Like many of my flash fiction pieces, Found Money is based on events from my own life; it's even featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened. And, like some of my other autobiographical pieces, at first I wasn’t sure if it really worked well as a fictional story. It actually started out as a considerably longer piece, seven hundred words or so, but somehow I just couldn’t get the middle section right. It sketched out the background of what had happened in the weeks before I found the money, which was itself a story worth telling – in fact, I eventually expanded it and turned it into a separate section of my memoir without fictionalizing it. But to someone who didn’t know the original story was taken from true events, I think the longer version came across as overly dramatic, or at least overdone. After it was rejected by a couple of journals, I took another look at it and decided to cut out the middle altogether. This shorter version I think works much better.
What’s conspicuously and intentionally absent from this piece is any kind of emotion. I don’t think you can afford to have feelings when you’re quite literally starving, and during most of this period in my life, it’s safe to say that the emotional part of my mind was effectively switched off. But I cried when I found that money. Oh, how I cried.
I will never forget the people in that restaurant, either. They only spoke to one another in Chinese, so I have no idea what they said about me, if anything at all. But they went out of their way to be kind to someone who was obviously homeless, and probably very dirty and smelly, and that touched me deeply.
That day marked a turning point in my young life. Not because I found five dollars; a loaf of bread and a small jar of peanut butter later, it was gone. The more important thing I found on the sidewalk that day was something I hadn’t even realized I’d lost. Hope.
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"Found Money" is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $0.99 Kindle, $5.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book's webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.