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To say John’s Pawn was an unassuming building would have been a grave understatement. The place was a dump. It stood on the corner of Fourth Street and Terrace, just like the commercial said, next to an abandoned shoe store and across the street from an also abandoned pool hall. Scraps of litter blew along the cracked and crumbling sidewalk in front of the store. A partially functioning sign in the window blinked to let everyone know the place was “OP__N”. Dras slowed his bike to a halt and shuddered. He almost turned around, resolved to giving Rosalyn an extra nice video rental gift certificate, but guilt wiped the thought from his mind. She was his best friend. John’s Pawn might be full of junk, but it also might hold hidden gems of thoughtful giftness if he only gave it a try. Dras took a deep breath and leaned his bike against the side of the building. He glanced around quickly, worried he’d spot a would-be thief eyeing his only means of transportation, but he saw no one. At last, he entered the store.
On the inside, John’s Pawn actually wasn’t so bad. It was no gleaming, new mega-mall to be sure. But it didn’t have the musty smell Dras had been dreading, and the merchandise did appear to be grouped neatly into categories. He absentmindedly perused, shaking his head as he passed clocks, salt and pepper sets, and creepy old porcelain dolls, realizing he had no idea what he hoped to find. Nothing screamed Rosalyn. He wandered further into the shop, ignoring displays of crocheted baby blankets, jars of local honey, an extensive selection of Pez dispensers, and obsolete electronic devices. Then, there at the very back of the store, he found exactly what he hadn’t known he was seeking.
Records. Row after row after row of records. It’s just what she needs. Something sentimental, to help her feel close to her dad, even though he’s not here at Christmas.
Congratulating himself for generating such a heartfelt notion, Dras surveyed the assortment of records available. A few he recognized from Rosalyn’s collection. Others were completely unfamiliar. He thumbed through them, excited but unsure. Dras was no music buff. He was more the kind of guy who switched on the radio, listened to any song that reflected his current state of mind, and promptly forgot the song as soon as it ended. He could hum the theme from the 60’s Batman show, he knew a few Christmas carols and children’s songs, and he was able to identify the themes from several horror movies, but his musical knowledge stopped there. Rosalyn, on the other hand, was so into music. He suddenly felt impotent, ill-equipped to supply her with any gift of music she’d truly enjoy.
“Could I help you find something?”
Dras swiveled to face a middle-aged woman with bright blue eyes and tired brown hair that was pulled back into a messy ponytail. She wore a faded denim dress with a red cardigan and an odd pendant in the shape of a sun. She stared expectantly at Dras, holding her hands clasped in front of her.
“You don’t look much like a John.” Dras blurted the first words that came to mind.
The woman tittered nervously. “Oh no, John’s…not in today. I’m Sheila.”
“Um, hi, Sheila. I’m looking for something for a friend, but I really don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe I’ll just come back later.”
Awkwardly, Dras sidestepped Sheila, who was mostly blocking the aisle, hoping to slip out quietly. He needed time to do research, time to flip through Rosalyn’s records while she was in the bathroom or something. Then he’d come back and find the perfect present. He just wasn’t down with such one-on-one help, especially when thinking about wowing Rosalyn with a caring gift was already making him feel slightly vulnerable.
“I guess your friend enjoys music.” Sheila wasn’t going to let him go so easily.
“Uh, yeah,” Dras stuttered. “She’s got an old record player. She thinks they sound better than CDs.”
“Well, she’s right,” Sheila replied, winking. Dras blushed before he could stop himself, knowing she assumed he was shopping for a crush. No, it’s not like that, he wanted to say, but for some reason the words stopped in his throat, and just thinking about saying them aloud deepened the crimson of his face. Flustered, he tried to end the conversation.
“If you say so. Anyway, I’m not really sure what kind of record she’d want, so I’m gonna go do a little digging and I’ll be back, okay?”
Dras turned around, but he’d only taken two steps back toward the door before Sheila spoke again.
“Is she into the Beatles?”
This chick will not let it go. “I dunno. I mean, aren’t most music people into the Beatles?”
“Well, I guess to some degree you’re right,” Sheila said. “But if she’s into rarities I think she’d be pretty excited about this.”
Dras looked back at Sheila, who was now holding a record album emblazoned with the faces of four shaggy guys. When he said nothing, she explained, “Let it Be. It was their final album before the band split up.”
Another moment of staring jogged Dras’ memory. In his mind’s eye he saw Rosalyn a year and a half ago, on the day she moved into her apartment. He was helping her carry boxes up the stairs to her new second-story dwelling. She was trying to carry too much, the boxes were loaded too heavily, and just as she reached the top of the stairs a record album slipped from her grasp. It skipped down the stairs lightly, followed by a bowling ball that she dropped as she attempted to grab the record. The bowling ball lumbered past, barely missing Dras’ foot, and crash-landed with a thud on top of the record, crushing its midpoint against the edge of a stair step. Their ears told them what had happened long before Rosalyn managed to set her belongings down and rush to open the sleeve. Inside, the record was in pieces. Dras gathered the bowling ball from the building’s entrance and returned to find Rosalyn nearly in tears.
