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Around The Sun: Mum And The Million Dollars

Stephen Harrison tells of a day of shame.

I was born into a family of pranksters. Granddad enjoyed a good joke, mother was always laughing at some silly event or spinning odd-ball stories, and father, a quiet man of few words, always had some piece of mischief in mind and a twinkle in his eyes. Naturally the three of us, their children, inherited their good humour. Everything could be turned into a laugh, mocking our dire circumstances and material insufficiency.

I had been living in the United States for a couple of years. Time to send a letter to the world's best mum. I thought I would flavour it with a little surprise, a fake million dollar bill. The bill looked like real American money, but of course million dollar bills are not in circulation.

I had sent one of these fake bills to my ex-girlfriend Jacquie, and another to my old mate Barry. Now I was sending one to my mother, thinking she would have a good laugh at this souvenir from America. Accompanying it was a joke recommmendation to buy a house, and car, and other luxuries.

A week later I was awoken at 4 am by a phone call from the disgruntled manager of the Yorkshire Bank in Heckmondwike, England. Could I please persuade my mother to go back home? Tell her the bank note she was presenting was not genuine?

"Your mother has been in the bank for some time. She refuses to leave the premises until we cash her million dollar bill.''

My mother was convinced that the bank note was genuine. That the manager was trying to cheat her out of her new-found wealth.

He handed the phone to my mother. She gabbled away at a million miles an hour in a broad Yorkshire accent. She had instructed my sisters and their husbands not to go to work today. She had told uncles aunts and cousins of her good fortune. She was going to buy them houses. Never again would they have to work. What a pity dad was not still alive. He would have been jumping for joy...

The voice coming to me from the other side of the Atlantic was filled with excitement, joy, anticipation. It was quite a while before I could get a word in edge-ways.

"Mum, mum, mum, sit down. Let me explain. It isn't a real note. It's a fake.''

"What!''

"It's a joke. Not for a moment did I think you would take it seriously.''

There was a deathly silence. Then a shrunken mouse-like voice said "Oh, OK.''

The phone went dead. She had hung up.

She didn't even say goodbye. Was she having a heart attack? Had the shock killed her?

I sat on the floor, imagining the embarrassment and humiliation she had suffered. I berated myself. There was no question of going back to sleep. My mother had always been ready to see the funny side of things. But that final faint "Oh OK'' haunted me. I had never heard her sound so distraught.

Daylight crept into the room. Perhaps if I went jogging...? I set off down a country road, but my legs were heavy, my heart shrunken with shame. Then a thought occurred. My mother had believed that the bank note was real because she believed in me. She believed that her son was capable of earning so much money that he could afford to casually send her a million dollars.

I rang my mother. I apologies profusely.

I told her how much I loved her.

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