The Wallet By Andrew McCuaig

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1 The Wallet By Andrew McCuaig When Elaine arrived at work the first thing she noticed was that Troy had left his wallet on the small shelf next to a half-finished cup of Coke. Troy left his food regularly, as if she were his maid, but he left his wallet less often about once a month. The first time it happened was just her second night on the job, and she thought maybe he was testing her honesty, or, worse, that he had created some excuse to come back and see her. He had, in fact, returned half an hour later and deliberately rubbed his body up against hers as he retrieved the wallet instead of just standing at the door and asking her to hand it to him. They had made awkward small talk in the cramped booth before he finally raised his wallet in a salute, said good-bye and good luck and rubbed past her again. Now, as she settled onto the stool for her shift, she could smell his lingering presence. She picked up the cup of Coke and placed it in the garbage can at her feet, careful to keep it upright. The cup had sweated out a puddle in the summer heat and she shook her head despairingly. She lined up her piles of quarters and dimes on the shelf in order to have something to do. Two booths down, José waved at her and gave her two thumbs up, a gesture he thought was cute. He was another lecherous type, always spending his breaks standing at her door looking her up and down and blowing smoke into her booth. She waved at him so he d turn around. In front of her now the highway was black. Every few minutes headlights would appear in the distance like slow trains but most of the time the drivers would pick the automatic lanes. Then three or four cars might come in a row and she d be grateful to move into a rhythm reach, grab, turn, gather, turn, reach, good night. It was annoying when people didn t bring their cars close enough, but at least it allowed her to stretch more. By midnight she had made change for twenty-six people. Several weeks ago she had started to keep track out of boredom. Her midnight record was seventy-two, her fewest, twelve. At about three o clock a car came toward her too fast, weaving like a firefly, before picking her booth. The brakes screeched, the muffler roared: it was a little yellow Chevette, an eighties car pocked with rust. Elaine leaned forward with her hand ready, but the driver, a young woman, made no move to pay her toll. She looked straight ahead, her face hidden by strings of brown hair, both hands locked tight to the wheel. Beside her in the front seat was a small beatup suitcase overflowing with clothes.

2 Elaine said, Good morning, and the woman said, I need money. Elaine hesitated. You mean you don t have the toll? No, I mean I need money. She turned now and Elaine saw her bleary eyes and splotched face. There was an ugly gash below one eye and the skin around it had swollen up and turned purple. There seemed to be an older scar on her nose, and dried blood in the corner of her mouth. Her stare was bitter and bold and it made Elaine look away. She was about to raise the bar and tell her to go on ahead when she saw movement in the backseat. Looking closer, she saw there were two children, one about five, the other barely two, neither in car seats or seatbelts. Their eyes were wide and afraid and Elaine realized it was this that had drawn her attention to them in the dark. The little one held on to a gray stuffed animal, the older one was sucking her thumb. José was watching her; he raised his palms and scowled. She had been trained to signal in a certain way if she was being held up, and José seemed to be waiting for this gesture. Instead, she gave him a thumbs up and surreptitiously reached for Troy s wallet. She opened the wallet to find ninety-two dollars inside. She pulled these bills out, wadded them in her fist and reached out to the woman, who took the money, gripped the wheel harder and sped away. The older girl s face, framed by the back window, receded into the darkness, her eyes like glowing stones. Glossary of big words: Cramped: Narrow; not spacious Lecherous: Having excessive or offensive sexual desire Bleary: Blurry; watery Splotched: Spotted; smeared Scowled: To frown in an angry way Surreptitiously: Secretly Receded: To fade; to move away

3 Exam Review: Part 1 FicTion Concepts Use your annotation skills to answer each of the following questions about The Wallet : 1. Infer at least one trait of the story s main character, Elaine. What clue(s) led to this inference? 2. Make one good inference about the setting of The Wallet. Explain the clue(s) that led to it. 3. Describe the central conflict in The Wallet. What does each side want? A. Elaine VS. Troy. Elaine wants Troy to respect her; he treats her poorly. B. Elaine VS. the driver of car. Elaine wants her to pay the toll; she doesn t have the money. C. Elaine VS. Jose. Elaine wants to help the driver; Jose doesn t want her to. D. Elaine VS. herself. Elaine isn t quite sure whether and how she should help the driver. 4. Which best describes the climax of the plot in The Wallet? A. It s when the woman pulls up in her car, because the external conflict between the women is introduced. B. It s when the woman asks for money, because Elaine s internal conflict gets more intense. C. It s when Elaine reaches for Troy s wallet, because it s the turning point in Elaine s internal conflict. D. It s when the car speeds away from Elaine, because we realize that the other woman has won the external conflict. 5. What is the narrator s tone toward the male characters in The Wallet? A. Creepy/gross B. Mysterious/tense C. Gloomy/dark D. Critical/disgusted

4 6. Classify the imagery in this passage from The Wallet. Also, interpret its purpose for the story. At about three o clock a car came toward her too fast, weaving like a firefly, before picking her booth. The brakes screeched, the muffler roared: it was a little yellow Chevette, an eighties car pocked with rust. 7. Make a character motivation inference about the woman in the car: WHY is she on the road, asking Elaine for money, at 3AM? Explain the clue(s) that led to your conclusion. 8. Make an inference about Elaine s big change in The Wallet : 9. Which best describes the narrative structure of The Wallet? A. It s a linear narrative that tells the story s events in the order they occurred. B. It s a parallel narrative that develops two stories at once: Elaine s and the driver s. C. It includes one major flash-forward to 3AM, when the driver pulls up to Elaine s booth. D. It includes one major flash-back to when Troy first left his wallet in Elaine s booth.

5 10. Interpret the symbolism of the story s most important object: the wallet. What does giving away Troy s wallet represent for Elaine? Conduct a close reading of this passage from The Wallet : She had been trained to signal in a certain way if she was being held up, and José seemed to be waiting for this gesture. Instead, she gave him a thumbs up and surreptitiously reached for Troy s wallet. She opened the wallet to find ninety-two dollars inside. She pulled these bills out, wadded them in her fist and reached out to the woman, who took the money, gripped the wheel harder and sped away. The older girl s face, framed by the back window, receded into the darkness, her eyes like glowing stones. 11. Set the context for the scene: 12. Establish the basic meaning of a key line or two from the passage. (Be sure to include a paraphrase.)

6 13. Analyze the deeper meaning of what you just established in question #11. (Be sure to include an interpretive question and your answer to it.) 14. What s the central theme (and message!) that The Wallet offers to its readers? gender power right vs. wrong social class 15. Make a text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connection with the theme you described above. (Be specific about the similarities!)

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