,” she yells over her shoulder.

Bobby sprays her backside with his hose. “Watch your mouth. I mean it, get on out of here, right now, this morning.”

Crossing the parking lot, she meets a couple with two little children headed to the beach. “Stay out of the way, kids,” the man says. He smiles at Sherry. “Sorry.”

She keeps her head down and goes up the stairs.

Doris and Betty, still in their robes, sit outside.

“You’ve been down to the water. Your pants are wet,” Betty says.

“I found you something.” Sherry holds out her trembling hand. The sand dollar has broken in two. “Oh, I squeezed it too tight.”

“Honey,” Doris says, “you’re shaking. Must have been chilly down on the beach.”

“I wanted you to have it,” Sherry says. Her words catch in her throat. “Now it’s messed up.” She blinks back tears.

Sherry pushes the duffle bag off the car seat onto the floor where she won’t have to look at it.

“Look,” Betty says. She fits the sand dollar pieces together like a puzzle in Sherry’s palm. “You can’t even tell it’s broken.”

“We love it,” Doris says. “Put it in there beside Mama’s picture. We’ll treasure it forever.”

Sherry wipes her nose on her sleeve.

“Get your coffee while you’re in there,” Betty says. “We just made a fresh pot.”

Sherry goes into their room and lays the broken sand dollar beside the photograph of Granny Maude. She pushes the pieces together like Betty did, but her nervous hands can’t make the shell whole.

“Morning, Bobby.” Outside the door, Doris looks down over the railing at the parking lot.

Sherry’s breaths come quick.

Nothing but a damn whore…

She needs to get the hell out of Myrtle Beach. Spilling more than she catches, she pours coffee into a Styrofoam cup.

“We should have asked Bobby to bring our paper up.” Doris says. “Where’d he go?”

Sherry eyes the nightstand. She can’t go back to Fayetteville broker than when she left.

She grabs a white towel from the bathroom, goes over to the nightstand and rolls up the jewelry up in it. She tucks the roll into the waist of her jeans, then pulls her sweatshirt over the bulge and goes back outside.

“I’ll get your paper,” Sherry says. “I need to take some things to my car. I’ve got to go home this morning. They’re short at the restaurant.”

“Oh, no, I hate that,” Betty says. “We need to talk about you coming to Pine Bluff.”

Doris reaches over and clutches Sherry’s arm. “You’ve got to write down your address and phone number for us before you go.”

Sherry nods and walks away. She fumbles for the room key in her pocket. “I’ll take a load down and be right back up with your paper.”

The sisters are still talking to her when she shuts the door to her room. She lifts the mattress and stuffs the money she’s hidden there into her duffle bag along with the rolled-up towel, then works her feet into her tennis shoes and hurries out, not worrying about what all else she might leave behind.

She swings the duffle bag over her shoulder. “Be right back.”

“Well, thank you, Connie,” says Doris.

Hearing the sweet sound of her made-up name, she stops. “Thank you, Miss Doris, and you, too, Miss Betty.”

“Well, honey, we’re not doing a thing but sitting here,” says Betty. The sisters laugh and talk over one another in that way they do. Sherry would like to tell them they’ve done more than they know, but there’s no time.

Nearly tripping down the steps, she rights herself and goes past the office where the Sunday papers are spread out on the counter. She doesn’t bother to look before she steps off the curb. A car horn blares. She jumps out of the way of a minivan, then crosses the road. Out of habit, she parked her Ford Fairlane in the far lot a week ago so no one could trace the make and model or license plate.

After a wrong turn, she finds the two-lane back road that will get her across the North Carolina state line. Hot, soggy air blows in through the open windows and she can’t keep her hair out of her face. Her hands sweat against the steering wheel. Sherry pushes the duffle bag off the car seat onto the floor where she won’t have to look at it.

It’s not Sherry’s first time at Vinnie’s Pawn Shop. All the girls use Vinnie’s.

“You been holding on to this stuff for a while?” He doesn’t look up from examining a gold bracelet embedded with tiny diamonds.

“My sister died and left me some things.”

“Did she now.” Vinnie pushes the bracelet aside and puts the amethyst ring under his eyepiece. “Was this her birthstone?”


“When was her birthday?”

“Vinnie, you want this shit or not? I didn’t come in here to play games.”

“Okay, okay. Let me add it up.” He points at Sherry’s hand resting on the counter. “What about that?”

Sherry rubs the stones of the dinner ring beneath her thumb. “I couldn’t part with this one,” she says. “It belonged to my mama.”

Author Profile

Patti Meredith writes fiction and holds out hope for the world. Since the publication of her novel, South of Heaven, she’s turned to stories, channeling the voices of imaginary people who, as her daddy used to say, tell it like it is. Patti grew up in Galax, Virginia, and has lived in South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana. She is now settled in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband and springer spaniel.


6 thoughts on “Sand Dollar”

    1. Thank you so much for reading it! I hadn’t thought about a book, but I do think Sherry finds a new way because of her time with Doris and Betty (and not just because of the money from their jewelry!). Of course, the sisters probably won’t ever get to go to the beach again! 😉

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