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Damaged Goods: A Short Story This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Matthew Baker always got a distinct impression of seediness from pawn shops. They had an air of shadiness to them. He worried that he could end up buying stolen property from Bob’s Pawn Shop, and then even if Tiffany said yes she would want to change her mind. Matthew pushed open the dirty glass door and noted the ominous tinkling of the bells someone had flung carelessly over the handle to alert the proprietor of his entry. He shuffled through the small, crowded shop, absentmindedly wondering if Tiffany would take his name, or if she’d want to hyphenate. Tiffany Nichols-Baker sounded odd. He hoped she would take his name.

A stout man, presumably Bob, waded through the stacks of objects discarded from people’s lives to get to the counter. Matthew looked up, waiting for an offer of assistance, but none was forthcoming. He shoved an ottoman aside and stepped up to the counter, clearing is throat lightly for attention. Bob glanced at him over his glasses but didn’t put down his newspaper.

“Excuse me?” Matt said tentatively.

Bob sighed, shifted his weight, and put down his paper by way of response.

“I was just wondering whether you had any...uh...engagement rings.” He gave a small smile, but Bob simply pointed to a display case on Matt’s left and resumed reading the paper.

Matt made his way to the case that Bob had so graciously indicated and peered through the dusty case at the rings below. He wondered briefly about the people that had pawned their rings here. His glance swept over several nondescript rings and lighted upon a delicate silver band set with two small rubies on either side of a diamond. Tiffany loves red, he remembered.

“Excuse me?” he said again. His attempt elicited no response from Bob, who was perusing an article about some senator’s indiscretion with great enthusiasm.

“Excuse me? I’d like to see that one there, please,” he said, pointing at the ring. He was already envisioning himself slipping it onto Tiffany’s finger. Bob heaved himself off of his stool behind the counter and opened the case, unceremoniously handing the ring to Matt.

“Do ya want it, or not?” he huffed, irritated at having to get up. His torn fingernails began to beat a rhythm of impatience on the lid of the case as Matt turned the ring over in his fingers, squinting at an inscription on the inside.

“What does this say?” he asked, pointing at the lettering inside the band. Bob glared at it and wordlessly returned to pick up a ledger from behind the counter. He flipped through the pages until he found the record of the ring.

“‘Mine forever,’” he said. He looked expectantly up at Matt. He was turning the ring nervously in his hands. He knew that it was the ring he wanted, but quailed at the idea of finding out that it was well beyond his price range. A platinum band with two rubies and a decent-sized diamond, that could easily sell for over a thousand dollars.

“How much?” asked Matt, with trepidation. He had three hundred dollars in his wallet.

“One-fifty,” Bob responded. “One-sixty if you want a box.”

Matt pulled his wallet from his pocket with trembling fingers. He counted out a hundred and sixty dollars. Bob held up a red velvet box and raised his eyebrows. Matt nodded and slid the money across the counter. Bob counted the money and handed Matt a bag with the ring and it’s appraisal documents and turned back to his paper, dismissing him. Matt turned to depart, elated, planning to offer Tiffany the ring at her birthday dinner that night.


Annette sat staring listlessly out of her window, a cigarette held loosely in her right hand which she rested on her lap. Tom had agreed to meet her for dinner that night and try to reconcile, but that wouldn’t get too far if he saw that she wasn’t wearing her ring. She had pawned it to help pay for the damage she did to her car when she sped away from her house in the middle of the night, drunk and enraged. Tom had hurled horrible names at her. She felt he had overreacted. She had been drunk, and besides, there was that incident with the waitress at the hotel. The one who ascribed a whole new meaning to the phrase “room service.” She snorted at her joke and stood. She’d have to go back to the pawn shop. The agreement said that she had thirty days to pay for her ring, but the b****rd had sold it in less than twenty. She should have trusted Christine and avoided the shop. She’d ask Christine to go with her if this trip was unsuccessful; she did a two year stint at law school before deciding that veterinary medicine was her true calling.

This time, her car started without hesitation. The repairs had been necessary. She drove over to the pawn shop and shoved open the door. Moments later, she left the store, cursing under her breath. The man insisted that he was legally prevented from disclosing who had purchased her ring, and that he wasn’t to blame for it being sold a week early, his assistant was. She was told in no uncertain terms to sue him if she cared so much-which Bob clearly didn’t think possible, since she brought it to his shop.

“Sweetheart,” he’d said patronizingly. “Your ring, it can’t have mattered to you all that much if you were willing to give it to me for a hundred bucks. Besides, it was damaged goods-it was supposed to say ‘Forever Yours,’ right? And you know what happens when you bring something to the pawn shop. You’re liable to lose it.”

