His old man puts him on the afternoon shift. Says it keeps me outta trouble. Hardy’s behind the counter, sells a six-pack to someone’s uncle and a can of motor oil to the guy who teaches shop. When we show up, he takes payment in autumn leaves. The system goes: a golden leaf gets you a nickel. Red or orange is just a penny. Multicolored ones — he calls them Platinums, baby — gets you the nickel plus a single Camel Light.
All of us go wild when the trees start to turn. Someone’s mama shouts from her Buick: Why you boys monkeying in the trees? We’re just hunting for platinums. It’s easier than getting a weekend job or sliding a few bucks from pops’ wallet. But they have to be real gems. No knicks. No blemishes. Yeah kid, the caterpillar eggs look cool but it don’t get you a nickel, he says to me. Bring anything brown and he won’t let you in the store for a week.
Hardy’s little sister sits next to me in biology class, says he ships them to a sweetheart in California, where they don’t get colors on their trees. But one night, just before dinnertime, I find a real sharp platinum. He’s behind the store over a rusty bucket, flames popping. He trades me for a nickel and a smoke, tosses me the lighter, feeds the platinum to the fire and says: Sometimes I like to see beautiful things burn.
Kristina T. Saccone’s flash fiction and creative nonfiction appeared or are forthcoming in Fractured Lit, Six Sentences, LEON Literary Review, The Bangor Literary Journal, Emerge Literary Journal, and Unearthed. She also curates Flash Roundup, a weekly email featuring the latest releases in flash fiction. Find her on Twitter at @kristinasaccone or haunting small independent bookstores in the Washington, D.C., area.
Lead image: “Sugar Maple Leaves” (via Flickr user Katja Schulz)