“Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.”
This is a confession.
I’ve told some people that I made my own luck. It was a kind of private joke, really. Someone would comment on how lucky I’ve been, the breaks I’ve gotten and the innovations I stumbled onto. Usually it was someone who really wanted to know the so-called ‘secret of my success’, how I made Portable Holes, so they could replicate the magic, I guess. So I’d smile and say that I made my own luck, and they would think I was unbearably arrogant and then leave me alone. It’s true, though. I made my own luck. Just not in the way you think.
I think I was seven or eight when I found my first lucky penny. Not every penny is special, you know. According to my dad, it’s only the ones that were made in the year you were born that are the really lucky ones. The others are just the ordinary kind of lucky, I guess. The kind that comes from finding money. When I was a kid I was always finding money. It was a product of two things, really: I was shy, and I was clumsy. So I was always looking at my feet, trying to keep from tripping on my shoelaces, and avoiding the gazes of strangers. Besides, there was interesting stuff down there. Money, like I said. I found coins all over the place, and other things too. A puzzle piece, a lone earring, a keychain, a comb. Most of it was junk to an adult, but it was all treasure to a kid.
Anyway, I found my lucky penny the first time in the parking lot of the laundromat my dad and I would go to every weekend. It was sitting just behind one of those concrete curbs at the end of a parking space, in the shadow of a car bumper. I showed it to my dad – I did that with most of my treasures – and he told me it was especially lucky and why and that was that. That night I put it on my nightstand, instead of in the jar with the rest of my change. I wanted to save that one. It was special.
And then I found it again the next week. It was in the same spot, though there was no car keeping the sun off it this time. I didn’t bother telling dad about it this time – I just pocketed the penny and kicked around outside a little more before I went back in to help him with the folding. That one got put in a little stack on top of my very first lucky penny that night, and I didn’t give it much more thought.
And then I found it again. Now, kids have a remarkable ability to accept coincidences, but this was weird. I looked in the spot right away when we got to the laundromat, and there it was, just like before. Heads up, of course. I picked it up, and then I sat myself down on the edge of the sidewalk just in front of that parking spot, intent to watch and see what would happen. Would someone come along and drop a penny? Put one there deliberately? What was going on? But by the time I’d put my rump on the sidewalk and turned back around to look at the spot, the penny was there again.
I collected thirty pennies that day before my dad called me inside. My pockets were positively jingling. And they were all the same. I had them lined up on the sidewalk beside me for a while, a row of identical pennies. All the same scratches, all with the same little discoloration along the top and side, and all the same year of course. I felt like I’d found my own personal miracle.
I must have collected thousands of pennies from that spot. I asked my dad to get me coin wrappers from the bank, and I’d roll them up, sitting cross legged on the floor of my bedroom. I always kept at least ten lucky pennies on me. The rest of them I rolled and either gave to my dad to put in the bank in my savings account or stashed in my room somewhere. I had rolls of lucky pennies in my old sneakers, in the back of my drawers, in the cardboard boxes of toys shoved under my bed. It was kind of ridiculous.
As time went on, I made a point of studying my lucky spot. I caught the pennies appearing a few times – just a few. It was so quick it would happen between one blink and the next, but always within seven seconds of removing the penny from the spot. And I noticed something else, a little shadow that would appear just before the penny appeared. I didn’t have any idea what was going on, of course, but I was perfectly content to keep exploiting it.
It was handy, you know? I was the girl who always had a penny. I had no problem leaving change for the person behind me, or with buying snacks or candy with my friends. My family didn’t have a lot of money – which may have been why my parents were so willing to just ignore the piles of pennies in their daughter’s room. It wasn’t like I was suddenly flush with cash, but I found myself able to do just a tiny bit more, feeling just a little bit more confident, just a little bit more able. It’s funny how far a dollar goes when you’re young, you know? And it added up.
