“I… I’ve never done this kind of thing before.” My palms were sweaty and my voice was cracking. But the pawnshop dealer didn’t care. He spread a smile like butter across his frog-shaped face and laid his hairy sausage fingers on the counter between us.
“Don’t worry, kid. I’ll take care of you. I’m a professional, been in the business since before your mommy and daddy even thought about makin’ ya. Now, tell me, what can I interest you in?”
“Well, actually….” I swallowed. The words tried to choke me on their way up. “I don’t really want to buy anything. I was looking to… well, sell. If possible.”
The dealer suddenly didn’t look so interested. His grin melted away and he crossed his beefy arms. I started to wish I hadn’t come.
“Sell, sell, sell. I should’ve known. That’s all anyone wants to do.”
“I’m sorry. I can go if-”
“Hey! No. You said you want to sell, so what do you got? Spill the beans, kid.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay. Um, I mean… I have some happiness. A little bit of nostalgia. And some aspiration too, I think. If you want.”
I’d rehearsed the line before coming and was proud I’d even managed to get it out, but the dealer did not look impressed. He just stood with the same disinterested expression on his face.
“That’s it? No satisfaction? No bliss? Not even some romance?”
“I mean, I don’t think so. I can try and remember something if you-”
“Listen kid.” The dealer leaned in closer. “I only deal in high quality emotions. I’ve got enough chumps coming in here looking to sell off their whole brains that I can afford to be picky. So if you want to sell me something, you’d better dig a little deeper, all right?”
My face burned with embarrassment. I knew this was a mistake.
“Here,” the dealer said. He turned around and picked up one of the hundreds of jars from the shelf behind him. It had a label with something written on it. “Do you know what this is?”
“Uh, no,” I answered.
“This is the joy from a man who ordered a pizza, but when it got delivered, the delivery guy accidentally gave him two pizzas instead. When he called the shop about the mistake, they said to keep it, on the house. Two pizzas for the price of one. Can you imagine that? Well, you don’t have to. I have that exact feeling bottled here for anyone to buy for a hundred bucks.”
I didn’t know what to say, but apparently it didn’t matter. The dealer quickly grabbed another jar off the shelf.
“And this one. This one is special. This is the feeling from someone who got to sit down and watch the original Star Wars trilogy with someone who’d never even heard of Star Wars before. Now that’s a doozy of a good feeling. A steal at five hundred.”
He immediately grabbed another jar off the shelf. This one he handled a little more carefully as he placed it on the counter.
“And this… this is one of my prized happy emotions. It’s one of the rarest of all. You could go to a hundred pawn shops and not find this anywhere. You know what it is?”
“Uh, no,” I answered.
“It’s waking up in the morning to no alarm clock, realizing you don’t have anything to do that day, and taking as long as you want to slowly get up, eat breakfast, and relax at home without any obligations.”
“How much does it cost?” I asked, surprising myself with my curiosity. The dealer laughed.
“I’ll say this much. If you have to ask, then you can’t afford it.” He pushed the jars aside and leaned onto the counter. “So kid, now that you know what I’m looking for, I’ll ask again: what do you got?”
Seeing the rare emotions had been interesting, but now it was time to leave. I knew I didn’t have anything that could hope to compete.
“Sorry, but I think I have to go. I don’t have anything you’d want, and… yeah. Sorry. Bye.”
I made my way to the door, but just as I set off the chime, the dealer let out a laugh.
“Whatever, kid. Suit yourself. You’ve got somethin’ special, but don’t blame me when it gets stolen right off ya.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“What I mean is, you’ve got something you could sell, but instead you’re out there wearin’ it every day like a gold brick around your neck. Someday somebody’s just gonna swipe it off ya, and you’ll wish you’d sold it to me instead. Might as well make some cash while ya can.”
I let go of the door and took a step back inside.
“What do you mean? What do I have?”
Before he could answer, the door chime went off again and another customer stepped in. Or, hobbled in, actually.
