One by one, Amanda added her thirteen pennies to a jar on top of the counter. She hoped that with enough savings her dad could buy the moon. That way when her mom returned from prison, her parents wouldn’t fight as much. Her dad walked into the kitchen, shaking his head while preparing his forearm for a weekly injection of steroids. Amanda didn’t recognize him anymore. It wasn’t only the effect of the steroids but the way he averted his eyes sometimes, as if he were constantly embarrassed.
“You ought to invest,” he said. “Find some stocks with a high profit potential.”
“What’s a stock?”
“You know, like what you would invest your 401(k) in.” He stared at the ceiling. “If your mother asks, tell her you know about stocks, okay?”
“But wouldn’t that be lying?”
“We talked about this. There’s a difference between lying and not telling the truth.” He pushed the syringe, tightening his fist, admiring his growing veins.
The following day, the stock market crashed. Amanda’s dad lost all of his money overnight, apparently. He walked circles in the kitchen now while she counted her pennies, making sure they hadn’t vanished too.
“We need your mother’s savings,” her dad said. “We’re screwed.”
“I thought Mom didn’t want us touching her savings?”
“So you’re going to stick up for her? Even after everything she did?”
Amanda didn’t like the way her mom’s new boyfriend smelled like cheeseburgers all the time, even after showering in the morning. She didn’t want her mom going back to his apartment after returning from prison. She wanted her to come home.
“I’m not sticking up for her,” Amanda said.
“Good. Stealing isn’t the same thing as working. Remember that.”
Her dad opened the garage door and returned holding a wooden crate full of glass jars. He removed the jars from the crate and arranged them on the dining room table. Once finished, he fetched a shoe box full of money from his bedroom and divided the bills equally into the different jars.
“See, just like your savings,” he said. “Not invested in the stock market.”
“What’s a stock market again?”
Her dad stared at the jars of money, looking pleased. “It’s where people with money go to make more money.”
“Then why’d you lose all of yours?”
Her dad pounded the table in frustration, knocking over one of the jars and sending glass smashing into the floor. “Well shit, Amanda, it’s not like I wanted to lose my money.” He swept the shards with the side of his foot, unconcerned with the dots of blood sprouting by his toes. “Next time you write to your mother, don’t tell her about this, okay? Any of it.”
“Why don’t you write to her?”
Her dad laughed. He waved his finger like he was about to say something important, but then he looked away, embarrassed again.
Amanda carried her jar of pennies from the kitchen counter to the table. She thought she’d read once that pennies turned a pinkish color in fire. A lighter was hidden in the china cabinet, along with a pack of cigarettes her dad didn’t think she knew about. But when she held the flame to her pennies, nothing extraordinary happened. She tried a twenty-dollar bill, thinking the paper money might turn colors. Once burned, the bills were like dead butterflies, gray wings still fluttering in a breeze.
“What are you doing?” her dad said, closing the garage door.
“Nothing? Fuck, Amanda, you’re burning your mom’s money. Here. Give me that.” He grabbed a bill and flicked the lighter, holding the flame to the edge. “You know, this is our budget right here. Food, mortgage, gas, you name it.” The corner of the bill caught fire, and he smiled as it burned.
“What’s a mortgage?” Amanda asked.
The smoke set off the fire alarm. Her dad stood on a chair in the dining room and fanned the alarm with a pillow, laughing, veins pulsing all over his body. Amanda worried he might explode from laughing too much.
“It’s not that funny,” she said. “We shouldn’t be wasting Mom’s money like this.”
Amanda’s dad fell from the chair and lay on the floor, his face bright red, tears streaming from his eyes. “And to think she wanted me to save for a college fund!”
Later, after her dad quit laughing, Amanda wrote a letter to her mom explaining how a burned dollar bill looked like a pink butterfly. This wasn’t true, of course, but Amanda didn’t care. You can try it sometime, she wrote, after you’re home again. You and Dad can burn money together and stare at the moon. He misses you. She reread her note and stared at that last sentence for a while, wishing it were true.