A QUARTER FOR YOUR THOUGHTS • by Madeline Mora-Summonte

“I’ve been at work five minutes and already have butter on my pants.” Rona swiped at the spot with a napkin.

“Could be worse,” I said.


“Hot bacon grease. On your arm.”

“Looking on the bright side all the time must hurt your eyes.”

“I’m only an optimist compared to you.”

The morning regulars trickled in — some coming off a night shift, others still slitty-eyed with sleep, all clutching fresh newspapers. They took their places while I moved among them, coffeepot in hand.

Some might call my life boring, but boring is how I keep myself from coming undone. The routine keeps everything tamped down. I don’t have joy and laughter, but I also don’t have weeping and heartache. Not anymore.

When the boy walked in, my flat little life rippled as if someone had dropped a quarter in a wishing fountain. But it wasn’t him. This boy was still a teenager, small and thin, shivering in a t-shirt and jeans.

“What’ll you have, kid?” Rona asked.

“I… I need a phone.” His voice quaked. Dirty fingernails clicked against the counter.

“Pay phone by the restrooms.”

“I… I don’t have any money.”

I touched Rona’s elbow. “Who do you want to call?”

His glance darted around the diner, green eyes wary of the danger he’d learned was out there, everywhere.

“Junkie,” Rona muttered.

“No,” I murmured back.

“I need to call my parents.”

“They local?” Rona asked.

“N-no. Pennsylvania.”

She threw her arms into the air, washing her hands of the whole mess. I nudged her aside. “Would they accept a collect call?” I spoke quietly, resisting the urge to clasp his hands, to warm them, to feel the fragile bones beneath the thin flesh.

“I’m not sure,” he whispered, his face flushing in shame.

I plunked some quarters in front of him. “In case they don’t.”

He stared at the coins before sliding them into his palm. He headed for the phone.

“You know he’s just calling his dealer,” Rona said.

“I don’t think so.”

“There’s that bright side again. One of these days, you’re gonna go blind.” Rona left me to pick up her orders.

I didn’t correct her. This time she was right.

He lifted the receiver.

I closed my eyes, praying the voice — his mother? his father? — on the other end would accept the call, would welcome home a wayward son, like I’d so hoped to do. Did they wonder, like I used to, what if he calls tomorrow or next Tuesday or a month from Friday? Or never?

I opened my eyes. The boy sagged against the wall, receiver to his ear.

One of the regulars whistled, held up his cup. Another called for more cream. I hurried over.

When I returned to the counter, the quarters were scattered by the register. I looked, but the boy was gone.  Home?

I picked up the quarters. They were still warm.

Madeline Mora-Summonte writes from one extreme to the other — from flash fiction to novels. She lives in Florida, with her husband. This story won an Honorable Mention in the WOW-Women On Writing & W. W. Norton 2008 Flash Fiction Contest.

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Every Day Fiction

  • kcball


    Lovely story. Great bits of detail. Loved “Dirty fingernails clicked against the counter.” Gave it a five.


  • Sharon Irwin

    Lovely story. Great voice.

  • Gerard Demayne

    I liked that.

  • Gerard Demayne

    Checked your website:

    “Winner of National Novel Writing Month 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007”

    Heh. I’m thinking of doing that this year.

  • Lovely piece of indirect writing.It’s what’s left out that counts. Thanks for that.

  • Lori

    Thanks for another wonderful story!!

  • Very well written. Touching story. Great voice.

  • Teresa Koeppel

    This was a great piece of flash fiction. So much detail with so few words. Excellent characterizations.


  • gay

    you never let me down Madeline. Amazing in its spareness, the language is right on target. Those warm quarters scattered…perfect.

  • Angela

    Captivating and visual…a little short film before our eyes! Thanks!

  • Thank you, all! I’m happy the piece spoke to so many of you in such a good way.


  • I love how the story says so much, and yet leaves so much to the imagination.

  • Kathy

    Very touching, and I love the details.

  • Wonderful work, Madeline, unsentimental but very moving. Congratulations!

  • Good voice and pace..liked the still warm quaters and the dirty fingernails.


  • B.Teuscher

    Your setting really came to life for me, as did your characters.
    Very nice!

  • Thanks for all the nice comments. They are much appreciated!

  • Good story, flawless in many respects.

  • Great story. For all the reasons already expressed above.

  • Theresa

    Nice! I really enjoy reading your stories. Keep them coming!

  • Loretta


    You can say so much without actually using words. Keep those stories coming.

  • Harold N. Walters

    Happy Thursday!

    A vignette to challenge ol’ Ernie Hemingway.

    Hold fast!

  • Wow

  • Thanks, everyone! Appreciate it!

  • Terri

    I don’t like stories where everything is left tidy. This one I like.

  • Madeline –

    You have an uncanny ability to write an entire philosophy in a few succinct statements. You must be an editor’s dream. I’d love to read one of your novels. I’d bet on it being an epic saga told in a refreshing brevity.

    Susan Haley, Author

  • Loved this one, Madeline.

  • Lindsay

    Beautiful, spare piece that almost brought tears to my eyes, without really being able to pinpoint why… it all worked.

  • Margy

    Wow — so much in so few words! Great story, Maddie; still leaves room for one’s own conclusions. Really enjoyed it. So when are “they” going to wake up and smell the coffee — recognize your talent and publish your wonderful novel? Looking forward to more vignettes in the meantime.

  • Thank you all for the wonderful comments!