UNITED STATES—WE BUY GOLD…The sign, in gaudy yellow on a pawn shop window, focused Mary’s fragmented thoughts. It took her mind off Quint. His tragic death left inside her a knot of scar tissue wrapped around an un-healing wound.

“Yes,” said the man in the pawn shop. Mary rummaged around in her dirty bag. At first she was distressed by surfaces oily and soft. Then her fingertips thrilled at the links of smooth yellow metal. Into the fluorescent light she brought the gold chain. It was the last object that bound Mary to the memory of her dog.

She lay the chain gingerly on the smudged glass counter. At once, she accepted the harsh truth that sentimental attachments were no longer affordable. Mary strode out into the unmerciful noonday sun. It felt good to be warm. It felt good to have some folding money in her palm. It teemed with possibilities.

The lucid flashback of Mary’s past receded. She craved a chai latte. Thoughts of her past as showgirl and PhD student took a backseat to a strong desire for this exotic sounding drink. She made a beeline for the neon sign that glowed blurry in the gathering fog.

C-O-F-F-E-E…The letters grew sharper as she traversed the damp, cool skeins of fog. Its pull was just as powerful as the gleam of gold in the hearts of men.

The place was empty. There was nobody in sight. “Yoo-hoo!!!” She called out. Her eyes darted around. Nobody was here; she could have her run of the place. There it all was. The pastries, the sugar packets and salt. From half her brain that still worked she drew the observation that gold was mutable. It could be sugar. It could be salt, once regarded as more precious than gold by people who had no memory of the sea.

The chai latte could wait. Mary was crazy, but she was no fool. “Yoo-hoo!” She called and looked around again. Nobody in sight.

She reached her spindly fingers with astonishing speed toward the brimming tip jar. If she got caught, she still might get to spend a night in jail. The overcrowded cell would be warmer and toastier than the cement mattress.

When a youth suddenly appeared from the rear of the kitchen, he saw Mary with a wad in of bills in her hand. He just stared. Drops of sweat formed on his forehead. His hair was in disarray. He stared and it took him a whole long while to find any words. When he found them, he stammered:

“N-n-now, put the m-money back!”

“Take you money. Take your damn money,” Mary said hurled it to the floor. She the grabbed the fishbowl full of paper money. A very few coins jingled as they struck the floor tiles. These were good times, and the jar was full of large bills.

Now the ceiling fan blew the bills into every corner of the establishment.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” the boy said to Mary. “Help me pick it up.”

“Aren’t you going to call the police. I’m a thief! Can’t you see?”

The boy could not see Mary as most people would see her. He did not see a person of the street. What he’d been toking in the back room had transfigured Mary Reno into an object of desire.

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.