Nana was always keen on telling me how working hard was important, so when I was thirteen, I took it upon myself to sign up with Turners Newsagents. It wasn’t long before a round came up. This pleased Nana. She was enthusiastic about bringing me up in the right way.

“Manners and hard work, that’s all you need, my girl. Don’t let the past become an excuse.”

By which she meant the death of my parents when I was nine, but we didn’t talk about them directly. 

I delivered the morning papers to all the posh houses on the other side of town whose tree-lined streets had names like Buttercup Drive or Maple Avenue. Every fourth Friday, I was responsible for collecting the bill money and taking it back to Mr Turner, who meticulously counted every penny in front of me. I guess rich people didn’t like to get up early, because most of them left it under the doormat or on the ledge just inside their porch. This was alright by me, because if they didn’t leave their money, I had to knock and ask for it. I didn’t like talking to adults; my face would get all hot, and my mouth clammed up like a purse. When I eventually managed to get my words out, they sounded foolish or moronic. 

One house, whose porch was larger than Nana’s kitchen, had walls lined with glass cases. Each case contained a dozen or so moths. Some moths were the color of tree trunks or rotten leaves, but others were so vivid and bright it seemed a crime that they should end this way. I was both fascinated and revolted by the moths. I didn’t understand why someone would display them in this way, and I think a part of me was afraid they might suddenly take flight.

The people who lived there usually left their bill in a plain brown envelope marked paper money, but one Friday, they must have forgot. It wasn’t there. I knocked and waited, and an old man answered the door. He was wearing a striped pajama top, and it took me a moment to realize this was all he was wearing. His legs were skinny and wrinkled and covered with wiry grey hairs. His private parts hung limp, as if dead. ‘Take it,” he said.

I felt like one of those moths, encased in glass, a silver pin through the abdomen. It took me a moment to realize he was holding out his hand to me. He dropped the coins one by one into my palm. They were warm and damp like he’d been holding them for a long time.  I closed my fist, and thanks him. It was all I could think of to say.

Sam Payne lives in Plymouth. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spelk, Every day Fiction, Unbroken Journal, Literary Mama and Ink, Sweat and Tears. Find her on Twitter at @skpaynewriting.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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