When I was trying to change some settings, I somehow broke the comments section for my last two posts! Trying to see if I have fixed it for new ones….
What feels like a lifetime ago, I was an assistant manager at a pawn shop. It was a pretty stressful job, but nothing stressed me as bad as the day I had to call 911.
This sweet little old lady came in one afternoon, while I was the manager on duty. She was a bit frail looking, but dressed very nicely, a sweet smile, but eyes that looked far sadder than I had ever seen eyes look. She hesitantly came up to the counter, and I approached with an easy smile and calmly asked if I could help her. I expected she was there to find something that had been stolen – we had that happen far too often; grandkids would steal their grandmother’s jewelry and pawn it for a quick buck, and it was always hard to break the news to the grandmother that we’d have to get the police involved to get them back their things. Like I said, stressful job, so I was already mentally preparing myself for the speech I’d given a thousand times at least.
I asked her gently if I could help her. She smiled, and reached into her purse. She pulled out a collection of really beautiful looking jade jewelry.
“I was wondering if I could get a loan on my jewelry,” she said quietly, her eyes cast down, refusing to meet mine.
Fuck. This was worse than I was prepared for. The problem was, my shop, hell, most shops, won’t lend on jewelry that isn’t gold, silver, or diamonds. It’s too hard to verify that it’s real, and unlike Pawn Stars, we didn’t have a TV network flying in experts to verify something’s worth. As it was, I had already gotten in trouble that week for giving too much money to a young mother pawning a very cheap wedding ring set, in order to buy diapers and formula for her kids (yeah, I know, classic sob story, but her very hungry looking, smelly infant had me convinced there was a glimmer of truth to it).
I looked at the jewelry, and swallowed. I could probably give her $20 for it. That way, even if it was plastic and not actual jade, I wasn’t going to be out so much that I couldn’t cover it out of my own pocket if need be. But I didn’t want to insult her. I could tell be the tremble in her hands that this was breaking her pride, and I’d be damned if I contributed to that.
“How much are you trying to get?” I asked cautiously.
“I was hoping, maybe $300?”
Fuck. There was no way. No way at all, that I could get her that kind of money.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I really don’t think I can help you with this. We don’t have the ability to test jade, and we’re very limited in what we can offer you.”
“Please,” she said, looking up with tears in her eyes, “I’ve tried every other shop. I need the money, please. They’ve raised my rent and I can’t afford to move. Please.”
F U C K.
I sighed. There was no way. But…
“Let me call my boss,” I said, “And see what we can do.”
I spent the next 15 minutes or so on the phone with my boss. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he didn’t want to take it in at all. We argued back and forth, and finally, we agreed that we could go as high as $75, but no higher.
I came back to her, and as gently as I could manage, I told her that the best I could manage would be $75.
Her face paled. Her mouth gaped. And then suddenly, she twitched, her eyes rolled back, and she fell over with a brief convulsion. I leaped over the counter and tried to get a response, but she didn’t seem to be breathing. I jumped back up, grabbed the phone, and called 911.
She was gone before they got there, I’m pretty sure. They still tried to resuscitate her, as they wheeled her out on the gurney and into the ambulance.
I was in a state of shock. It wasn’t until about a half hour later that I’d realized she’d left her jewelry on my counter, along with her ID. I contacted the police (non-emergency) and they sent an officer to gather her things.
I never found out if she made it or not.
Three weeks later, I turned in my resignation.
In cancer she found
an enemy more worthy
of her hate than me.
Week Thirty is upon us, and though I’m a bit late, I had to throw my hat into this challenge from the ever lovely Thain in Vain!
This week’s prompt? A man steals a large sum of money to pay a debt to a loan shark. He saves his ass from a beating, but is haunted by the nature of what has done.
Here is my entry – “Babies from Candy”
I have a problem. I gamble. Poorly. I ran up a lot of debt to very dangerous people. When Alphonse visited me the first time, he made it clear what would happen if I didn’t have Sal’s money the next. The fingers on my left hand, still in a cast, reminded me.
I was dead. I knew it. I work at a non-profit. I barely make enough to survive…which was why I gambled. Trying to bring in a little extra dough. My early successes got to my head, I got in too deep…and, well…broken fingers.
Then came Mrs. Candace McAnley. The old biddy was loaded; her husband was some kind of tycoon before he’d died. She always came in with a pitifully small check and a huge attitude.
“For the babies,” she’d say with a sniff. Her donation to our children’s cancer organization was so small, we’d joke she could have donated an extra nickel if she hadn’t wasted the money on the paper for the check. When she stopped coming, no one cared.
