by Jen Knox
Lee repeated the affirmations every time she needed to ignore the better rehearsed mantras in her head about how all the monied are corrupt. It was a deeply embedded program that she blamed on her father who would spend more than he made proudly, using the word current when he spoke of currency, saying it needed to flow.
“There’s no t,” Lee argued then, confused by his aversion to savings accounts.
Her father assured her that he knew what he was doing. Her childhood home might have been falling apart, but the collection of ivory pipes her father kept on the mantel would’ve easily covered the mortgage for two months. The couch he had cobbled together from old upholstery, springs, wood beams and pillows occasionally provided painful support, whereas the family ate dinner sitting at an invaluable handcrafted table adorned with the faces of lions so ornate that they were bound to one day come to life. And so, they did.
Just before Lee and Kai were about to be evicted, the lions arrived. The windfall they brought on their backs blew heavy air into the open windows. The knuckled paws rapped late at night. Lee was surprised the creatures wanted to stay in such modest conditions, but she made space on the living room floor. Kai stroked their manes.
Soon after the arrival, the flow of money became steadier. Lee had the foresight to open an online shop to supplement lost income at the metaphysical store they owned. Online, the couple sold candles and oils, and Lee was surprised that a simple posting on her social channels led to enough sales to pay the rent. When Kai started printing brown lettered labels in the garage, things picked up more.
The soy candle labels promised to burn all bad luck within months or bring abundance in seven days. Lee melted the wax in a double boiler, poured it with love and a handful of herbs, maybe even a crystal or two. She included kind notes, a blessing or prayer, and the lions would hold the wick as they waited for the wax to solidify.
The emails of gratitude and pleas for advice began to pour in, and Lee answered each one the best she could. She offered the wisdom others had offered her. Or the wisdom she wished others had offered her. She told her new electronic pen pals to trust their intuition, to look for the question not the answer, to tune in and reach out.
There were money manifestation questions that she answered with her own story of abundance, new as it was, and the promise that if it could happen for her it could happen for anyone. Her authenticity cut through, and every now and then someone would follow up with a new order and a story of success.
Lee lit candle after candle, watching the fire. When orders exceeded capacity, she knew they’d need to move, but the lions refused. They would stay in this small apartment in Southern Ohio and bless the next person with wealth; they could only take the couple so far. Lee asked if they’d helped her father, and they refused to answer.
Lee remembered her mother’s sadness those last nights. Her father had spent rent money again to create a giant sculpture he called muffler woman. The sculpture itself was just a bunch of old rusted metal with a muffler for pelvic support, but the soldering iron and time he took away from more commercial projects cost them all healthy food for months. Still young enough to enjoy living on a diet of hot dogs and ramen, Lee tried to tune out the fights as the house turned gray and the flower wallpaper began to pollinate, suffocating them all.
She spoke to her mother every weekend but hadn’t seen her father in years. She’d tried to reach out a few times, believed he lived near the corner stores that were in walking distance of the art shops, where he used to paint faces for tips. Her mother worried he was homeless.
The last time Lee saw her father, he had a new tattoo of a ram on his bicep, which he flexed proudly as he walked her to his latest creation: a blown glass spiral that he said represented time.
When the business demanded they leave the apartment, Lee tracked her father down and found out that he did, in fact, stay in a warehouse-turned apartment complex. She called his landlord to prepay his rent, hoping if nothing else for peace of mind. But the landlord told her that her father was already ahead on rent and trying to buy the building. “That man has this crazy idea that he can build up and turn this into an artist residency taller than any skyscraper, like a beanstalk he keeps saying. I worry about him sometimes,” the landlord said with a hint of endearment in his tone.
Lee waited for more steady information, but it didn’t come. “In that case, please have him call me.”
He never called, but Lee found out that his paintings were now selling for triple what they once did. When Lee’s father died, there was no money and no debt. There was no will. “I don’t live in future tense,” he once said.
What her father left instead was a compact pile of frenetic energy that she swooped up and kept in a small ivory box next to the pipes, which lived on a windowsill in her beautiful home near the woods.
Lee and Kai were kind to their neighbors. Kai planted marigold and snapdragon seeds in the front yard as she answered letters, both those of thanks and those that accused her of running scams. “I paid fourteen dollars for this prosperity candle, and I’m poorer than ever,” one said. To each email, letter and review, Lee tried her best to offer reassurances, but she was finding it harder to be empathetic.
“To get what you expect might be a disappointment, but to get what you want is terrifying,” she told a particularly dubious customer. When Kai nudged her late nights, asking, “You there?” as she worked on business plans to expand, she would find a moment to reflect on her mother’s sadness.
To move with the currency of life is to forget to stay still. At thirty-nine, Lee summoned the lions. Instead of arriving, they sent only their roar. The pipes began to smoke themselves, and the rhythm of life continued as Lee blew out candles and joined her husband on the patio, where they marveled at the marigolds beginning to bloom.
Jen Knox is the author of Resolutions: A Family in Stories (AUX Media), After the Gazebo (Rain Mountain Press), which was nominated for the Pen/Faulkner Award, and The Glass City (Prize Americana for Prose winner). An Ohio-born writer, meditation instructor, and the co-owner of Unleash Creatives, Jen works as a creativity coach to bring writers from idea to draft. Her short work can be found in The Best Small Fictions (edited by Amy Hempel), The Adirondack Review, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Quarterly Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Little Fictions, Literary Orphans, Lunch Ticket, Poor Claudia, Room Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. Jenknox.com