She was barely a person anymore. She had a peg-leg, two wooden sticks for arms, and only one real leg left that she used to drag herself and hop forward. But despite all that, she had a smile on her face as she wobbled right past me toward the counter.
“Ah! Penny,” said the dealer. “How are you doing, kid?”
“Couldn’t be better,” she said. Her bright, cheerful voice did not match her appearance at all.
“Are you sure? You’re not feeling stiff? Maybe a little wooden?”
“Oh stop it!” Penny giggled. “Anyway, I’m just here for the monthly hopes and dreams dropoff. I assume that’s still okay?”
“For you kid, I’d buy how you felt eating breakfast this morning.”
Penny smiled and used her wooden peg-arms to fumble a jar out of her jacket pocket. She placed it on the counter, and the dealer handed her cash, which she quickly stuffed away using the wooden nubs.
“Thanks so much!” she said. “This will let me keep my good leg for at least another month. Or, I hope so anyway.”
“Hey, don’t use up all that hope in one place,” the dealer said with a chuckle. “I’m still looking forward to next month’s shipment.”
“Oh don’t you worry. I’ll be full again by then. Thanks!”
With that she spun around on her wooden leg and started hobbling to the door. I stepped out of her way, and as she passed, I could’ve sworn I saw a tear streaming down her cheek.
The door chimed, and she left. As soon as she was out of sight, the dealer examined the jar she’d given him, snorted, and then heaved it into the trashcan across the room.
“What did you do that for?” I asked.
“That crap? It’s all fake. Those hopes and dreams are nothing but phony ones manufactured by her school. It’s nasty stuff. Makes you sick. Not even worth the price of the jar.”
“But… I don’t understand. You paid for it. It’s like you’re just throwing money away.”
“Kid, you don’t know squat about this business. I’m not throwing shit away – I’m investing. Penny… one day she’s going to come selling, and it’s gonna be different. Someday, I’m guessing not too far off, she’s going to sell me something very good.”
“What’s she going to sell you?” I asked. For once, the dealer didn’t respond right away. He just smiled and beckoned me over. I thought about leaving. I thought about going home and forgetting all about this. But something made me walk back up to the counter.
“Here, kid. You know what? I like you. Think maybe you and I have a future together, so I’ll let you in on a little secret. You see all these emotions behind me, on the shelves? The happy ones?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
“These things… they’re mostly for show. Sure, every now and then I get someone in here who wants one of ’em, but that’s few and far between. Most of my customers, and I’m talkin’ about the big spenders, the ones who keep food on my plate, are interested in something… a little different.”
“Like what?” I asked.
The dealer raised his eyebrows. “Follow me.”
He stepped out from behind the counter and walked toward a door I hadn’t noticed. He grabbed a jangling mess of keys from his pocket, inserted one into the lock, and opened it up with a creak. He stepped in, then looked back for me.
“Well are you comin’ or not?” he asked. It was strange. Usually my heart would be beating so fast I’d feel sick in a situation like this. But instead I felt an odd surge of confidence pulse through me. I followed right behind him through the door and into another room.
It was dark, but I could see what he wanted to show me. There were shelves, dozens and dozens of them from the floor to the ceiling, overflowing with what must’ve been thousands of jars. But there was something different about these jars. They were cloudy, like they were made out of burnt glass.
“These are the real moneymakers, kid,” the dealer said. “The bad emotions.”
“Bad emotions?” I asked.
“Yeah. These bad boys are way more popular than the happy ones. Don’t ask me why; I’ve got no idea. Maybe it’s because there’s so many more varieties. I mean, you’ve got your typical anger and sadness and nausea and whatnot. But just like the rare ones I showed you before, I’ve got some real special ones in here too.”
“Like what?” I asked. The dealer grinned.
“Here’s one right here,” he said, picking up a jar that looked like it was covered in dust. “Got this one from an old lady who watched Jeopardy every day. But she always shut it off right when the Final Jeopardy song stopped playing. It was too stressful for her to watch; she always just imagined that the person in last place somehow clinched it. Her life had been miserable enough, she didn’t want to see any more sadness.