“It was one of Dad’s favorites.”
“Well, maybe you could replace it.”
“It’s a record, Dras. They’re not making them anymore. Besides, all my spare cash is going to rent and college now.”
He remembered her sad face that day. And he remembered the long-haired dudes on the front cover of the album, gazing on, oblivious to Rosalyn’s world tumbling down with the weight of an old bowling ball.
Shaking from his reverie, Dras said to Sheila, “It’s probably expensive, isn’t it?”
“It’s not cheap,” Sheila confessed. “But we’re always willing to make trades. Do you have any collectibles of your own that you might be willing to part with?”
“Me? Ha. Not unless you’re into action figures from the 80s.”
Sheila raised her eyebrows in an interested expression Dras was not expecting.
* * *
Rosalyn sighed and set her checkbook down on the kitchen table. She’d just finished paying her bills for the week, a Saturday morning ritual. After the rent for her apartment and an installment on her college tuition, her checkbook felt considerably lighter. Next week she would pay her insurance, and the next week she’d pay her car payment and her utility bill.
It just never let up.
Expenses were something her friend Dras didn’t really understand. His parents paid the bills for his apartment, not to mention the cushy “allowance” he got, as well. It was a set-up that wouldn’t have existed when his brother Jeff was his age. Back then, their father, Jack, still had a spark of life inside him, and he would have demanded that “the boy ought to earn his keep”. Dras would have been driven around town to collect job applications, eyeballed while he filled in all the blanks, and harassed until he returned each one and landed a position. Then he would have been responsible for saving his money and, at a certain age, to move out on his own. That was exactly how Jeff was treated. But Dras was the baby, Jack was now older and very sick, and Louise was more comfortable getting him out of the house to give Jack some peace and quiet than worrying about teaching him responsibility. Rosalyn knew Jack and Louise were a little ashamed about how easy they made Dras’ life. She could see it in their eyes each time they asked her how she was doing, if she was getting by okay. Dras, however, didn’t seem to notice the difference between his spending and hers. It was frustrating.
Yet here I sit, trying to figure out how I can afford to buy him something he’ll love for Christmas.
Every year Rosalyn bought Dras a gift. She always managed to save up enough to buy him something appropriately geek-worthy that made him smile and gasp with boyish glee. This year, though, was tougher. College costs were really eating away her funds. With relations between her and her mother at an all-time low, Rosalyn was no longer enjoying a couple of nights each week eating dinner at home, or allowing Mom to buy her a new sweater or pair of shoes here and there. Plus there was extra saving since she hoped to be leaving Greensboro soon. For the first time in her life, she felt truly on her own, and Christmas was, sadly, a non-budgeted item. She had no idea where she’d find the cash this year.
Numbly, Rosalyn gazed around the apartment. Maybe she could sell something. She’d driven past some new pawn shop on her way home from The Rave Scene last night…what was it called? John’s Pawn. True, it was in a pretty run-down part of town, but if they could offer her even a few dollars for some trinket she didn’t really need, maybe it would be enough. She’d just dig through her dresser drawers and closets, find some stuff she didn’t really want, and fill her pockets with Christmas cash. Easy fix. Pawn shops were always buying stuff, selling stuff. Just like her stereo.
Rising from her seat at the kitchen table, Rosalyn stared at the enormous fixture. It was bulky and anachronistic, but oh, how she loved its gigantic presence in the room. She told Dras she adored it because music sounded so great on vinyl, and it did, but there was a more profound reason behind her love of the stereo.
It was almost like having her father there. Sometimes she put in an old classic rock album, closed her eyes, and just lay on the couch imagining she was a little girl again, hanging out with Dad. Waiting for his friends to come by and have a little jam session. It would be Dad on his guitar, Bulldog on the drums, and Kenny on the bass. Maybe Dad would sing this time, maybe he’d let her play the tambourine. Baby Annie would sit on the floor and flap her arms up and down with delight. Rosalyn would sit next to her, squeezing her knees to her chest, breathing in the smell of beer and the sound of the cheap amplifiers ringing and the sight of her Dad, his long hair getting in his eyes while he lost himself in the music.
Misty-eyed, Rosalyn considered the money she’d paid for the stereo and wondered if she could get the same amount back. It would hurt her to part with it, but she didn’t have many other things of value to sell. And something inside her whispered that it was time for the stereo to go. I can’t drag that thing all the way to Vermont. And Dad wouldn’t want me hanging onto it just so I can live in the past. He’d want me to move forward in life, to be happy.
Rosalyn crossed the room to the stereo and ran her hand along its smooth surface. It really was in fine condition. Any pawn shop would be pleased to have it. She might keep a record or two, maybe frame one and hang it on the wall. But she knew that she could not keep her time machine any longer. Before she could talk herself out of her decision, Rosalyn grabbed her phone and dialed 411. When the operator answered, she replied, “I need the number for John’s Pawn in Greensboro, please.”
Copyright 2010 Greg Mitchell
Read Part Three