I noticed, but only because she irritated me. So haughty. So uppity. Then she came back. Different. Fragile, doddering. Not the Mrs. McAnley who would waltz in like she owned the place. No…she came back weak, shaking. Her hair had fallen out.
Ah. Cancer. It’s probably wrong of me, that my first thought was it was about time it hit someone who deserved it. Then I looked in her eyes. I saw the pain, the anxiety, the fear for her life. I knew that all too well. My fingers throbbed in sympathy.
Her hands trembled horribly, holding the check.
“Here,” she managed with a soft, broken voice, “For…for the babies. Be a doll, and finish it out for me, will you?”
She didn’t wait for the receipt, as she’d always done. Just turned and made her way painfully out the door. I looked down. My heart nearly stopped.
It was huge. The exact amount I owed to Sal, huge. The payee field, blank. She’s asked me to finish it out for her…
I slid the check in my pocket, and went home. All night, I tossed and turned. I tried to rationalize, tried to reason. The kids my charity helped were almost all terminal. The money would keep them alive maybe a little bit longer, but I would definitely be dead without it. Mrs. McAnley died the next day. I took the check to the bank. Got the money.
“Two-hundred fifty thousand,” Alphonse said. My hands were slick with sweat. Sal nodded, and Alphonse took the briefcase back to the Cadillac they’d pulled up in. Sal chewed on a fat, rancid cigar, staring at me.
“That’s a lot of scratch for a dope like you,” he said, finally, “Where’d you get it?”
“Does it matter?”
“Guess not. We’re square, kid. Come see me again some time.”
He turned. Got back into his car, and left.
I fell to the ground, and cried.
At last! We’re back with another go at Turn-A-Trope Tuesday, where cliches don’t matter and stereotypes are challenged! As usual, the rules to this challenge are simple – take the assigned trope, and find a way to challenge what is expected, and do it in a thousand words or less. Turn the trope around, make it something unusual. These challenges can be really tough, but can also help you to find new ways of looking at things that are expected in good fiction. The best writers today are masters of turning tropes – will you be one too?
Before we dive into this week’s saucy trope, let’s take a look at the entries from the last challenge:
This week, we return with something a bit spicier – the old trope that Good People Have Good Sex!
Main characters and other positive characters always have healthy sex lives. They might go through long periods of not being in a relationship (they may even be Hollywood Dateless) during which they may have a lot of good sex anyway or not. But when they are in one, the sex is frequent and good (unless the relationship is near its end).
Another version is that when villains have sex, it tends to be quick and emotionless. It will often be treated as an act of self-gratification and only the dominant villain will emerge with their desire sated. When heroes make love, it tends to be caring and passionate, with both parties emerging satisfied. This difference can be cause for a Sex Face Turn for a dissatisfied villain. Of course, this trope applies mainly for experienced adults.
For most teenage characters, even and sometimes especially heroes, any on-screen mention of sex will end in awkwardness at best, tragedy at worst. See Their First Time. Only laughingstock old guys ever need Viagra. In the days before such drugs existed, male impotence was generally perceived as a trait of villains. Impotence leads to insanity, which leads to evil actions, as with General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove or The Man with the Golden Gun.
Today, my friends, I am going to tell you another story of my near escapes from Death. That winged reaper has danced a scintillating tango with me since I was a child, coming close, so close, but never quite touching. I’ve already written about one of these times, in my near miss through strep throat. Here’s another memory.
My 1979 Camaro Berlinetta was not my first car. That honor went to the 1943 Volkswagen Bug that I had used, abused, and ultimately, well, blew up. With the death of that little German War Machine (ah, to be a stupid punk teenager and not realize the implications and power of names), I had decided I wanted something newer, but still affordable for the shoestring budget of an odd-job working teenager. I also wanted something cooler, and as the Dead Milkmen would be happy to endorse, fewer things are cooler than a bitchin’ Camaro.
Alas, this Camaro was more rustin’ than bitchin’, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the power windows were broken. That the AC was broken. That the heater was stuck on permanent full blast. That the interior of the car was stripped of everything, including insulation, down to bare metal. That the tires were all bald as hell, and the whole care rust brown. From actual rust, not paint. No, what I cared about was speed – and boy, let me tell you, that Camaro could fly. Even if you did had to open the doors at every stoplight to keep from getting heatstroke in the summer. I drove that Camaro for a good year, despite its scrap-heapitude, and you know? It was fun. Fast and loud and broken, which fit my punker/thug reputation.