“Or what about this one? This one’s from a guy whose wife was madly in love with him. What’s so bad about that, you ask? It was a one-way relationship; he wasn’t in love with her. Every night they went to bed, she wrapped her arm around him in bliss, and he imagined how he could tell her how he felt the next day. That next day never came. Forty years of slow, painful heartache can be yours with just one jar.
“And here. This is one of my favorites. A woman, a refugee, who had to choose between bringing her disabled son or healthy daughter with her on the last boat out of their country. And the best part: her agonizing over the decision isn’t the feeling I have bottled here. What’s in this bottle is something far worse: how she felt when she realized it wasn’t a hard choice at all.”
Something bubbled inside of me. I’d had enough of this dealer’s babble. I didn’t care about any of these stupid emotions. I didn’t know where this feeling was coming from, but there was only one thing I wanted. And it was time to get it.
“What’s the worst emotion you have?” I asked, looking around the shelves. “I want to see the best you’ve got.”
The dealer smiled and put the jars he’d shown me back on the shelves. He bent over and reached down on the ground to pick up a jar that was so black I didn’t even know it was there. It blended right into the shadows.
“This one,” the dealer said slowly, “is the crown jewel of my collection.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“This one… is the feeling of putting a gun to your head, and wondering what it will feel like the second before you pull the trigger. Will you see yourself falling to the ground? Or will it all just go black? Will it hurt? Will you feel the bullet dig its way into your brain? With this jar, you don’t have to wonder anymore. Do you… do you even know how one goes about getting an emotion like this, kid?”
I didn’t respond. I just watched the dealer return the jar to the floor, disappearing back into the blackness.
“See kid? If you think about it, I’m one of the good guys. I help people. I get rid of their bad feelings, jar them up, then sell them to whatever rich sickos or hipster artists out there want them. I’ve helped so many people, and I can help you too.”
I didn’t know why, but the thought of selling didn’t seem scary at all anymore. In fact, it seemed like the right thing to do. I just had to make sure I was getting a good deal.
“Well, I guess I could sell something small,” I said. “You know, something I wouldn’t miss.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” the dealer said, “because I have just the perfect thing in mind.” He reached into his pocket and took out a jar. It was sparkling gray, like dust mites in the light.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Your anxiety,” the dealer said. “All of your worries, your fears. I knew as soon as I saw you that I had to have it. Your sweat, your shaking, your stuttering – it was all so… pure. That’s so rare these days. Usually I get nothing but fake exteriors and facades. But genuine fear? Weakness? Vulnerability? Now that’s worth something.”
“Wait, you mean this whole time, you’ve been stealing my anxiety?” I asked.
“Hey, I’m not stealing anything. You can have it all back if you want. Here, go ahead. Take the jar. It can be yours again right now. If you want.”
He held the jar in front of me. I could see everything inside of it. All of my fears and worries in one place, just like he said.
“Think about it,” he whispered. “Give them to me and you’ll never get butterflies in your stomach again. You can be confident, assertive, get whatever you want whenever you want without worrying about anything.”
“That… that doesn’t sound so bad, actually.”
“So do we have a deal?”
I looked at the jar one more time. My fears and worries stared back. At that moment all I could feel was revulsion toward them; it was like seeing a tumor that had been removed from my body. I was glad they were gone. I was glad they’d been taken. Now I could be free of them forever.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a deal.”
The dealer smiled, placed the jar on the shelf behind him, and patted me on the back as he led me out of the room. Together we walked back to the counter and he opened the register, handing me far more cash than I expected.
“Thank you,” I told him, quickly putting it away in my wallet.
“No, kid,” he said. “Thank you. And don’t be a stranger, all right?”
I nodded and made my way out the door. The whole way home all I could think about was how how glad I was that I’d come. In fact, I should come back more often. There were plenty more useless feelings that I could get some cash for.
Ha! I’d been so stupid to think this was going to be scary. I should come back tomorrow.
(Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Deadstar, edited by me)