This story is by Lorraine Hurley and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
There is something rather ironic about the act of hocking something at a pawn shop. On one hand, you could be considered brave for risking the inevitable judgement that comes from effectively begging a stranger to give you money at the cost of surrendering something that could be precious to you. On the other hand, it is a last resort and often attractive to the kinds of people that have nothing brave about them.
Michelle was not feeling brave at this moment. She was standing in a queue at her local pawn shop, keeping her head low and trying fruitlessly not to be recognised by any passers -by. For security reasons, no doubt, the entry to the shop was sun filled, basked in bright light from the 10ft windows that faced one of the busiest streets in town. The recently installed surgically florescent tubes above also gave off abundant white luminance. This enabled better footage to be captured by the security cameras when the local detectives liked to peruse the days takings, which was often of course.
Michelle, with her smart dress and light fresh make-up, looked out of place the way waiting fathers look at a school disco to pick up their children. Nervously fidgeting despite it being perfectly acceptable to be there. In fact, for Michelle, this was actually her second time visiting this establishment despite living in the more high- brow part of town. Approximately, thirty days earlier Michelle had made her first trip into the shop and had pawned her mother’s wedding rings to pay off her boyfriend’s debt to a panel beater. To make it worse, the car in question was her mothers and the damage was acquired when Michelle had let Luke drive them both home after a night at the pub. To say Michelle felt bad was an understatement but then in a second epic judgement fail, she had convinced herself that pawning her mother’s jewellery made sense. High enough in value, likely to be accepted by the pawn shop and easy to explain that they were part of an inheritance or something like that….
Her mother would arrive home today in the afternoon from a trip across outback Australia and the car was thankfully already fixed and back inside the garage at her home. Michelle just needed to pick up the rings and then she would be back in the green zone. She and Luke could retreat back inside the veil of complete plausible deniability and this strange divergence to the seedy part of town would be over. She was only minutes away now.
“Next” was the sound to interrupt the trance like zoned out state that Michelle had entered while staring at her own reflection in the warm windows beside her. A girl, maybe 21 years old at best, stood at the broad heavy- duty melamine counter and begged Michelle over with a wave of her hand. “How can I help?” she offered smiling. Michelle was somewhat surprised to see someone the same age as herself working in what she perceived must be a rough place, as she scanned the full sleeve tattoo of a skull with weeds interwoven through each eye socket on the man beside her in the line. Michelle began to relay that she had lost her ticket but was returning to pick up the rings, when the girls face changed slightly. Her eyebrows heavied, downward cast towards Michelle’s id card and then raised back towards the computer screen. “There might be a problem” she said casually. Michelle clearly didn’t have the immunity to such a tense situation that this girl had already developed at her young age and reacted accordingly by inappropriately leaning over the counter to try and read the screen herself.
“What’s the problem?” asked Michelle rather tersely readying herself for a negotiation of sorts. Her arm hair appeared to stand on end and Michelle could feel heat more intensely from the windows. The girls face had turned genuinely empathetic as she pointed at a line at the bottom of several rectangles of structured recorded customer data:
Returned to stock.
Three words that spelled possible disaster for Michelle on this journey to redeem the situation before her mother arrived home. An intense and immediate headache brewed behind her eyes as Michelle contemplated ruining her mother’s “good girl” perception of her in one day.
A long five minutes later, Michelle found herself at the jewellery counter of the retail part of the shop helping the shop-owner scan the numerous diamond rings under the spotlights of sparkling cabinets in search of her mother’s rings. She had learned that the rings had indeed been sent to the retail shop and offered for sale two days ago on the expiry of the receipt which she had admitted to losing while the car was being repaired. Michelle speculated that the receipt had probably been thrown out while the car was being detailed prior to her picking it up from the panel beater. In any case, none of this helped her as she had missed the deadline to repay the debt.
“Our records show that we placed them on hold for an interested customer, but I can’t see that they came back to purchase them, so they should be here somewhere” said the older lady as she crouched to her knees trying to reach in and free up a display case that had been caught on a chain from a necklace lying beside it. “There you go….” She muttered almost inaudibly as she freed the chain and then tried to pull herself back upright against the glass doors of the cabinet. As she slowly got to her feet, she exhaled in mild exhaustion then pointed to the rings on the cherry coloured velvet display pad. “This is the Holds…. Have a look here”.
Michelle could barely contain herself now, with heat surging through her, yet icy cool across her arms and neck as her body hair stood to attention. Having witnessed the slow arthritic motions of the lady to this point, her energy overtook her as she started to flip through the rings one by one, strengthened only by the hope that the rings were still here. The thought that someone in the town had bought them made her a little ill, especially since this was all her fault. Her mind, as if to further torture her, kept flicking to an image of her mother admiring someone’s hand one day at the local delicatessen, only to recognise her own jewellery on their fingers.
“Oh my god, that’s them!” squealed Michelle moments later as she pointed at a quite traditional white band devoid of any stones paired sweetly with a round cut brilliant diamond solitaire. Her headache instantly easing, she then saw a small tag bearing a name to describe the customer who had placed them on hold was attached through both bands. Michelle felt simultaneous ease and disbelief as she read the name of a teacher at Michelle’s old high school with whom her mother was known to see down at the local hairdresser from time to time. “Phew….” thought Michelle.
The walk back from the train station to home was swift, powered partly by relief at having salvaged a poor situation without being caught and a slight panic that her mother was due home any minute. As Michelle entered the doorway to the home though, suitcases stood at the base of the stairs to the second level of the house. “Ah c’mon” thought Michelle as she creeped through the foyer across Spanish tiles, “Almost there”. Michelle heard the shower and realised her chance to place the rings back inside her mother’s jewellery box that was hidden quite poorly in the top drawer of her bedside table.
With the “job” done, Michelle sat downstairs in the lounge room and placed her feet up on the coffee table like a Burmese cat after a big feed. Relishing in her successful navigation through what was her first real dip into a deception of this scale, Michelle began to relax as feelings of warmth towards her mother flowed in to wash the guilt out.
“Shelly” beamed Suzanne as she sashayed down the stairs to the living room. “Come and give yer mum a big hug”. Michelle moved quickly to greet her, and they stood for a while enjoying the comfort of their embrace.
“How long have you been home? How was the trip?” rushed Michelle oblivious to a turn in her mother’s body language.
“We’ll get to all that” said Suzanne. “I grabbed the mail on my way in and there looks to be something for you that looks urgent”. Michelle’ body stiffened as she looked at the pawn brokers ticket in her mother’s outstretched hand. “Want to tell me about this?” asked Suzanne. Michelle eyes came to rest on the large red letters at the top of the paper:
“Not likely” she thought meeting her mother’s disappointed expression.