There’s not a whole lot you shouldn’t do for money. People like to act like there is, but when you list all the things out, it’s not anywhere near what you’d guess. Six or seven’s what I figure. One or two’s what I’ve done.
The worst and last of them was in winter of ‘59. I hadn’t been out of school long when I met her, and I hadn’t known her much longer when I married her. We were cut from the same bolt of fabric, Celey and me. Shared our hearts like a stitched shirt that splits where the buttons do. I was proud to be her husband, Clayvon. Still am.
We tried living in the city at first, but couldn’t take to it. We had no friends between us, save an old neighbor lady by the name of Lenore. She had blind eyes and arthritic fingers, which only led Celey and I to wonder all the more at the never-ending parade of casseroles and stews that passed through our doorway each week. A whisper of a knock was all that preceded them, twitchy and light enough to be, perhaps, unintentional. The truth though, is that Lenore meant everything she did. Nothing was by accident; all was done for love. She meant to be a blessing to us, so she was.
When Lenore died, Celey begged to leave the city. I had saved a few thousand from the construction job I found, but had hoped for more before making another move. Plans changed though, when our landlord emptied Lenore’s apartment onto the street below. Hoping not to miss a month’s rent, he’d foregone contact with any potential relative of the old widow. Instead, he dressed the front lawn and sidewalks in Lenore’s outdated dresses and reduced her life’s treasures to fresh pawn shop fodder. It was too much for Celey, when flocks of junkies emerged from dark places to strip clean the remnants of Lenore, our friend.
The next day, Celey told me I’d be a father in less than eight months. Husband in one year, daddy the next. Saying I was proud would sell the thing short. We shook off that city like a dog does his fleas, and found a bright three bedroom before George was born. Things were hard going for a while after that. Celey and me argued over whether we needed to borrow money, and if we did, from whose parents would it come. George was crying all hours, all days. I think he sensed the uncertainty surrounding his next meal. I know I did.
It was soon thereafter a call came from a guy I’d not thought of since high school. He’d gotten the new number from my mother and hoped I wouldn’t mind. I didn’t really, since I was the one who answered the phone, the only one who heard how desperate he sounded. I knew Celey would’ve shook her head though to see me talking to the man. He had always been mixed-up in some trouble or another, and his call was to say he now needed me to take the blame. Any other night, I swear, I’d have said no. But it was that night, when I noticed how diluted George’s milk was, how thin Celey’s face looked, how lean our butcher’s cuts had grown. Animals that died hungry. Not us.
I said yes, and hung the phone.
The next day, I confessed to a thing I did not do. The police never questioned why I’d turn myself in, when by the look of it, the robbery had come off clean. All they had were suspicions of a thug who’d been seen around there before, a local small town who was always in some kind of trouble. But here I was to save them the bother of a car ride, and all they needed anyway was something dark to pin the crime on.
I handed over a thousand dollars and said the rest was claimed by irony when a crackhead in an alley claimed the big bucks with a knife. In truth, the money was home with Celey, the pay-off for giving freedom to a criminal in exchange for two years of my life. Of our life.
Celey wouldn’t visit for the first year. I’d send her photographs and letters saying how I’d done everything for love. Her responses totaled four words: Money is not love.
She was right, of course, so I made her truth my own for the remainder of my life. Wealth crouches in the details of a whole mess of things, but not all of them. A thing like fatherhood, being a husband—money doesn’t enter into it. When it seemed like one couldn’t exist without the other, I should’ve given careful thought to those people and their list. I still say there isn’t too much you shouldn’t do for money. I’m just more mindful now then before I knew what really makes men rich.