And then he winked at her. Well, that was the last straw for Annette. She shouted a string of curses at him that she wasn’t proud of, but which made her feel a little better. Until she realized that she had blown every shot at making him her ally and getting him to help her. She could file a report with the police, but the chances of anything happening, since she doubted that Bob’s records were immaculate, were slim and would hardly be worth the effort. She could get a new ring, she supposed. But the pawnbroker was wrong-the inscription on the inside of the ring wasn’t a mistake. She got that inscribed to reassure herself after Tom had cheated on her, as a way of reminding herself that although the ring on her finger was given to her by Tom, it was hers to keep or to remove if she wanted. She didn’t have to stay with the b****rd. It was her reminder to herself that Christine and all her other friends could be right, and that she has options. Tom didn’t even know that she did it. Keeping it a secret made her feel more even with him. He had betrayed her, and she, by writing herself a secret message inside the ring he gave her, was betraying him too.

Annette couldn’t believe that he was angry with her for going on a date during the time that they were separated following his lapse. It hadn’t even gone anywhere, and anyway he should understand that it had been revenge that she earned, after years of tolerating his mood swings and fending off his blows when he was drunk. Still, she needed that ring back. She would pick up the phone and call the pawn shop, hoping that the assistant would answer.


Some assistant that claimed to work at Bob’s Pawn Shop had called Matt. He firmly but politely apologized for the situation, but said that he had fairly purchased the ring and that they would have to deal with the woman themselves. It was unfortunate that it was her ring, but fair is fair, and he was really quite set on giving the ring to Tiff. He thought he’d handled the matter quite effectively, but then some shrieking woman had called, and he realized it was the woman whose ring had mistakenly been stolen. She had screamed her head off at him and made threats. He got flustered and let slip the name of the restaurant he was going to, and he was kicking himself. This woman was clearly unstable. He hoped she wouldn’t show up and ruin his proposal.

He led Tiffany into the restaurant, glancing shiftily about for signs of a woman after the ring in his pocket. Sure enough, he noticed one woman paying a lot of attention to them, so he handed the box off to the waiter and steered Tiffany to her seat, while she continued to tell him a story he hadn’t heard a word of. She hadn’t noticed anything, and the first chance he got he would slip off to the restroom and ask the hostess to call security. The ring was probably safely in the chocolate soufflé by now, and the woman would be taken care of long before they got to desert. The cold anxiety he felt when he thought about the woman, Annette, her name was, was replaced by warm excitement as he anticipated Tiff biting into the dessert and finding the perfect ring. He knew she would say yes, because she had been dropping hints for weeks.

He kept casting nervous glances around the restaurant throughout dinner, but the woman had disappeared. The waiter was bringing out the dessert now, and Matt felt a sense of satisfaction and a twinge of guilt, like he had gotten away with something. The soufflé was almost at the table now. Yes, he had done it. Suddenly, from behind the bar shot a tornado of blonde hair and sharp nails. The woman was screaming, and he recognized the voice. It was Annette. She knocked the dessert right into an astonished Tiffany’s lap, still screaming hysterically and flinging bits of chocolate aside until she pulled the chocolate-encrusted ring from the pie with a yell of triumph. Understanding dawned on Tiffany’s face when she saw the ring, and then more confusion.

It was as if Matt was watching the scene from afar. Tiffany’s expression was growing cold as Annette sobbed an explanation into her shoulder.

“Is this true?” she hissed. “Did you know that the ring belonged to her?”

Matt could only stare. He was watching his plan fall to ruin because this woman had risked something she couldn’t live with losing. She probably would not have been able to buy the ring back before the legal sale date anyway. The selfish brat had ruined his proposal. He reached for Annette’s arm to yank her off of Tiffany and plead for his girlfriend to understand him and forgive him, but he could see that it was too late. Tiff’s eyes were hard, like his last girlfriend’s were right before she had walked out the door. Tiffany rose, supporting Annette, and led her out the door. Matt was left alone with a ruined soufflé and the ring that Annette had discarded.

Somehow, Annette had melted into Tiffany’s warm arms and the problem became not the ring, but her fear that someone named Tom would hurt her for losing it. Tiffany had such a welcoming embrace. He had always admired her for her ability to draw things out of him, like the feelings he always avoided and thoughts he couldn’t verbalize. Now, in his black despair, he realized that Tiffany would see this as a sign. She saw a lot of meaning in the little things he did. When couples bickered over where to have dinner, she saw it as a sign that they would not be able to live compatibly together. “If you can’t agree on the small things,” she was always saying, “how can you make the big decisions?” He knew instinctively that she would see his insensitivity in this situation as proof that he was not someone she could share a life with. He could not explain to the onlookers his overwhelming gloom and despair. Nobody would understand what had just happened. But Matthew Baker knew just what he had lost.

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