When I was five, I soaked a bucketful of pennies in blue starch. It was that kindergarten kind of starch, a magical substance. At night before I went to bed, I poured the pennies under my pillow. The plan was this: While I dreamt on top of them, God would take them for the poor in heaven.
In the morning, it was a moment or two before I remembered that a miraculous absence lay in wait for me under my pillow. I lifted the pillow up from the bed—but it wouldn’t lift. I pulled until the pillowcase ripped, the pillow came away in my hands, and then I saw it: a greenish foam of copper pennies congealed in a sour-smelling glue.
I was stunned: the blue starch, which was to be the medium of transformation, had instead become the medium of a ghastly stasis in my bed. The shiny pennies, which I had been gathering and admiring for weeks, had turned on me. Fortunately, my mother was understanding. She didn’t scold me for the ruined sheet and pillowcase, or for the mattress that had to be washed and dragged into the sun. She explained that there were no poor people in heaven and that God had no need of money.
From that morning on, there was a gulf for me between money and God. I had made a valiant attempt to become intimate with money, I had slept one whole night with it in my bed—and I’d been betrayed. I had mixed it with my soul’s aspiration, in the form of the magic blue starch, but the coins had revealed their gross material nature. Money had fallen out of grace.
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