It turned out that Joni did indeed know what fungible meant and she had to agree that the Muriel box stuffed with two and one half inch by six inch rectangular pieces of green cloth decorated with mottos, portraits and numbers was a classic example of fungible.
John had gone into the closet, grabbed the box and holding it in one hand and Joni’s hand in the other walked to their bed where he laid the cigar box between them and then opened it where she could easily see its contents. “Wow,” she whispered, not touching the box. “You found this in the wardrobe?”
“I did,” John replied nodding minutely.
“Did you… Did you count it?”
“How much is in here?” she whispered, touching the box but not picking it up.
“Twenty-four thousand six hundred dollars.”
“Plus six hundred.”
“Wow,” she said drawing out the word as though it contained two and one half dozen O’s.
“Wow,” John replied succinctly. “And it’s yours. All of it,” he added.
Joni looked at her husband and scowled. “John. Don’t be ridiculous. If this belonged to my parents then it goes to all of us, all my sibs. Mom always said they’d divided everything up equally so that‘s still a good chunk of cash. Sixty-two hundred, right? Unless the will says differently we’re splitting everything four equal ways.”
“Sixty-two and one hundred fifty,” John replied automatically and without inflection. Then he looked his wife in the eyes, took her hands and whispered, “Joni, Joni, Joni. You know what an ‘if-then statement’ is and you just made one. ‘If this belonged to my parents then it goes to all of us, all my sibs,’ he repeated, emphasizing the if and then. “But it didn’t. It belongs to you. There’s a note inside that says so. A signed note. This is your money.”
“What!?” she demanded. “Don’t be crazy! I’ve never had this much money in my life. Geez, I’ve never had sixty-two hundred all at once let alone the extra hundred and fifty.”
“No. Not all at once. But over time you have. How long have you lived here?”
“Since the fall of 2006.”
“Right. And how long have you been paying rent?”
“Rent?! Well, once we figured out that I was going to live here long-term. October of oh six? Maybe? Something like that.”
“Two hundred a month?”
“Yeah. Hey! How’d you know? I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry… Oh. Oh! Ten years plus, what, three months, right? That would be one hundred twenty-three months and at two hundred a month that’s $24,600. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mine?” she added in a whisper.
“I’ve got the note,” John replied, brushing the dollar bills aside and reaching to the bottom of the cigar box for Lottie’s signed, hand written directive. He held it up for Joni to see and read, “’Joni’s rent money. Return to her.’ I think this is a pretty clear indicator of who that pile belongs to, no ifs, thens, ands or what’s.”
Joni closed her eyes, squeezed herself with both arms and then wrapped her husband in a snug, wet lipped embrace. “Hushpuppy, I think you are exactly right!” she declared.