Summer 2009 - THE POTOMAC

The Coin of the Martyr
   Joseph Sheehan

He held the silver half-dollar in his hand so long it heated up and now he was covering it in sweat and ruining it. But he couldn’t let go. John F. Kennedy. Dead, a martyr. Like Saint Sebastian, tied to a post, body pierced by arrows, murdered by people who didn’t believe in God.

Newly minted, his mother had said, and she’d handed him the coin. He got one. His older brother got one. The little kids didn’t matter. They were too young to remember the day of something terrible has happened – coming home from school and Mom crying – Dad looking scared – both staring at the TV at the man in the black open-top limousine, the woman in a hat next to him smiling – waving – and then the gun shots. Over and over. The bad day, full of fear. The only thing worse would’ve been the Russians launching their nuclear missiles at us – and he’d saved us from those. Don’t take it out of the box, she’d said. It’s a memento. It’ll be worth a lot of money some day. So don’t spend it! And she knew the things he liked to spend money on. Spiderman, The Green Lantern, Batman, The Fantastic Four, Cracker Jacks, black liquorice Nibs, sweet and sour candy.

But it wasn’t in the little black box and he wasn’t going to spend it. Nope. He tried putting it in his pocket but it was too heavy and out it came. The only good place for it was in his hand, even though he was taking the shine off and making it worth less money someday. But it felt good pressing into his palm – and it still looked shiny. The priest talked about the martyrs in heaven and how John was up there now with them. He hated his name Joseph because Joseph was a saint, yeah, but he wasn’t a martyr – killed because people couldn’t stand someone believing so strongly in God and being so good. To be up there at the side of God next to Saint Sebastian and John – that’d be great.

He couldn’t keep it in his pocket and he couldn’t keep holding it for ever in his hand. He knew what he was going to do and he felt holy – like God had just noticed him and light was growing round him and people were turning to gaze upon him and wonder aloud: who is this holy child in our midst – right here in our own church? When the man finally came to his row and extended the long pole with the collection basket attached to it and one by one people’s hands stuck into the basket crumpled-up dollar bills and dull copper coins and smudged small silver coins, he kept the dime his mom had given him and dropped the heavy, warm, still-shiny newly-minted silver half-dollar of the martyr John Fitzgerald Kennedy into the basket.

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