Of Pyrite and Men
By Mai Listokin
A kind-hearted eccentric gentleman is hoodwinked by his naive gesture and a glittering gem in a dusty New York shop.
Mr. Watson seldom had company. Equipped with his personal calculator, the eager salesman was frantically punching digits, frowning in deep concentration. As I walked into the gem shop, he was escorting around a strange tall fellow dressed in the finest pink and green plaid suit and a pair of round spectacles. As it appeared, he was showing him every unearthly specimen around. The customer had a thin mustache and a genuine curiosity on his pale face, reminding me of a character from an eighteenth-century British series I once followed. It was of no surprise therefore when my dear shopkeeper Mr. Watson, with familiar formality that matched his apparel, approached him as “Mr. McAllister” when he suggested yet another fossilized lizard embedded in a shell.
Now, Mr. Watson and I are not strangers. I can honestly attest that he is a most devoted geologist, whom I often chat with on my way home from work. We sometimes discuss the formidable display of incredible rocks from Madagascar, rare minerals from extraterrestrial meteorites, prehistoric fossils, and luminous crystals. As it turns, this shop does not suffer the blessing of rush-hour shoppers and bustling crowds fighting their way in. The high-price ticket might be the reason this lovely shop is usually quiet, which selfishly I enjoy all to myself. But today the commotion inside drew me in!
“How about this impressive fossil, Mr. McAllister?” Mr. Watson exclaimed with one part confidence and one part careful hope. “It dates back 25,000 years ago and can be undoubtedly described as one of the earliest salamander specimens discovered in the western hemisphere.
It became obvious to me that Mr. McAllister had no visible interest in the salamander. “I’m afraid I am looking for something much more dramatic, as it is a personal gift to a dear friend,” he declared out loud to an invisible audience. “I fancy something shinier that will summon a gasp.” To my dread, he was mindlessly leaning on a glass shelf heavy with precious stones. Disaster was looming.
Mr. Watson anxiously leaped forward to stabilize the tilting shelf, catching the falling rocks in his open palms. A golden sheen in his hand caught Mr. McAllister’s piercing eyes.
“Behold!” he ordered in a deep baritone voice, halting the nervous salesman abruptly. “Show me the golden rock in your very left palm. I believe we have detected a contender.”
I silently held my breath as the spectacle unfolded. Perspiring, Mr. Watson opened his palm to reveal a rather large multi-faceted rock in a shiny golden hue. Mr. McAllister caught me standing stunned in the middle of the store. He purposefully removed his spectacles dangling from the bridge of his nose, while his right eyebrow rose inquisitively.
“What do you think this stone is composed of?” he asked me in a tone lacking any acceptance of failure.
The stone glimmered, but not as bright as true gold. “Hmm, I think it might be pyrite,” I offered in a hesitant voice, nervously glancing at my fellow expert Mr. Watson who seemed quite on edge with the calculator trembling in his hand.
Mr. McAllister’s eyebrows lifted momentarily in an impossible arch of disbelief. Mr. Watson’s anxious voice filled the silent abyss. “We teach them well, Sir,” he shrugged. Was he sweating under his moustache? I couldn’t quite tell.
“But what do you believe it is coated with?” Mr. McAllister pressed. This time I didn’t reply as swiftly.
“Gol—” I began, but he swooped in and finished the thought for me.
“That’s right! Solid twenty-four karat gold!” He continued almost breathlessly, “And I will be gifting it this very afternoon.”
I began to feel as if I was participating in a bizarre quiz show and looked around at Mr. Watson who was busy rearranging the already-neat amethysts on the shelf. “What a very lucky recipient,” I responded vaguely.
“I shall deliver this brilliant gift to my very best friend, Pete,” he exclaimed resolutely. My puzzled expression was no impediment to this headstrong customer.
“Pete…?” I waited for some description, drawing a blank.
“My dear friend Pete lives in Central Park, not far from Belvedere Castle, in fact,” McAllister explained. “He is dressed in rags, and resides on the third bench from the hot dog stand. I shall tell him, ‘Pete! If you are ever down on your luck and need to liquidate your assets, just head down to the diamond district in midtown and exchange it for a handsome sum of money.’” I nervously eyed the price tag on the box—was it truly that expensive?! I swallowed at the figure: $2,000. Plus tax. For a rock?! I felt lightheaded.
Before I could think twice, Mr. McAllister was at the front desk, signing paperwork with Mr. Watson, who was enthusiastically sealing the deal. The salesman was bursting with excitement at the prospect of relaying the news to his boss. The cash register opened with an unfamiliar yet satisfying “ding.”
Mr. McAllister buttoned his plaid jacket and strided purposefully out the door, gift bag in hand.
This piece was inspired by a true event that I experienced in a gem shop I frequently visit to view the beautiful and exotic rocks, fossils and crystals from foreign shores. That day, the shop’s atmosphere was magically enlivened by an odd customer with fantastic archaic mannerisms. The encounter unfolding before my eyes was as colorful as the gems. Pen in hand, I narrated Mr. McAllister’s exquisite quest for the perfect gift; the scene lured me to the page. For the audio component, I intended to describe the precious expressions of the animated characters involved. Through the usage of fluctuating intonations, the dynamic urban story bursts to life.
Mai Listokin is a senior in high school, and always finds inspirational NYC minutes. She regularly writes poetry and short stories, and enjoys reading other writers’ works. An active person and environmentally conscientious individual, Mai documents her experiences through scuba diving, Riverside Park volunteering, and urban wildlife photography. Quarantine didn’t stop her creative process, as she paints, writes, and publishes her work in several online editorials, while industriously working on her college applications. She now eagerly awaits to begin her next chapter, where she plans to perfect her literary skills, and find her unique voice as a rising author.