Twenty Dollars

By Ben Loory


When I was in fifth grade, I was in love with Shirlene DuJack. We used to draw pictures of TIE fighters together. It was the ideal relationship. The only problem was that the school bully, Wayne DeCourte, was also in love with Shirlene DuJack. A fact which I found annoying. Apparently he felt similarly, because one day he announced that the two of us were going to have to fight after school for the hand of Shirlene DuJack. This made sense to me, so I agreed, with one stipulation: I had piano lessons that day, so could it be tomorrow? Wayne said sure, and we shook on it. It was all very gentlemanly.

That night I was sitting in my room when it suddenly occurred to me that something horrible was going to happen the next day. I mean, besides getting my face beat in by Wayne DeCourte, which was just the price you pay for love. No, it was much worse: my mom always came to pick me up from school, and she was going to be sitting out there in the car, and she was going to see me and Wayne DeCourte start fighting, and she was going to jump out of the car and come running over to save me and in the process ruin my life.

So I went to see my mom. I explained to her the situation (“There are just some things a man has to do”) and she finally promised to wait a half hour after school before she came to pick me up. I thanked her. She wished me luck. She cried a little bit. She’s a crier.

The next day Wayne asked me if we were still on or if I had swimming lessons or anything. I said no, I was fine. After school we met on the playground and everyone gathered around and then we started to fight. I don’t remember much about the fight, perhaps because it only lasted about five seconds before the principal broke it up. I remember being happy that I was still alive, but unhappy that Wayne still was, too.

Then I saw my mom’s car pulling up.

This pissed me off. She had totally lied! She hadn’t waited half an hour. She hadn’t even waited ten minutes! I was fuming.

I went over and got in the car. My mom was nervous. She asked me how the fight had gone.

There was no fight, I said. It didn’t happen. I told Wayne DeCourte I’d bet him twenty dollars I’d win and he got scared and backed out.

I don’t know where this lie came from but it came fast and easy.

Oh, said my mom.

She thought about it a moment.

Well that’s great! she finally said. Good thinking!

She seemed very proud of me. We drove home. I think she bought me ice cream. I never told her what had really happened. To this day she still brings it up as an example of what a genius I was when I was little, outsmarting the school bully and all. As though Wayne DeCourte would have backed down for that. He might have been in love, but he wasn’t an idiot. And he was about eight times the size of me, anyway.

Sometimes I think, why don’t I tell my mom about this now? After all, I’m really fucking old. Is it really that I’m still pissed at her for showing up early? That was almost thirty years ago. But yeah, I guess, if I want to be honest, that’s exactly what it is. Plus, I feel guilty about telling her the lie.

And on top of that, if I told her, she’d cry.

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BEN LOORY's fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, on This American Life, at Word Theatre, and on Selected Shorts. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin, 2011) was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

5 responses to “Twenty Dollars”

  1. I’m still impressed by Wayne’s courtesy re: the piano lesson.

  2. Ben Loory says:

    wayne was a kindly fellow. on the last day of high school he gave me a business card for the towing business he was opening. i carried it for years in the hopes that i’d break down. but i never did. very sad story.

  3. […] Hall of Fame *Ben Loory was in love with Shirlene DuJack.  *Lauren Becker answers a freaky Craig’s List ad. *Tao Lin on why he is “prolific” so far. […]

  4. Andra Moldav says:

    What was Wayne’s business that he opened?

  5. pixy says:

    you are 150% the opposite of old. just sayin’. i can say that for reals now.

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