The second summer I had it, my best friend and I landed a shit job working at a tree farm in the mountains of Colorado. Our job was pretty simple – we arrived at the farm, and took the trees that were dug up already, wrapped their roots in burlap, and loaded them on a flatbed for delivery. We were usually the only ones on site – the migrant workers who dug up the trees did so early (to beat any heat of the day) and our boss usually showed up at the end of the week to verify the count of trees we’d bagged and give us cash for our paycheck. Anyway, it was late May, almost June. We got up to the tree farm around nine in the morning, and the weather was fucking gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather, the way a day in late May should be. We were a bit miserable to say the least – the work pretty much required jeans and flannel shirts, so we were hot and not happy about it. We got to work, bullshitting about this and that. Then around one in the afternoon, the temperature dropped a good 20-30 degrees in minutes.
This put me on edge, instantly. My car was not ready for winter conditions. Basically, a death trap sled in car form. I turned to my buddy and said, “Dude, if it starts snowing, I am off this fucking mountain.” He bitched because he wanted to wait for the boss to show up with our pay, and I told him he was welcome to wait in the snow, but I would be getting off that mountain. He agreed, reluctantly. We kept bagging for a half hour, when this big, fat snowflake came drifting down between us.
“Seeya!” I said, and got up and went to my car. My buddy followed, jumped in, and we made our way down the dirt road to the mountain highway that would take us back to the city at the base of the mountain.
It took us about five minutes to get to the road. In that time, around 4-5″ of snow had already fallen. It was crazy how hard it was coming down; the windshield wipers on the not-so-bitchin’ Camaro were almost worthless. Every time they’d swipe one direction, enough snow would fall that the back swing would build it up against the base of the windshield, and the wipers would become worthless in minutes. So every few hundred yards, I’d have to stop and get out, clear the snow from the backswing, and keep going. To make it even more fun, the roads were getting slicker and slicker, so that it was a bit like driving on the ice level of Mario cart. Except on a mountain, with no little helper in a balloon/cloud with a crane to help drag you back on track. To make it even more fun, the freakin’ heater? The one stuck permanently on that turned my car into an Easy Bake Berlinetta for the previous year? It gave out as soon as we hit the paved road.
So there we are, slipping and sliding in my deathtrap Camaro down the mountain, and after a few wild fishtails I finally get the car to stop so I can clean off the windshield again. I was sick of getting out of the car, and had resolved to fuck with the heater controls to see if I could get it to work, so I told my buddy it was his turn to get out and clear the windshield while I did so. He obliged, opening his door and stepping out of the car. Except he didn’t get out. Instead, he slammed the door, and began scrambling over me as if he had opened the door to a prison shower scene and he was dressed in clothes with pedophile written all over them. He was screaming and in a blind panic, clawing at my door handle, and he opened it, causing us both to tumble out. I started yelling at him, asking what the fuck his problem was. He was whiter than the falling snow, catching his breath. Finally, he grabs my hand, and escorts me gingerly around to the front of the car.
Now, I know this is the internet and people are prone to exaggerate here, but I am telling you the honest-to-God truth: my car had stopped a scant few inches from the edge of a 200+ foot drop into a gorge. When my buddy opened the door to step out, he literally put his foot into empty air, had looked down, and nearly passed out before scrambling over me, screaming like a little girl. I was instantly struck by a wave of dizziness myself. My buddy refused to get back in the car. He said he’d rather freeze to death. I wasn’t so anxious either, but I didn’t want to try to hike my way off a mountain during a freak blizzard. Thankfully, a big rig truck came down the highway as we were debating what to do, and the trucker gave us a lift down the mountain.
My dad and I went back up a week later, when the snow had cleared, to get the car. A plow had pushed it even closer to the edge, enough so that my dad didn’t even want to attempt to drive it, since it still had some ice underneath. We hooked a tow chain to the front, pulled it free, and I drove it home.
And traded it in that week on a newer, less death-trappy car.
Another of my favorite bands when I was an incorrigible youth. The incomparable Oingo Boingo, lead by front man Danny Elfman, who these days composes a shit ton of movie music. Ah, the memories I have of blaring this song on my punk-ish mix tape, flying down the roads in my deathtrap 79 Berlinetta Camaro. It took a good long while to figure out who I wanted to be…hmm. I think I’m still deciding.
After a hell of a week, I have finally gotten a chance to write something. I tell ya, it’s a huge relief. I had not realized how much I’ve come to enjoy venting a little fiction into the blogosphere, and how much it would aggravate me when I miss getting to do it. Hopefully, this story, my late entry for last week’s Turn-A-Trope Tuesday challenge, Make A Wish, will get me back on track.
