nikki reimer

“My dead relatives leave dimes for me.”

I arrived at Theatre Junction Grand for my first literary festival appearance in the city where I was raised, from which I had fled, and grudgingly found myself again. The host wfas young and attractive, in his early twenties, and smartly dressed, with a swooping, middle-parted bowl cut that reminded me of the cool junior high boys of 1992. He led me to the dressing room, where I hung up my coat.

I noticed a red guitar pick on the floor of the wardrobe as we made small talk. He was saying something about the format of our panel when I set my bag down by the pick and noticed a dime next to it. I picked the dime up.

“Oh, you found a lucky dime!”

I held it up and stared him in the eyes. “My dead relatives leave dimes for me.” I picked up the guitar pick with my other hand.

“What year is it?”

“It’s a 2012 dime. My brother died in 2012.” I held up the pick. “He was a musician, he played guitar … You saw that right? You’re my witness.”

To his credit, he treated me like a balanced and stable human being. He did not blink or flinch.

“Are you ok?” His voice was gentle.

“Yeah.”

On the eve of his 37th birthday, Uncle Mike woke up at 2 a.m. to use the bathroom.

*

Mike:

The bedroom was black. I didn’t need the light to get to the bathroom. Somewhere in the middle of the trip I felt an impact on my arm, followed by what I would call a “plunk” sound.

I remember thinking that the impact was what you would feel if you struck yourself with the edge of a sheet of paper. The “plunk” sounded like something solid dropping on carpet.

I closed the bathroom door and turned on the light. Straight in front of my face, a coin appeared. It hovered, then dropped and spun on the floor. I sat on the toilet and looked at the coin, then put it on the edge of the vanity. It was a dime.

I stood up. A coin fell off my body, hit the floor and spun—another dime. I picked it up, set it on top of the dime on the vanity, and went to bed.

It wasn’t until I was showering in the morning that I remembered what had happened. Sure enough, there were two dimes on the vanity. And there in the center of the bedroom was a full-size sheet of paper. Under it was a dime. The paper turned out to be a signed permission note to be returned to the school allowing one of my daughters to attend some event. We had been looking for the note for over a day. The “plunk” I heard had been the dime.

During breakfast, it took a while for me to decide to tell my family what I thought had happened. It could not possibly be real. After the story, they all just looked at me. Eventually my daughter said, “That was your dad talking to you.”

*

In the photographs, the rest of his family appear like dour and serious Mennonites, but there is a glint in John’s eye that suggests a deep capacity for mischief.

*

Nikki:

My brother Chris and I first heard a version of Uncle Mike’s story a few years after it happened. We were teenagers at the time. Sentimental and sensitive, we both started keeping our eyes peeled for dimes. When we’d find one, we’d pick it up and drop it into our shoes and walk around with it, as if the presence of the coin was helping maintain some sort of spiritual connection to the universe, or as if it was helping us connect to the grandfather we never knew. We never spoke about why we’d both decided to do this.

Grandpa John was killed in a plane crash the year our father was 18, leaving a widow and five children. It wasn’t even work related; he’d just gone up in a neighbour’s small plane with a handful of guys to look around. All we knew of him came from a few faded pictures, and the few stories that trickled out of our dad over the years. John had been a reporter, a farmer, a Boy Scout leader, a hotel operator, an alcoholic. In the photographs, the rest of his family appear like dour and serious Mennonites, but there is a glint in John’s eye that suggests a deep capacity for mischief.

*

Mike:

My father passed some 18 years before I found the first dime. He and I share the same birthday. My daughter had said, “It was your dad talking to you” like I should have thought of it first. It seemed so simple to her. I have never believed in spirits or gods but that morning I felt that I did know three things: 1. there is no afterlife; 2. our minds can play tricks on us, or can start to lose function; and 3. I have three dimes on my bedside table.

After checking out the bedroom that night I knew more things: given my route and where I found the permission note, the distance to the nearest dresser made it impossible for me to have veered far enough to knock the note off the dresser. The windows were closed, so no wind. The ceiling in the bathroom could not have held a dime and released it at the exact moment, and I do not sleep with coins stuck to me only to have them fall off when I stand up later.

*

One thing no one tells you about grief is that it comes with paralyzing fatigue.

*

Nikki:

In the first months after Chris died, I kept finding money: an extra $50 bill spat out of a bank machine, a fresh twenty floating in a puddle in the middle of the crosswalk. And many, many dimes.

One thing no one tells you about grief is that it comes with paralyzing fatigue. Grief brings with it the worst sleep deprivation you’ve ever experienced, and days pass like a slow-motion car crash. You watch dishes fall to the floor in front of you and don’t have the energy to reach out and grab them. The smallest tasks require inhuman amounts of energy and concentration, and the mood swings are beyond the emotional lability of puberty.

