How to Get the Pennies Back

Kelsey Montague


You would come back alone. Your gallop slowing to a steady clomp as you approached 5th Street. Walking toward your carriage, toward the man I stole you from, bowing your head for him to put the flowers back in your mane, as if nothing had happened. As if we hadn’t locked eyes and understood one another’s sadness as intimately as if we had been separated at birth, but both survived the same atrocities that led us to the very moment we met.

It was a too-warm fall day and I was overdressed, sweating, and trudging through the gaggles of tourists gawking at the Liberty Bell—and at you. You were waiting in line, tethered to a buggy, the horseman calling out to all who passed by—and to me, carrying too many bags of groceries, weighing myself down so the gravity of my mind matched the heaviness of my steps, slow and muddy, like walking through whisky.

The horseman called out to me. “You should drop those bags and come for a ride,” he said.

And I did. I dropped the bags in less than a second, unhooked you from your carriage, took the flowers out of your hair and rode you home to Ohio.

Home to Mimi and Pappy’s house, home to Orchard Lane. Even further back home to Toledo, to the Old West End, to my father’s house where I slept in a bunk-bed, jumped on those huge brown couches, and where there was a gumball machine—a real live gumball machine that took pennies and everything. He even showed us how to get the pennies back when the mason jar was empty one time.

My sister and I snuck into that big room, where the sun drenched in through gigantic windows, hundreds of years old, and the floor creaked in more than just one spot. The beams of light led us from our dark bedroom, down the hallway, past his door and the big brown couches, and landed on that shiny red gumball machine as if one god or another was pointing to heaven through the window.

My sister stuck her hand into the penny jar and got just two. Quietly, we each put our penny in, slowly turned the dial and waited for the gumballs, then scurried back down the hallway to our bedroom, chipmunk cheeks, barefoot, nightgowned and wild as if we’d just gotten away with the world.

We crawled into the bottom bunk together and she made me show her my tiny tongue. “Bright blue!” she whispered, and then laughed wildly, rows of red teeth. “Shhhhhh, don’t wake him up,” we said. And sometimes, if we were just quiet enough, we didn’t.

This is the home I rode you to. The early morning Toledo, before my father woke up, with my sister and gumballs and the day not yet begun, life not yet discovered and the world wide open, like the vast Ohio sky. The Ohio sky, gray even on the sunniest days. Gray like the slate sidewalk I looked at you from, like the cobblestone in Old City where you line up with the other costumed horses to reveal the secrets of my city to strangers.

This is the home where—after my sister fell back asleep, before she woke up with gum in her hair, before my twenty-year-old father tried to get it out with peanut butter, before we all laughed until we cried, before we all cried and cried and cried and cried—this is the home where I snuck outside and, on tiptoes, whispered in your ear, “Ok, you can go now. Wherever you want to go, you can go.”

And eventually, you would come back alone—to Philadelphia, to the tether, to the horseman, to 5th Street, where we would lock eyes again and again and again and again.


Kelsey Montague is an emerging writer and Communications/Marketing professional working in the non-profit sector in Denver, CO. She and her bar-owner husband are transplants from Philadelphia and live with their cat, Bob, in a little apartment – filled with charm, craft beer, and love – in the heart of the city.



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