I already drove around this block about 10 times. Past the abandoned gas station, the grungy park, the weeping willow. I know what that old tree feels, hanging low like that and looking just sad. Sucking up all the water it can, storing it up for the dry times.
I wish I’d been so wise. Cause I’m stuck in the middle of nothing and it sure is a dry season for me. And I don’t have no clue how to fix it at all.
I got my resolve. Somehow on this tenth lap around the block I knew I need to do it. Just park the car, get out and do what I have to. The velvety box makes a huge lump in my jeans pocket.
The heavy door makes a creaking sound as I swing it open. My feet cause the floor to creak a little. It’s dusty in here. Always been that way. Probably always will. People’s junk line the walls. I know who must this stuff goes with. The box of records is Stubby John’s. The old rocking chair with no seat is from the old Kagger house. That set of aluminum pots belong to my gramma.
All this jumble is only here on account of everything shutting down; the mill, the factory, the old family stores. Ain’t a soul here getting a paycheck. Most too proud to get help from Uncle Sam. So they sell what they got. They can’t do nothing else. So they bring it here. And they get cash to pay for their pills or buy a bag of groceries. Maybe they gotta pay a bill or two. But in two weeks they have to come right on back and sell something else.
“Hey there, Libby Lou!” hollers Jack. He sits watching Mrs. Baxter’s old T.V. behind the cash register. “You come to buy something?”
“Naw,” I answer. “I gotta sell something.”
“Oh. You need some money for that big wedding of yours?”
I go over and touch the leather saddle resting on a sawhorse. It’s filthy, never got cleaned since Jack get it. But some rich guy’ll come and think it’s a deal. He’ll jew it down to a better price on account of it being so dirty. And Jack’ll be glad to make a few bucks off it.
“What you come here for?” Jack turns the volume down. “What you got for me to buy?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Come on, Libby. You can trust old Jack.”
I reach into my pocket and pull out the box. It thuds on the counter after I toss it over to him.
“I gotta sell that.”
“Naw, Libby.” He reaches over and turns off the T.V. “You gonna need this for the wedding. Ain’t no bride get married without a ring. It ain’t right.”
“Well, who says I’m getting married?”
“What in heaven’s name is going on?” Jack puts his hand on the box. “Ain’t Greg treating you right?”
“Gone? What you mean, girl?”
“Gone. He ain’t here no more. What else could I mean by that.”
Jack is quiet. I can tell he wants to look at that ring, see how big the diamond is. He wants to inspect the gold.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Just tell me how much you’ll give me for that.”
Jack opens the box and has to squint to see anything. It’s just a cheap piece of junk from the super market. But it’s real gold. And that chip of white is a real diamond. He moves it around, seeing how it shines in the light.
“How much you think you can give me?”
“Why you need to sell this? Don’t you wanna keep it around just in case?”
“In case what?”
“He comes back?”
“He ain’t coming back.” I’m getting mad. I just want to know how much cash I can get. “How much, Jack?”
“I hate to tell you, but it ain’t worth much. What you need money for, Libby? You got troubles?”
“Don’t everybody? Now, how much you gonna give me?”
“Gawl, Libby. You know, it ain’t that much. Probably 30, 40 bucks.”
“What?” I feel my heart go quicker. “That’s bull and you know it.”
“Come on. You know I can’t get much for it. I can’t even be sure I’ll sell it. I’m doing you a favor.”
“But I paid $150 for it.”
“You got ripped off.”
“Listen, honey.” Jack interrupts.
“Don’t you dare call me ‘honey’.”
We stare each other down. I feel something like daggers coming outta my eyes. He looks like he’s gonna back down. But I can’t be sure. He looks back at the ring.
“Okay.” His voice is gentle. Almost like what a daddy should sound like. I wish I had my daddy back.
“Listen. I know you got your heart broke.”
“You don’t know nothing of the kind.”
“Right. I don’t. But I can guess you did. I never seen a girl come in to sell a ring unless she got her heart broke. And every one of ‘em is as mean as you.”
He puts the ring on the counter. It’s not pretty. It’s not the ring I wanted. But it’s the ring Greg gave me. The ring I had to give him the money to buy.
“Here,” Greg had said. “You win. I’ll marry you.”
Almighty. How’d I fall for that stupid man? Why’d I think he’d be a good man for me? I must be the dumbest creature on this earth.
“Fine,” I say to Jack. “I’ll let you have it for $60.”
“I can’t do that much.”
“Nope. Not a penny over $44.”
“You rat fink.” I feel a fever in my cheeks. “You think you can buy my life for 44 bucks? You can’t! You can’t have it!”
“Now, calm down, dear.”
“Shut up. You just shut up right now.” I slam my hands on the counter. “You give me that ring back right now.”
“And I want the box, too.”
He gently puts the ring in the box. “Listen, I didn’t mean nothing by it. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
“That’s fine, Jack. But you ain’t gonna make a fool outta me.” I take the box and shove it back into my pocket. “I ain’t mad at you. I’m just having myself a bad time right now.”
“I can see.”
“I hope you and the family have a nice evening.”
Passing the trash I leave Jack’s pawn shop. I get back into my car and kick up dust driving away. I go as fast as I can. Away from the town, the people, my family. I get away from the house I shared with Greg. I can’t look at none of them again. Not one face or building or street sign.
I gotta start over. Gotta straighten up my back, keep from drooping low. Find a place where I can suck up something from this life. I ain’t got a clue where, I ain’t know how. But I need to start brand new.