THE PAWN SHOPPE IS MY OWN. I added in the extra “pe” at the end to make like it's authentic. Even though it is. This place is dark and dusty as it should be. I often think about cleaning up around here: plaster that exposed grey wall that looks like old elephant hide, repair the broken tiles at the front, fix the spastic broken blind that has been tangled up in itself for years, put in industrial carpet instead of the shoddy lino around the counter area, but what's the point? People expect places like this to be dirty, musty. And if it saves me work, well then.
To be honest this place is more of a junk shop than a pawn shop. People just dump stuff on me rather than agree to come and collect it at a later stage. It's a funny old business. Not in a laughing giggly way, just odd. Like, first of all, everything is old. Nothing is ever mint, shiny. You get people's cast offs, things they can do without, unwanted things, neither beautiful nor useful. I get laden with people's shit in other words. You have to have the humour for a life like that. Think of it like this, 'slike putting on the TV and only ever seeing repeats, never a new series, never a new drama, just the stuff that you have seen countless times before. Same old shit coming back to you. On the tickets you can write descriptions of the stuff yourself, from memory, because you've done it so many times before:
Leather bound diary case: slightly marked on spine, gold watch: date inscribed on back, needle pin break on glass surface, blah de blah
But like I say, people don't really pawn anymore, they just dump their load on me.
I inherited all this from an old guy I used to work with when I was a kid and needed extra cash to get cigarettes and take cheap girls to expensive movies. I stole from him quite a bit, took things that I thought might be worth something and sold them off in the schoolyard. Must have been my first showing of this keen entrepreneurial spirit! Maybe he knew I was stealing and let me get away with it. Dunno. Never worked it out. When I say “inherited” I mean only that no one else came to claim this place and I was the only one who knew anything about it, so I just stuck it out.
He passed on. Freddy. I went to the funeral and all. Even felt a bit guilty and shed a few tears. I had a few silent whiskeys in one of his old haunts and raised my glass repeatedly to him in my solitary hours. He deserved that much.
I'm an old guy now. Sort of. Not last legs or anything, but getting there. I still remember him and all the advice he gave me. Much of it wasn't very good. I'm still here, sitting by the counter, looking out the window at people strutting off to offices, stores, skyscrapers. Freddy sat and did the same thing too. I don't know if what I do is success or not. I could be elsewhere. But that could go either way, sewer or millionaire. Ah, it doesn't matter, this place is actually quite warm in winter, tucked away from the winds that blow in from the east and the cars that slush the curbs outside and you don't want to be anywhere near those puddles in the shoes that you got.
Five-stringed banjo: slight scratches on body, black stain on fifth fret, white circular electrical fan: silver necklace with cross: some links slightly bent.
The word “slightly” comes up a lot. You can sell stuff with that word. People accept it.
So one day this guy, who even had a face like Freddy, the same beard and hooked nose, strolls in. Things had been a bit on the slow side, so to see anybody come in suddenly brought out my smile, which wasn't fake for once. And he says:
“I wonder if you'd be interested in this box.”
People often do this to me. As if I'm supposed to guess exactly what's in it. People expect games. Even strangers. Like I have time to play ga...Actually I do.
“Do you mean the box sir, or what it might contain?” My talk and all gets better when I have customers. 'Slike I've been really educated. Like my “shoppe” is a reputable antique store or something.
“Aha!” he guffaws, with a big grin, and he starts tugging his little beard like Freddy used to do when a situation caught his amusement, his other hand rubbing the lid of the box, which is like a hat box, only maybe slightly smaller, like it was for a tiara or something.
I give him his space and wait for him to inform me. I'm in no rush.
He glances over his shoulder as if he is a spy about to impart some serious confidential information. In a hushed tone he says:
“Well now, I'd like to know, sir, if you'd be interested in my wife's virginity?”