Be careful what you wish for.
I use to find myself wishing for something more. Something bigger, something better, something different than who I am. A real life Walter Mitty, I guess, lost in day dreams about what might have been had I been fitter, sexier, richer. Or born in another era, where my prodigious talents would have been truly appreciated for what they were. Or where I could show off my knowledge of ancient skills and histories and brilliant intelligence and have those things impress instead of finding scorn.
I would wish every night, upon the same star in the sky. Of course, it probably wasn’t a star. It was probably Venus, or hell, something even less sexy. A satellite. Star light, star bright, first star I see at night, probably a Sputnik in low orbit flight. Still, every night, I’d go up to the roof and lay on my back and stare at the cosmos above and just wish, more than anything, to be something different. And every day, I’d awake, the same, old, boring me. And most of all, alone.
It was the loneliness, I think, that made me look for the first time at the space between those sparkling points of light. That emptiness, that black and unchanging void that screamed as much in its solitude as did my soul in its own loneliness. When all was sparkling and bright around it, it was empty. Black. Wanting. I wanted, too. I stared into that void, and wished. No light, just night, nothing sparkling clean and bright, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish…I suddenly felt very foolish. I think may actually have blushed at that moment, embarrassed by my own silliness. I sighed, hard, and for a moment had to fight back a welling wetness from within my eyes.
Fuck wishes. I think I said that aloud too. But seriously, fuck them. I’ve wished a million, billion things and never once have they come true. And the insidious thing about wishing is that the very act seems to drain you of ambition. I’d make a wish, and the part of me that wanted it was somehow a little more satisfied that at least I’d done something, right? And then I’d do nothing. Because I’d wished. Look at that star, or Venus, or Sputnik, and say “I wish I were in better shape” instead of just getting off my ass and going to the gym. And in my head, that part of me that was tired of being doughy and soft would smile at my effort, and the yearning would fade. I’d never get to the gym. I didn’t need to. I had wishes.
I swallowed the sadness that had lumped in my throat, wiped away the tears in my eyes. I got up off that dusty old roof, brushed my pants off, and started to walk back to the dormer window that brought me out to my nightly wishing spot. As I reached the window, I looked back, realizing that it was over. I was not ever going to do this again. I was done with wishes.
I looked to that spot, that void, and I made my final wish.
“I will not wish ever again,” I said, low but heavy with shame and anger, “I will not ever ask another thing, so these are my last. I wish, how I wish, that this wasn’t my life, that I were someone, anyone else, somewhere, anywhere else. I wish that wishing stars weren’t absolute bullshit, and that tomorrow I could wake up and be anyone but me. I wish…”
I paused, fighting back the tears, the lump in my throat, the wetness coming again to my eyes.
“I wish I wasn’t alone.”
And then…I swear, the patch had been empty, black. But I saw a twinkle there. Bright, dancing, sparkling in the night. I laughed, hollowly. My void had been nothing more than a cloud obscuring a star. A star just like all the other junk in space. Brilliant and wishless. I went inside, locked the window, and found my way to bed. Sleep came to me, heavy and burdened. Fitful. I tossed and turned all night, struggling with my self-conscious that didn’t want to accept a world without wishes.
And then I woke.
And I was not in my bed. I was not in my home. I was not in my clothes. All around me, a world of strange and alien sights, strange and alien smells, sounds. I leapt up to my feet, pinched myself. I looked to the sky, and saw darkness filled with points of light, all in patterns I’d never seen. Elation washed over me! My wish! Oh could it be? Had I gotten my wish?
And then, shock. Realization. Numbness, as I began to fully understand.
I was not smart, here. My talents were nothing, here. My knowledge, useless, here. It was like I was someone else entirely. Chills washed down my spine. God, what was I going to do?
And then…oh god, then. I heard it. Out there, far, but getting closer. A horrifying, shrieking sound that reminded my of the last part of my wish.
Because it’d come true. All of it. I wasn’t me here – the me of my world was gone. My world was gone. The stars weren’t bullshit. I had awaken someplace else, someone else.
The shriek was closer now, angry, hungry sounding.
I was not alone.
And the stars above me twinkled and laughed.
As much as I hate to, I have to skip Turn-a-trope again. I had a really rough weekend, followed by a busy as hell Monday that was supposed to be a day off, and then today had to spend the day catching up on all that I missed taking off early Friday and all day Monday. And I’m beat. So much as I hate to, we’re going to skip this week. I have tons of writing to catch up on as is.
I do hope y’all will forgive me!