Excerpt from “The Five Cent Man”

He was approaching the entrance to the farm when he saw a man, sitting on a chair by the side of the road across the street. He looked odd, sitting all alone, as if he was waiting for something.  He had a big handwritten sign next to him, Stop here to find what you’ve lost. It was written on what looked to Oscar like a piece of a barn door.  There was nothing else around him, only a little table atop which sat a large tin can.

The man saw Oscar stop, and he waved from across the road, motioning for Oscar to join him. Oscar couldn’t see anyone else around, and though he knew he wasn’t suppose to talk to strangers, he thought the man, with his white beard and big grin looked like Santa Claus, and so he decided to talk to him.

The man was wearing a t-shirt with large blue and white stripes on it.  He had a captains hat on, and something about it struck Oscar as odd.  The man’s hands rested on his round belly, and Oscar noticed his arms were sunburned. As Oscar walked towards him he saw the piece of paper wrapped around the can on the table.  it read Put your nickel here and you’ll be just fine.

Hello young man!” The man opened his arms out and looked up at Oscar. Oscar couldn’t tell how old the man was, maybe he was someone’s grandfather.  “How may I help you today?”

Oscar didn’t know how to answer.

“Well, how about we start with names. I’m Perry, what’s yours?’

“O-oscar.”

“Well, Oscar, it’s great to meet you. Is there something I can help you with? If you’ve got a nickel to put in my can, I can help. That’s what I do out here!” He gave off a loud laugh and leaned back in his chair.

Oscar reached into his pocket and pulled out a nickel. He had a faint hope the man could help him find his dad. Why not, he thought as he placed the coin into the can. It clanked heavily against the bottom.

“My first customer,” the old man beamed, “I knew if I waited here a few seasons someone might need me.”

“You mean you’ve done this before?”

“This will be my fifth summer out here in this old chair. I’ve been waiting here, and you know what? You’re the first one to stop.” The old man gave the tin can a little shake a let out a laugh. Then he reached for something beneath his chair.

“Oops, almost forgot my thinking cap. Can’t very well do much without it.” It was a boaters hat, more specifically a white captain’s hate. The sight of it hit Oscar right in the chest, it was just like the one his father wore. He kept it on the hook by the door when he was home from flying. Oscar would come home from school and see the hat had returned to its rightful place.

Oscar felt something inside of him drop, causing the heaviness he had been holding to rise to his throat. He tried to stop it as soon as it started, as soon as his eyes had begun to burn, but the tears came.

Perry waited a few moments, letting Oscar cry and then said, “I’ve got a wonderful idea. Would you like to hear it?”

Oscar sniffled and nodded.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you.” He reached into the can pulled out the nickel. “And you know what? It’ll be on the house today.” Oscar took a seat and wiped his eyes. He started to talk and kept going. He told the man about his father leaving because of his mother, and how he was trying to find him, but he didn’t know where to start.

When he had finished, Oscar took a deep breath sat up a little straighter. His eyes and dried and he didn’t feel the tightness in his throat anymore. Perry scratched his head, and looked down at Oscar.

“You know, Oscar. You remind me a lot of my son.”

The clouds were slowly darkening the  sky. When Oscar sat down on his patch of grass, the five cent advice man handed him a heavy rain jacket.

“Put this on. It’s going to be too big but it’ll keep you dry.” Oscar pulled it over his head. “And that’ll be a nickel.”

A few moments later the rain began to thump against his hood. Oscar tucked his legs into the coat and looked at the five cent advice man, who was smiling under his umbrella. “Shouldn’t we go inside?” he asked, “It’s raining pretty hard.”

“No, sir. Nobody ever got rich or happy by running from a little rain.” He stuck his hand outside the umbrella to catch a few drops in his palm. “Besides, who will give them advice?”

Despite the rain and to Oscar’s surprise, the people came.  A few of them gave dimes and quarters, and told Oscar to keep it. The tin can chirped in satisfaction as Oscar dropped the coins into its belly.“You see, Oscar,” said the five cent advice man, “it’s rainy days that people need it the most.”

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