One Morning at Stein's Pawnshop; A Short Story
|Image made with a photo from Unsplash|
The bell above the door had long ago ceased to fulfill its purpose in life. Instead, it was a broadening shaft of morning sun let in by the opening door that caught Stein's attention. Reflexively adopting a tough expression, he looked up to see who'd come in.
"Oh." His harshness melted a little at the edges. "It's you, Peg."
"It's me." Peg confirmed. She stepped forward, and the sun made a momentary halo of her yellow curls before the door closed and shut it off.
Stein noticed, with apprehension, that her hands were trembling slightly, as they always did when she was preparing herself for something. "Look, you're a good girl, Peg," he said, hurriedly, "but if it's about that job. Well, I've already given you my answer and it's final. This shop can barely support me and the boy."
"I said I wouldn't ask you again an' I won't." Peg drew a deep breath, bracing herself.
Don't you let her soften you up. He mentally reminded himself. You're a businessman, Mr. Stein. A businessman. You don't have the extra coppers to be spending on charity.
"I've got something to show you." Peg rummaged in the calico pocket tied around her waist and pulled out a little wrapped bundle. Her fingers fumbled to open it and present a small, gold-colored locket for inspection.
"Well, and what's this?" Stein said, hoping that things were getting on to more familiar territory.
Peg let all of the words out in a rush. "Jim sent it to me. It got here just yesterday. You know how he always said he'd send me a gold locket when he struck it rich, and, well, here it is. I suppose..." she faltered, "he must not be too rich. It's not a very big locket. But still...it's something, isn't it?" She looked up at Stein, and her eyes were so full of hope that he had to busy himself examining the locket.
"Any letter come with this?" He asked, off-handedly.
"No." Peg admitted. "Jim was never much for letter writing. But I guess this speaks for itself."
"Mmm." Stein weighed the locket expertly in his hand.
"Anyway, I was wondering how much you'd give me for it. I know you'll be fair."
"Oh?" He asked, cautiously.
"Well, you see, I want to buy boat passage. To go to where Jim is. We'd always planned that way, you know. When he got all set up, I'd go over there and we'd live together."
"Ah." In situations like these, Stein always found the shortest answers to be the safest. They gave him more time to think of what to do.
At this juncture, the door at the back of the shop opened, and Stein's son came in. Stein bent his head to examine the locket more carefully, and observed, from the corner of his eye, the boy's swift diversion of course when he caught sight of Peg. As his son obscured himself behind mounds of miscellaneous glassware, Stein rubbed the locket with his forefinger, sniffed it, frowned, and thought hard.
Peg shifted her weight anxiously from one foot to another. "Well?"
"Look here, Peg, why do you have to go off halfway 'round the world? And how're you going to find Jim, anyway? It's been more than a year since you last got a letter from him."
"I s'ppose it's not easy for you to understand, Mr. Stein, since you've got this nice shop an' all. But I can't get a decent job around here, and," Peg deliberately did not look at the young man who was keeping himself very busy amidst the glassware, "there's really nothing to keep me here...anymore. I'll make a go of it, somehow or other."
Stein's thinking seemed to have availed him little. Peg had that effect on people. "Hmm, well, I'll give you two sterlings for this locket. That's the fair, market price for...hmmm...gold of this quality."
Peg smiled. "Thank you! I know I'll be able to make a start, at least, and I've a few other things I can sell. And, well, I suppose I should be saying goodbye, too." Her gaze drifted, ever so slightly, toward the glassware section, "You've been a good friend to me." Quickly, she pocketed the two coins, turned, and left the shop.
There was a sudden crashing of bottles as Stein's son emerged. "Dad!" He exclaimed, wildly, "Dad! We can't let her go. I mean, you can't. I mean, anything could happen to her over there!"
"The world's a strange place, Alistair." Stein remarked. He handed him the locket. "Put this in the brass bin, won't you?"
Alistair blinked at the locket. "Hmm? Brass? Dad, what?"
Stein sighed, resignedly. "I must be losing my touch. Paying gold prices for brass...I'll never turn a profit. So how'd you like to take over the business, boy? Starting tomorrow?"
"Take over the business? But what would you do? And what about Peg?"
Stein clapped a hand to his son's shoulder. "Why don't you take the day off and celebrate your new prospects? And while you're at it, ask that girl to marry you. I know what I told you about getting married too young. But you don't let a good girl like that slip through your fingers, son, especially when she's got a brother who'll be sure to bring the both of them to ruin sooner rather than later. I doubt those two sterlings will be enough for ship's passage, but they'll pay for a nice dress to get married in, with a good bit left over to set up housekeeping on. With the proceeds from the shop, you should do nicely for yourselves..."
Dust motes swirled in a patch of golden light as Alistair rushed for the door, leaving the locket forgotten behind him.
"... and maybe you can spare a bed and a meal for your old dad, too." Stein called after him. He regarded the locket, frowning. "Some businessman you are, Mr. Stein. Some businessman you are."
Written in response to Art Stew 52 prompt: Yellow