"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines."
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


            The dark chill of the store was an abrupt contrast to the heat and light outside. Solvay walked in and stood still for a moment, letting her eyes adjust. She scanned the merchandise fanned out across the room. Guitars hung from the walls on her left. Big screen televisions, all playing the same movie, lined the walls to Solvay's right. In between were metal shelves with appliances, dishes, and other random objects that Solvay didn't want to take the time to identify. It was all the debris of other people's lives. The counter was presided over by a stocky man wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt brighter than the sun she had just escaped. Its orange and red flowers looked neon in the dim light.  The man stared at the nearest television; his acknowledgment of Solvay's presence was nothing more than a flicker of his eyes in her direction. A wall of guns stretched out on the wall behind his head.  The sight of them caught her off guard. She wondered who had once held them and what – or who – was trapped in their sights. 

            Solvay took a deep breath and approached the counter. The bag of utensils in her hand banged against her thigh, sticking slightly to the sheen of sweat from the heat, then bounced away again with her next step. 

            "Do something for you?" He asked in a sandpaper voice.

            "I saw on the sign that you buy silver and gold. I have some of my grandmother's silver.  I wondered if it was worth anything."

            He looked skeptically at the assortment of knives, forks and spoons jostling in the clear plastic bag as she laid it on the counter. 

            "Full set?" he asked. 

            "Yes. I even have the serving pieces to go with it." 

            "Silver isn't going for much these days." He pulled a knife from the bag, and turned it over a few times in his hand. "This isn't full silver. It's silver plate. Can't give you nothing for it."  He dropped the knife in the bag and pushed it toward her, his eyes returning to the blaring screens.

            Desperation tinged Solvay's voice as she pulled a box out of her purse. "I have jewelry too; some earrings and a necklace."

            The storekeeper sighed, as though he already knew of how little value her things were. He opened the box. Pulling out an earring he rubbed it against a small, black rectangle plate. 

            "Nope."  Handing back the earrings, he started to turn to the blaring tv once more, then stopped staring at Solvay's right hand. 

            "How 'bout that ring you got on?" he said, eyeing the opal and diamond ring she was wearing.    
             Solvay looked down at the ring that rarely left her finger. 

            "This was my mother’s ring. That’s an opal in the center. It's my birthstone."

            "It's money. I'll give you $200 for it." 

            Solvay hesitated. $200 wasn't great, but it was something. It could buy groceries; maybe convince a creditor to stay away for a few more days.

            The man mistook her hesitation for a bartering scheme.

            “I’ll give you $250, no more.” 

            Solvay slowly shook her head. "No, I can't. I know this is worth more than that.  And my father ..." Sophie broke off mid-sentence realizing the man's attention had turned back to the television. 

            Embarrassed, she mumbled, "It's just, you know. It means too much."

            The shopkeeper grunted, as though such sentimentality were the bane of his trade.

            "Suit yourself."   
            Solvay dropped the earrings and necklace back into her purse and turned to leave, cradling the bag of silverware in her arms. Her shoulders which had relaxed a little at the prospect of making some cash hunched again with worry. 

            As she opened the door the man called out to her, "You decide to sell that ring, lemme know.  I guarantee no one else will give that good of a price for it." 

            Solvay looked back for a brief second then pushed the door open into the heat. Back in her car a moment later, she sat with the door open letting her old Corolla run for a few minutes before she drove out of the parking lot. Even though her time in the store was short, her seat and steering wheel felt like they had taken advantage of her absence to visit Hell.  Everything was hot, burning to the touch, and Solvay felt the sweat beading on the back of her neck and along her hairline. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe through her fear. 

            She stared at the ring.

“It’s money,” she said, repeating the man’s words. Solvay was tired; tired of being broke, tired of worrying, tired of always looking over her shoulder waiting for her fears to take shape and form and finally catch her.  But this ring was all she had left. 

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