By Justin Eells
When Sandra finds it in the laundry room, it’s nothing but faded blue linen with some sort of white bird design embroidered on it. A coin purse shaped like a lunch box, the size of a smartphone, on the floor between the dryer and the wall. Inside, she finds a cache of quarters, about fifteen dollars’ worth, she thinks. Someone else’s quarters, someone else’s coin purse.
Upstairs in her apartment, Sandra lays the coin purse on the coffee table and folds her clothes. When she’s done, she sits in the middle of the couch, amidst piles of towels and jeans, and looks at the purse. She recognizes the presence of a certain kind of beauty in the purse’s dulled color and fraying threads—it is like a warrior who wears her scars proudly to show off what has not broken her—but the beauty is without context for Sandra, and it does not move her. To her, it is just something she found, and beyond that, it is nothing but what it is: someone else’s faded blue coin purse and nothing to Sandra.
The coin purse sits on the coffee table through the week as Sandra considers her options. Although she is set on laundry quarters for the week, money is always tight, and the quarters in the coin purse would eventually save her a trip to the bank. She could return the purse to the laundry room without the quarters, but she likes the quarters better in the purse and wants to delay their separation as long as possible because she found them together, as an entity, a trophy, a finding that gives the purse and its contents their only significance to Sandra, as something she found.
Then, the next week, Sandra finds a note taped to the laundry room wall. The note reads: Dear Neighbor, I lost a coin purse here. It was very dear to me—my only remnant of my late grandmother’s life in Russia before crossing over. Feel free to keep the money, but please return the purse. Best, Lacy in 206.
In her apartment, Sandra sets the note next to the coin purse on her coffee table. She feels terrible for what she’s done to Lacy in 206, but she also loves the purse now like she didn’t before. Now the purse is more than mere purse, more than a finding. Now it has a much better story than just being found in the laundry room between the dryer and the wall, and Sandra lets the possibilities play out in her head. In one version, a young woman spends her last ruble on a ticket to America and boards a ship with just the clothes on her back and her empty purse. In another, the woman is slightly older and finds the purse on the deck of the ship one night, after another woman jumps overboard, and finds enough money inside to buy a loaf of bread and feed her family another day. As she breaks the bread, she thanks the woman who jumped.
Sandra imagines Lacy as a woman in her mid-thirties, just like Sandra, leading a middling life. She imagines Lacy’s loss of the coin purse as an echo of her grandmother’s death. She imagines sleepless nights and feels something like love for this woman, Lacy in 206.
But Sandra does not want to return the coin purse—she is too attached now. But she also thinks that money is probably as tight for Lacy as it is for Sandra, and that, although eclipsed by the loss of her grandmother’s purse, the loss of fifteen dollars in quarters is not nothing. So Sandra transfers the quarters to a Ziploc bag, goes down to the second floor, and puts the bag under a corner of the welcome mat in front of apartment 206. Walking back to the stairs, she breathes with relief. The quarters were just dead weight in the purse, she thinks, now that she has Lacy’s note. The note makes Sandra’s find more than just a find, the purse so much more than faded blue linen with a white bird embroidered on.