Especially when I found the second spot, and then the third. It pays to keep your eyes on the ground, to look for pennies. One was in a park across town. Another was in a completely different city. Same timing, same pennies, same deal. I only took a few from those. I figured the less attention I brought to them the better.
I’ve told the story about why I decided to go into physics dozens of times. I lay all the blame squarely on the shoulders of my girlfriend Sarah, who got me involved with a D&D group. Those were some of the best times I had in high school. I was still shy, and I was still clumsy, but I found a little more confidence being someone else, exploring different worlds. And hey, a little spare change went a long way at the game shop, you know? Jaime claimed to have a portable hole in his inventory, and well, it was all downhill from there. I was going to make it happen.
But that’s only half the truth, of course. Really, I heard about the portable hole, and I thought about my personal penny spot. I thought maybe something was going on there. Maybe this was the answer to this crazy thing. It still didn’t explain everything, of course – sure, maybe someone had a portable hole and was feeding pennies through, but why the same one? How?
And no, I still hadn’t told anyone about it. My parents thought I was just the most diligent kid ever, volunteering to do the laundry myself every week. And the change kept piling up, all those identical pennies laying around.
I’m still amazed no one else ever saw it. It only took three pennies for me to spot it. I mean, I’d seen where they came from, and that certainly helped. Still! All those pennies, and no one else noticed that they were the same. The same. Maybe it’s because they’re practically worthless, so there was no need to look real close. Me, I still thought of every single penny as a lucky find. I was examining every one I got to see if it was like the others, to see if it was especially lucky. Attention to detail. That’s part of what got me into such a good program, and helped me graduate early. More things I owe to the penny.
I worked on the first portable hole concept for years. Really what we’re talking about here is teleportation – movement of matter over large distances. The motherlode, right? And the thing is, I got it to work. Sort of. We’d drop something into the hole, watch the spot where it was supposed to emerge, and nothing would happen. Things were getting lost in transit. I was certain they weren’t just getting destroyed, but I couldn’t prove it. I banged my head against that wall for nearly a year, changing the equations and doing experiments. With my lucky penny, of course.
And then I figured it out. We were stretching space to make this hole between two places, pulling it like taffy. It was supposed to just be an opening, a hole. Instead it was like fabric pulled way too tight and ripped at the seams. We were stretching things out, and stretching time while we were doing it. And we didn’t take into account that stretch when we were trying to figure out where the hole should end up. I went back over everything, figured it out. I tweaked those equations hundreds of times and passed one of my lucky pennies through each time. There are hundreds of spots. Hundreds of times I tried it, each with slightly larger numbers, a little further away in space, a little bit further back in time, where the pennies landed. Are landing. Have landed. Did land.
I scrapped the entire project, of course. Once I realized, I had to call it off. The stretch is dangerous. It could snap back, or break. I don’t even know what that would do. Still, I was able to use the research as the foundation for Portable Holes – proper portable holes, the kind you carry around with you. Everyone has one now, a little pocket dimension to keep things in, a little entrance to a space catty-corner to this one. They’re perfectly safe, tested extensively.
But this is a confession.
I made my own luck with those pennies, but the circle isn’t perfect and it isn’t complete. I damaged time with the teleportation attempts, and for all I know there’s no fixing that, no cure. And I never found all the spots – only three. I couldn’t go check on the rest of them – they’re too far away. They’re in space. There’s a line of identical pennies out there, pointing the way to Earth. They’ve been there a very long time. The distances are huge, but if you know what to look for, those little ripples in space and time are there, an arrow of copper coins.
The world is too big and strange for me to believe nothing else is out there. Maybe whatever else is out there is friendly. Maybe it won’t see the pennies. Maybe eventually we can fix the damage I did, trying to move a coin from here to there. Perhaps it’s not really a problem that I built my fortune on a contradiction, on something that seems like a paradox to me. Maybe we’ll get lucky.
But I found a coin in my portable hole, today, and I don’t know where it came from. I don’t even know what it’s made of. It certainly isn’t a penny. I’d hate to think these pocket dimensions have holes in them…