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by John Weagly

“He wasn’t the President, yet,” Cora Winters said. “This was 1868. General Grant was campaigning. The War Between the States had been over for a couple of years. He was shaking hands and kissing babies and dancing with us ladies so we could sway the votes of our beaus.”

Sheridan Whitmore placed two pounds of flour into a small crate on the counter while Cora Winters told her tale. The proprietress of the cheapest boarding house in Whispering Gulch was a plain woman in her mid-forties who came into Whitmore’s General Store once a week to share her stories. She was one of his most reliable customers.

“We danced to Frederic Chopin’s ‘Waltz in E Minor.’”

Sheridan nodded. He didn’t know Frederic Chopin from a chicken with a broken beak, but he didn’t want to be impolite. “I’ve got some nice apples from the Crawford farm. Would you like any?”

“Three please,” Cora said. Sheridan walked to the corner of the store where a barrel of apples rested on the floor. The odors of cured meat, ripe cheese and leather circulated off of the rough-hewn walls.

Cora raised her voice so he could still enjoy her narrative. “General Grant had one hand on my upper back and his other hand entwined in mine.”

Sheridan walked back to the counter and placed the apples in the crate.

“Do you know where my other hand was?” Cora asked.

Sheridan started to nod again, then caught himself. “No, Miss Winters. Where was your other hand?”

Cora smiled, getting to the juicy part of her tale. “As we waltzed, I slipped my hand into the General’s front trouser pocket. I had quite the nimble fingers in my day — he didn’t feel a thing! I extracted a memento, a keepsake to remind me of that special day.”

“Do you need any molasses this week?”

“No thank you.” Cora Winters held out her hand. In the open palm she held an Indian head penny that sparkled with nearly twenty years of storytelling.

“A penny from the pocket of the President,” Cora said, a sly grin indicating the importance of her small accomplishment. “What do you think about that?”

Sheridan smiled and gave the penny a closer look. “Very impressive,” he said. He pushed the crate across the counter. “That’ll be three dollars and eighty-seven cents.”

Cora opened her pocketbook and placed the special coin in an inner-chamber. She then counted out three dollars and eighty-seven cents and handed it to Sheridan. “Thank you, Mr. Whitmore.”

Sheridan nodded. “Thank you, Miss Winters. See you next week.”

After Cora Winters left the store, Sheridan noticed that a spool of red thread was missing from a sewing display that his loyal patron had been standing beside. He smiled. Something small always went missing whenever Cora told her President Grant story. Sheridan didn’t mind, let the lonely woman think her fingers were still nimble.

It was a small price for doing business.

John Weagly’s short fiction has been nominated for a Derringer Award five times, winning one in 2008, and has been nominated for a Spinetingler Award. As a playwright, his first play was produced in 1992. Since then, his scripts have received over 100 productions by theaters around the world. www.johnweagly.com