One morning, I had a meltdown before going to work. I truly wanted to be dead. I raged, screamed, and hit myself in the head with hardcover books. Half an hour late to the college where I worked as managing editor of a literary magazine, I slunked down the hallway to my office, picked up a pile of submissions for copying, and slunked back to the photocopy room. I was barely keeping it together. My eyes continued to water. Back down the hallway, a silver glint caught my eye. A shiny dime stuck at an angle between the carpet and the baseboard. I swear it wasn’t there when I first walked in.

*

Mike:

It was winter, and the electric heat in my other daughter’s room had suddenly quit. The system was an electric baseboard heater controlled by a thermostat on the wall. I had already checked the breaker downstairs and the problem was not in the breaker. Before going to sleep that night, I lay in bed and went over the steps I would take in the morning to make repairs. After checking the breaker, the next move would be to open up the thermostat on the wall to see if it had failed.

It’s important to know that I built the house; I installed the thermostat, and its installation had never been opened up.

To remove a thermostat, you first take the outer cover plate off. The cover seals the unit to the wall. When the cover is on, there is no way to stick anything into the steel box that the thermostat lives in. With the cover off, you take out the screws that hold the thermostat into the steel box, and then pull the thermostat out. When I pulled the thermostat out, the first thing I saw was a dime resting on the bottom of the steel box. The box had a light coat of dust on the bottom from ten years of house traffic. The dime was clean and shiny.

So, the best way I could make sense of this was to blame my wife for hiding the dime in there. After all, I told her earlier that morning of my plan. This accusation didn’t stand—my wife is very afraid of electricity in any form. I once chased her around the house scaring her with the prong end of an old extension cord that had been hanging on the wall unplugged for a month.

*

The box had a light coat of dust on the bottom from ten years of house traffic. The dime was clean and shiny.

*

Nikki:

I was 37-and-a-half when I asked my Uncle Mike if he would share his dime story with me. As you can see by his narrative, Uncle Mike is logical, rational, and a man of process and physics. There’s nothing he can’t build or fix or invent. In the text that he sends me, his story is punctuated by asides where he mentions that as the dimes appear, he keeps waiting for the white van to show up and take him away. He lives firmly in the physical realm—things that can be taken apart and re-assembled are real. He doesn’t walk around with his eyes glued to gutters and baseboards in case a gift from the dead should be waiting.

*

Mike:

I continued to find dozens of dimes in very strange places, which maybe could be explained, but the reasoning was always a bit of a stretch.

There was a pattern—usually the dime would be in a place I had been planning to go. Examples include things like deciding to hook up my trailer to the truck. First, I’d have to bend down to slip the hitch in place. A shiny dime would be waiting in the dirt exactly under the hitch mount. Or thinking about wearing a pair of shoes I wouldn’t normally wear only to find a dime inside one. Or finding a dime inside of a book I had been reading. Or getting something from a cupboard I used regularly and finding a single dime behind a closed door on the front edge of the very shelf I needed to go. This happened dozens and dozens of times; I always found dimes in odd places, and their presence was very hard to explain.

The event of finding the first three dimes is completely unexplainable, as was the dime I found inside of that thermostat electrical box, which was physically impossible. It’s one thing to find a dime somewhere that can conceivably hold a dime—if you think it’s normal to stick coins in books on a bedside table—but it’s a whole different story to find a dime where it can’t really be placed. The dime in the electrical box could really only have been placed by the right tradesman with a really sick sense of humor in the right town, in the right house, and at the right time, since the dime was shiny and was not covered in dust. When I found the dime, I actually did consider the fact that my gears might be starting to slip a little. At what point do the crazy folks know that they are crazy? By now I had stopped telling my “dime stories” at parties and dinners. Well, actually I had to stop anyway, because for some reason we weren’t being invited to parties and dinners any more.

*

I didn’t like finding the dimes in impossible places.

*

Nikki:

Other objects appeared in the early years after Chris died. Once, I was walking home on a street I don’t usually take listening to a maudlin mix on my phone. A pair of siblings, an older girl and younger boy, passed me on their bikes just as Dallas Green of City and Colour was singing “O sister / my sister” and the nostalgic ache and thump of loss and longing threatened to drive me into the ground. I tried to will myself back to the time when he and I were those kids on bikes. I’ve tried these magical thought exercises a hundred times; they never work. Turning the corner, I chanced to look up at a tree where a white stuffed bear clutching a red heart had been placed, just out of reach. It felt like Chris was looking at me, smiling, trying to reach me, trying to send something back to me. A year or so after that I was walking to work from the train, fuming in my head at my parents and their inability to stand with me as a family and face our loss, and haranguing them in my mind. I was listening to maudlin music. I happened to look up and saw a stuffed monkey high up on a branch, and I heard my brother’s voice in my head: “Don’t be so hard on them.”

