July 2000

The young man pulled the door open slowly, like a lost son returning to a home in which he’s not sure he’s welcome. He had never been in a pawnshop before. This one had a neon green sign that said, “Big Money Pawn.” The biggest money he’d ever spent had gone into the contents of the burgundy bag in his hand. He hoped this would be the place. It had been a long day.

A bell clattered against the glass of the door as he opened it, instantly focusing his attention even further on himself. He stepped into the shadow cast by the sun, the great and glowing eye that watched his wandering from shop to shop. He had seen the way it danced behind the clouds. It waltzed with them at an ever-evolving tempo, changing the world from bright to dull and back again as the day progressed. Sometimes it seemed to be laughing at him, sometimes consoling him, sometimes chastising him.

Inside the pawnshop cold fluorescent lights bathed rows of secondhand cameras, guns, and cheap subwoofer boxes, all neatly arranged like a yard sale. The carpet was short and gray and caught his right shoe once as he walked in. Cool air soothed his hot, sun-beaten skin. It reminded him of her breath on his neck, light and scented with peppermint.

The dealer looked up from behind the counter – long black hair pulled into a ponytail, headphones on, friendly smile. He pulled the headphones down around his neck. Faint jazz music tinted the empty air.

“What’s up, man? Can I help you with something?”

“I hope so. I have a couple of rings that I’m shopping around. Thought you might be interested.” He opened the burgundy bag and pulled out two boxes, also burgundy.

“What kind?”

“A solitaire with a wrap.”

“Things went south, huh, buddy?” The dealer opened the boxes and pulled out the wrap, a gold band with two tiny diamonds.

“You could say that. Fortunately we never got married, so it wasn’t nearly as messy as it could have been.”

The dealer set down the wrap and pulled out the small solitaire on a simple gold band. Instead of using a jeweler’s scope, he eyeballed it. The stone sparkled in the fluorescent light. It wasn’t much – the young man had always wondered if he should have saved up for a larger stone – but it had been pretty good for a college freshman who’d never had a real job. He was in love, and he’d done his best.

“Maybe I can ease the pain by returning some of your investment.” He named a price: maybe a fifth of what the young man had paid for them, but fifty percent more than any jewelry store had offered him. The appraisal might have taken ten seconds.

“For both of them?”

“For the set.”

The young man pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket. On it was a chart of stores and prices for the two rings. Glancing at the paper was just a formality; he already knew what it said. But this was his first sale to a pawnshop, and he wanted to do it right.

“What other offers have you gotten?”

“Nothing I wanted to accept until now. I’ll take it.”

“Damn, went too high.” The dealer grinned a bit and shook his head. The man looked at the rings, still sparkling in the lights.

“Do you want the information on the warranties? I just had the rings inspected and cleaned to renew them.”

“No, just the rings. The stones are the most important thing. We might not even sell the rings as they are.”

Diamonds are forever, the young man thought.

The dealer closed the register and handed the young man a few bills. Then he returned the rings to their boxes and set them out of sight under the counter.

“Thank you very much. Come back soon, maybe I’ll feel generous next time, too.”

The shadow had crept back from the counter slightly. The dealer put his headphones back on, and the sound of jazz disappeared. As he walked toward the door, the young man dropped the burgundy bag like an albatross into the trashcan.

He pushed the door open. The bell clattered again. The sunlight blinded him. He raised a hand to shield his eyes as he walked away. The money felt heavy as silver in his pocket, and the hot, sticky air began to erase the memory of the coldness inside.