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In a Pawn Shop Window

By @aMAZIEng

The tomato splattered across my face, ow. I wiped my eyes instinctively, dropping my guitar on the wooden stage with a loud bang! I couldn’t point out the person who threw the tomato if I wanted to, if my eyes weren’t stinging with juice, if the entire night up until then had gone perfectly smooth. 

In movies and books, when an audience ‘boo’s, it sounds just like it’s spelled. An army of loud, obnoxious, obvious, ‘boos’. The stereotype couldn’t be more far-fetched. Because in that moment, as I wiped tomato juice off of my soon-to-be tear stained face, all I could hear was noise. No cohesive word or sound. Just plain shouting. Loud, targeted. For all I knew, the shouting could have been at the tomato sniper themselves, but logic wasn’t a part of my vocabulary that night. 

I didn’t bother picking up my guitar before I ran. My heart stung, leaving it there. My mom had worked so many extra shifts to buy it for me. Javi had spent hours painting a string of delicate flowers along it’s body. I justified the abandonment by the promise that I’d never play music again. I was 15 and heartbroken. 

I flew through the concrete hallways of the run-down theater, ignored the flickering lights that every horror movie ever should have taught me to be weary of. Security guards called after me, women with curlers and robes tried to flag me down and ask if I was O.K. 

Finally upon bursting through the doors did I stop to catch my breath. I’d never been much of a runner, but I was usually always able to hold my own in a given situation. Something about the combination of humiliation and soul-crushing regret had caused my lung capabilities to dwindle. I gazed up at the night sky and sank into the wall behind me. 

After somewhat calming myself down, I hailed the first taxi I saw. I hopped into the backseat and sputtered my address to the driver, an old Italian man with an oversized mustache. As soon as he pulled back into the road, I dug through my pockets for money. I pulled out a handful of loose change and started counting out quarters first. The driver looked at me skeptically through the rearview window and I smiled faintly back. 

My place wasn’t far, so I had enough change to cover the fare. Once we pulled up next to my apartment building, a few neighborhood boys had started a fight with a rival group. I shrugged it off, but the driver seemed more concerned. 

“Uh, you sure this is the place?” 

I poured the coins into his cupped hand and didn’t bother replying. He still waited a moment after I slammed the door shut, but ultimately took off into the dark. Unfortunately, as I approached my apartment building, one of the boys recognized me. 

“Hey-o, look who we have here!” A few of the others stopped what they were doing, to my surprise and discomfort. 

“Ha!” another chimed in as I quickly shoved my key into the lock. “It’s Valerie! Man, you lookin’ fine, girl!” 

I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping to god that the door wasn’t stuck. I jiggled the knob, adjusted my key, whispered a final prayer, and pushed. The door swung open almost as fast as I slammed it shut in the boys’ faces. 

My mom was passed out on the couch, an empty six-pack on the coffee table beside her. I sighed, letting my hair down and setting my keys on the counter. I quickly kissed her goodnight before turning in to my own room. Truthfully, I hardly slept at all. I just laid in bed, replaying the events of the horrible open mic in my head over and over. 

And there, in a pawn shop window along main street, is my precious guitar. 20 years after I last played it, and it looks brand new. I press my fingers on the glass, my eyes welling up with tears. 

“Coming, Val?” my co-worker raises his eyebrows at me. “We have that 11-o-clock meeting.” 

I snap out of it and check my watch. 10:54. I glance back, bite my lip, and continue down main street. 

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