*

Mike:

The rear air conditioning had quit in our van. Again, while lying in bed, I made my repair plan for the next morning. In this van, the dampener control for the rear air conditioning was controlled by a supply vacuum routed through small tubes running under the dash. The tubes, along with all of the wiring for the back of the van, ran inside a raceway that was covered by a cover plate. This plate made a tight seal to the carpet on the floor. I removed the cover plate to expose a couple dozen wires and tubes. Laying right on top of the bundle of wires was a shiny dime. The wires and tubes were shiny clean, as was the entire raceway. It had been sealed dustproof-tight from the day that the van was made. I first thought that the dime must have fallen out of an assembly line worker’s pocket. But this was not the case: the dime was newer than the van.

I didn’t like finding the dimes in impossible places. I struggled to understand how it could be happening, but the fact that these dimes were appearing in impossible places defied all logic. I actually started asking that the dime placements would stop because I was having a hard time understanding all of this. I didn’t know who was trying to contact me. I didn’t know what the message was. So, I put it out to the universe that I couldn’t do this anymore—and the dimes stopped. For many, many years they stopped—completely.

*

While Uncle Mike’s dimes seem to show up in relationship to rational and ordered mental planning, my dimes seem to appear at times of high emotional intensity.

*

Nikki:

Four months after Chris died, my husband Jonathon and I moved to my hometown with the intention of dealing with our loss along with my parents and figuring out how to rebuild our lives. Rebuilding our lives didn’t happen for a long time. Jonathon was unable to find any work, and I was too fucked up to work for nearly a year. We lived in my parents’ cluttered basement. Tensions between the four of us were constantly high, and there was a lot of fighting, yelling, and crying.

After one particularly rough day, I spotted three dimes on the floor near the stack of plastic crates my husband had fashioned into a dresser. My heart swelled. “Look!”

Jonathon knew my predilection for seeking signs.

“No, sweetheart, that’s just my change. It must have fallen off the dresser.”

Back to Sorrowsville.

Jonathon lay on his stomach on the bed and I climbed onto his butt so I could knead into the knots with my elbows. My mind was churning; my heart was sore. I felt utterly bereft and alone. I glanced at the crowded side table, where I’d placed my laptop next to my glasses case and a mug of tea. A dime was stuck to the magnetic power connecter on the side of my computer.

*

Mike:

The most recent time I found a dime was last summer. I needed to install an extra light in the utility room in our basement. Over the years, I’ve become quite good at collecting and arranging the supplies and tools I need for a job, and can now pull off a job with only one trip to my shop for the equipment I need. In my mind, I go through the job step-by-step and list everything in two lists: a tool list and supply list. The important part of this story is the fact that I needed a couple of flathead wood screws to mount the plastic light fixture. I keep my collection of screws in a specific drawer in my shop. They are in the original containers from the hardware store; I keep my screws all together, and I always store them together in the same drawer, nowhere else. When I made up my parts list in the basement I wrote down that I needed two 8-by-1-inch flathead screws. I knew that I had them in my shop.

In the shop, I loaded a tool box with parts in sequence according to the list. I opened the drawer with the screws and separated the screws I didn’t need from the flathead screws. There are about 25 boxes of screws in the drawer. I dug down into the bottom of the drawer and found the right box. I opened the box. Laying right on top of the screws inside the box was a shiny dime. Now, I am the only person that uses my shop and only I store screws in the drawer. Only I use, or have used, these screws. These are my screws.

I actually opened up all of the other boxes looking for more dimes. It was all I could do. It was a weird thing to do, but so was finding a dime on top of the exact screws I needed inside a closed box.

This note about finding dimes began with what I thought was my Dad contacting me and this is how it ends: I found that last dime the morning after the night I had taken my Mom out for a nice evening dinner. Was this my Dad saying, “thanks”?

*

… but I have the wisdom now to know that this time of calm, like everything, is impermanent, and will pass.

*

Nikki:

While Uncle Mike’s dimes seem to show up in relationship to rational and ordered mental planning, my dimes seem to appear at times of high emotional intensity.

My life has recently settled and calmed, giving me a sense of peace I haven’t been able to experience since Chris died, but I have the wisdom now to know that this time of calm, like everything, is impermanent, and will pass.

Yesterday I decided to check out a gym in my neighbourhood, a Good Life built into the old Bank of Montreal building downtown that once housed an A&B Sound. It’s a beautiful 1930s-era building with Corinthian columns out front and marble floors and gold leaf inside. The old bank vault has been retained and converted into long-term locker rental space. Touring the space made me feel hopeful and made me feel that I could go there, make friends with my body again, maybe find more peace and space in my life.

I stepped back out onto the bright street, smoky with the haze of the BC forest fires.

A shiny dime waited for me on the marble stoop.

*

Nikki Reimer lives on the traditional territories of the Treaty 7 peoples in Southern Alberta. Published books are DOWNVERSE and [sic]. Creative and non-fiction work has appeared on stages, billboards, public art exhibits, pop-up bistro menus, and in various magazines, journals, and anthologies. Find her on Twitter @NikkiReimer.

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