Guns and Gold
By John Jodzio, Sep 27, 2009

This is glacier country and sometimes stupid people stumble onto valuable shit. Skulls and arrowheads, crude tools, leg bones dragged from god knows where. My father shoves a couple bills across the counter and tells them to bring in anything else they find. When they leave, he calls the natural history museum in Boise. In a couple of hours, a man in a blue car drives down and spreads hundred dollar bills on the counter like a Japanese fan.

I’m fourteen and these are the two weeks a year I spend with my dad. The first thing he tells me about the pawn business is that most things people hold dear to their hearts are worth little to him. Chipped Elvis plates, broaches passed from mother to daughter, guitars with necks twisted like dead geese—he shakes his head no, no, no.

“Guns and gold,” he tells everyone who brings in something that won’t sell, “I always buy guns and gold.”

One day, a man named Titus pushes in a lawn mower inside the shop. Yesterday he brought in a weed whip. He was in stocking feet then, but today he has not even bothered with the socks.

“Five bucks,” my father says.

“Five bucks is what you say for everything I bring in,” Titus whines.

My father thinks I am a pussy because I quit playing hockey, he thinks I am pussy because I don’t want to play football in the fall. He thinks he’s a great judge of character, thinks he can read people’s needs and desires in seconds flat. He only deals with desperate people though. He has forgotten that the only thing you need to know with desperate people is how to simply stand there and wait.

“Five bucks is what it’s worth,” my father tells Titus. He pops open the till and takes the money and lays it in front of Titus.

Titus stares at it for a couple of seconds. I watch him trying not to grab it, to hold out, to make his feet move toward the door, but then he just cannot help himself. He snatches the money and shuffles out the door.

“Christ,” he mutters.

There is a path worn through the grass in the city park, a line of beaten dirt that extends directly from my dad’s shop to the liquor store. Sometimes the owner of the liquor store, Sam, stops by and purchases a lot of what my dad buys.

“Your business is our business,” Sam tells him. “We’re open because you are open.”

I am cleaning the jewelry cases with Windex. I take out a flat of rings and I set them on top of the counter. I spray the inside of the underside of the glass and then I reach my arm deep inside and wipe down the dusty front plate.

“That’s what is commonly referred to as a symbiotic relationship,” I tell them.

“A-symbi-what?” Sam asks.

“Symbiotic,” I repeat.

I am just making conversation, but my father grabs onto my shoulder and pushes me toward the front door.

“The sidewalk needs sweeping,” he tells me. “Now.”

Two days before I leave to go back home, my father drives me up into the lesser Tetons. He tells me we are going to hunt for agates but then he stops the van and tells me to get the fuck out. I stand on the side of the road and he hands me a canteen of water and bag of dry cereal. He pulls the compass off his dashboard of his van and drops it into my palm.

“Due east,” my father says. “Walk due east and you’ll be just fine.”

I stare at the compass’ black abyss. I wait for it to stop moving, to find east. Then I start walking. After about five minutes a man in a brown station wagon pulls over. There’s a big dog sleeping in the back seat.

“Did someone leave you out here?” he asks.

“Yep,” I say. “My dad.”

The man tells me to get in and I do. Then he floors it. After about twenty minutes, he passes by my father’s van.

“That was him,” I say.

“My dad did this same shit to me,” the man says. “And you would have probably done it to your son. But now we’ve broken the cycle, haven’t we? Right?”

“Sure,” I tell him.

The man drops me off in front of the pawn shop, wishes me good luck and shakes my hand goodbye. I sit down on the curb and wait for my father to return. I stare out at the mountains. There is a lake in front of them and they are reflected upside down in the water.

In a few minutes, my father drives up. I can tell that he is shocked that I am sitting here, but he hides it well enough. He’s owned a pawnshop far too long to let any sort of surprise or excitement flash across his face.

“How’d you get back?” my father asks.

I stand and walk toward the shop.

“I asked you a question,” he says.

I do not say anything. Instead, I push his compass back into his hand.

Let him wonder how I got here, I think. Let him watch the world rotate and list and bob. Let him wait until the compass slowly settles on what things are where and what things are not.

John Jodzio has recently had pieces in One Story, Opium, and The Florida Review.