I'm looking at him. Astounded. Thinking maybe I didn't catch him right, thinking maybe I need this repeated. Once a guy tried to give me a Chess set that was missing one pawn. And I remember dreaming about it that same night, and I, myself, was playing the part of the pawn and not sure still if we won or lost.
He tugs at the beard again. “I'm serious. My wife's virginity is in the box.”
I look around for TV cameras, you know, caught in an embarrassing situation, the producers in headsets all slapping their thighs and will jump out any minute and say “gotcha” and stop slapping their thighs and start on my back instead and isn't the world just full of laughs.
No one jumps out. I remain unmolested.
“Do you want it or not?” I decide to play along.
“Okay. Yes. I do want it. Why don't you show it to me?”
“Indeed I will.”
So he opens the box.
I try not to react but my frowns are telling him, I hope, all right joker, you've had your fun, fuck off now and leave me alone, take your smart arse practical gag and...
“So, do you want it or not?”
I could have got angry about this. I mean I could have but I didn't. And then he changes the subject.
“Nice place you got here. It's dark and dusty, as it should be. People expect places like this to be dirty, musty.”
I'm looking at him now, and wondering how the hell he got in my head.
“Yeah, sure, this is your average pawn shop.” I'm eyeing him kind of sideways. Not sure if he is some kind of wandering magician or something. Go on pick a card.
“Well, it won't be average if you take what I'm offering. How many other establishments can offer what I have in this box?”
Beard tug. I could catch it myself and pull the whole straggly thing off him. But he's no push-over this guy. He's dressed well. Like a businessman like, and is quite brawny. He looks extremely like the king that I met, on the black and white board, in the dream. If you met him on the subway you'd be sure he was a newspaper editor or a stockbroker on the way home to a nice plump pie-making wife. And you'd be sure he put in a few hours at the local gym to work the pie right off again.
So he starts off describing her.
“Oh, she's a looker all right. Bit heavy around the hips but I'm sure that's all the better for hanging on to. Her breasts are in pretty good shape, slightly sagging, or at least starting that way, but good large nipples and a graceful neck that holds a round pleasant face and a tempting smile. Rich, thick hair, kind of rust colour, but natural, never dyed or anything.”
Then he shows me the inside of the box again, as if I can see it all right there.
I feel myself almost getting aroused. Reminded me of the queen I saw on the board, but only from a distance, her hair underneath the crown. If only I could have got to her.
I'm still prepared to play this game however.
“See, thing is sir, it's a pawn shop. That means you can come back and reclaim, collect again, if you want it back. The item is not sold forever if such a deal is made; I only keep it for you, while you go off and use the money I give you, at least that's the way my pawn shoppe works, many deals can be made. But thing is, if you give me your wife's virginity then you can't get it back. Virginity, as far as I understand the concept, is gone after one go. Know what I mean?”
“I know full well what you mean. I'm full aware,” he says, a bit put out now, “You see I never took it from her. And she doesn't particularly want it. What good is it to her? So I've decided to pawn it. She doesn't mind. In fact, she's quite eager.”
I look into the box again to see if I might have missed something.
“Isn't it crying out to be taken?”
I say yes, indeed it is, it's crying out. Queen.
Grandfather clock that still tells the time though pendulum no longer swings, antique Chess board: carved ebony and ivory pieces though one pawn missing.
We are looking into each other's eyes now and we have an understanding. He knows too that the winds when they come from the east are no joke, and if you don't have a good pair of shoes, well, there's simply no excuse for that. Freddy also, wherever he is, he knows, maybe even engineering all this, but we're all on a level we are, this man's wife at home crying out, and me with the TV showing only repeats and dreaming of making an impact on a game when really I'm in the front line only to die. So I pay him a lot and tell him that I am grateful and I put it on display in the window, fixing the blind a bit so it doesn't look all tangled, and wait for the droves of customers who may come and delight in the something new. And I have a sign advertising it, all done up in fancy gold lettering, even with the man's phone number on it, for that was his wish, all done up in fancy gold lettering, for isn't that the least that a queen deserves.