I’m not exactly sure when it happened. My best guess is when I had helped someone out. It had been a sunny day in November, and the temperature had been rather mild, so I went for a walk in the park. In the middle of nowhere, I found this older guy laying on the ground. He was dressed in layers of shabby clothing. I went to check on him, make sure he was still alive. He seemed to wake up suddenly and grabbed me, asked who I was. I tried to reassure him that I was just trying to help, but I couldn’t calm him down. He shambled away before I could call for someone to look after him.
As I said, I don’t know if it was the old man or not, but if not, I have no idea where else I might have picked it up. Later that day, I found a twenty dollar bill in my pocket. I hadn’t put it there. I certainly hadn’t been carrying around that much money.
While I was excited by my sudden good fortune, I felt a bit guilty as well. If it was the old man’s, he almost certainly needed it more than I did. I went back to the park, but he was nowhere to be found. And I haven’t seen him since that day.
My attempt at returning the money thwarted, I went to dinner. Nothing fancy, just some fast food. But it was the most I had had to eat in a few days. Only after I got back to my apartment did I make the discovery. In my pocket was a twenty dollar bill again, even though I had used it to pay for dinner. There was no sign of the change I had gotten back, just the twenty.
Had I forgotten to pay, I wondered. But the receipt was still in my pocket. It showed I had paid with a twenty and received change back. The contents of my pocket told a different tale. I chalked it up to a weird moment and went to bed.
The next day, the weirdness continued. Paid for my coffee with the twenty. I got eighteen dollars plus a few coins back, put one of the dollars in the tip jar, and put the rest in my pocket. Then I sat, drinking my coffee. When I finished, I stood and put my hand in my pocket. Inside was a twenty dollar bill and no sign of the change I had been given.
The rest of the day, I experimented. Before buying lunch, I drew a small stick figure on Jackson’s forehead. When I checked my pocket, the drawing wasn’t on the bill. Just to be sure, I went to the cashier and asked to see the bill I had given her. Despite the funny look she gave me, she showed me the bill. The stick figure was on it.
That eliminated one cause for concern. At least the bill wasn’t disappearing from the person I paid and then returning to my pocket. It seemed to be a new bill. But how? Part of me thought I should just be happy with this magic bill, but I was curious. I wondered how long it took to be replaced. I stopped waiting to check. As soon as I put change in my pocket and took my hand out, the bill would return. But that raised a new worry. What would happen if I didn’t get change back?
I was scared to try it. I didn’t have much money, after all. An endless supply of twenties wasn’t something I could afford to throw away. But, I supposed, it was better to find out right away, before I got used to it. The problem was figuring out how to spend exactly twenty dollars. I didn’t have any other money on me, so I couldn’t spend more. After some time at the drug store, I figured out a combination of pens, batteries, and tape that came to exactly the right amount, after tax. I hoped that I could return it all if the bill didn’t appear, maybe get the twenty back.
After I paid and walked away from the register, I put my hand in my pocket. Inside was a twenty dollar bill. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief before realizing the clerk was staring at me. I gave him and awkward smile and left the store. It seemed I couldn’t lose the money that way.
I think the next step was obvious. How to make into more money. I could have all the twenties I wanted, one at a time. Now I just needed to accumulate them so I could afford more expensive things. The first thing I tried was putting it down on the coffee table and checking my pocket for a new one. That didn’t work. So I left the room. Sure enough, a twenty appeared. Excitedly, I returned to the living room, but the bill I had put down was gone. I repeated the experiment, this time placing a glass on top of the bill. But it was still gone when I returned, and the glass had not moved. I tried drawing on it again. The bill I found in my pocket had the drawing on it. This wasn’t going to work. I was disappointed, but not yet ready to give up.
I called up a friend of mine and asked him to come over. I didn’t want to share my secret, not yet, but I hoped he could make this work. I asked him to hold the bill for me. My pocket remained empty. Once again, I walked away, but I knew what had happened as soon as I heard his exclamation. The bill was back in my pocket. He told me it was a great trick and asked how I managed it. I said a magician never reveals his secrets. He looked disappointed, but not as much as I felt. After he left, I consoled myself with the fact that, even if I couldn’t get rich, always having a twenty would still be useful. No reason to ever go hungry again.
It was several days later that I stumbled upon the catch. I should have known there would be a catch; there always is. I had taken some money out of the ATM for rent. The magical twenty wouldn’t cover it, but it had let me keep the last of my savings for the purpose. I really needed to find work.
When I got back to my building, the landlord was waiting for me. I smiled at him, glad I could get him off my back, and went to pull out the cash. The only thing in my pocket was the twenty dollar bill. There was no sign of my rent money. I tried to laugh it off and offered him the twenty. He just scowled and gave me a week to get the money, otherwise he’d evict me.
I went into a panic. There was no sign of the money anywhere. Checking an ATM, I found my account was basically empty. I tried borrowing money from people, but each time, the money vanished. I always had my twenty, but it was all I could have, it seemed.
A week later, I was on the street. I didn’t have to go hungry, but I didn’t have a place to sleep. Sometimes, someone would let me crash on their couch; more often than not, I was outside, wrapped in as many layers of clothing as I could manage. I could always get more from a thrift store.
There was little point in looking for a job. Even if I had gotten one, any money I earned would just disappear. The twenty kept me alive, but it also prevented me from improving my lot.
I should probably figure out a way to get rid of it. I even think I know how to do it. If it was the guy from the park who gave it to me, then that’s what I need to do. Give it to someone without expecting anything back. But if I do that, I really could starve to death. Right now, at least I’ve got something. It doesn’t seem worth it to give up that security for a future that might be better, but also might not be.