The Amulet

The Amulet

I darted out of Harps, pushing my cart in zigzags in case a sniper watched me from the roof. Yes, I’m nine at heart. Since I prefer to park my little car at the end of the lot, I passed several cars to my left. Inside one of them, I noticed an older woman sitting in the driver’s seat. Her car was nice. Passing it, I looked back. She sat immobile, which seemed odd. I saw that her front passenger tire was very low. I put my stuff in the alleged trunk of my car. I couldn’t shake the need to ask if the woman in the car knew her tire was dangerously low.

I walked to the passenger side, knocked lightly on the window, and stepped back. The woman was older than I initially thought. Though it was unseasonably warm, she wore a scarf around her neck. The passenger window went down.

“Ma’am, your front tire is low. Would you like me to air it for you? I have a portable air pump in my clown car over there.”

When she spoke, her voice surprised me. It was deeper than I anticipated, and I couldn’t quite pin down her accent. Most people’s voice loses their natural depth after a certain age. “It wasn’t low when I left, but the dashboard light started blinking a minute ago. I just had the tires replaced a few days ago.”

I nodded. “I’ll bring my car around to the front. You don’t have to do anything, okay? I just hope the pump doesn’t explode like last time.” I smiled.

She laughed, which was a good sign. People who get my idiotic sense of humor are always appreciated.

I returned to my car and drove to the other side of the diagonal spaces. Because my car is short, I knew the pump would easily reach her tire. After connecting the pump, I waited for the absurdly loud thump to start.

I wasn’t going to talk. Not because I didn’t want to, but to make her feel comfortable. She started the conversation.

“Is there a nail in my tire? I just had new tires put on.”

I hunched down and looked, running my fingers over the surface.

“No, no nail, but this pocked knife probably shouldn’t be sticking out of the tire like that.”

She laughed again.

I said, “Since they’re new tires, I bet you have free flat care included. Those tires are expensive.”

“You’re right! Thank you. I’ll drive over there if it inflates.” Her voice still sounded almost acoustic.

“I can show you how to use the pump and let you take it with you if you want to.”

She smiled. “Well, that’s quite nice of you. I’ll stop at a station if I need to on the way. What’s your name?”

“X. The antepenultimate letter. Just X.”

“I haven’t heard that word used in conversation in years. That’s an interesting name. X. I assume you’re literate, though, using a ten-dollar word like that.”

“What’s your name,” I asked. “I bet it’s something lyrical, like Apropos.”

She laughed. “No, it’s Angeline.”

“Nice to meet you, Angeline. I’ve been in jail for a few years, so I haven’t met many people.”

Again, she intuitively knew I was joking.

“I was arrested once, a long time ago. Long story, but it was fun. Back when things were different.”

I wanted to ask for an explanation. It’s the kind of response that evokes curiosity.

“Assuming you’re retired, what did you do for a living? Your voice sounds like someone who should be in radio.”

She paused. “I was a singer, all kinds of music. I’d sing anywhere to earn a living. I’ve been all over the world. And I’d do any job in between.”

“Aha!” I thought to myself. That explains the voice.

“I wish I could sing. Sing well, I mean.”

“It didn’t stop many people from doing it who had no ability.” She laughed.

I wondered who she had in mind.

“I’ve got a passport but haven’t used it in years.”

“What’s the use of a passport if you don’t use it? Starve if you have to, but get out there and see people.”

“The starving part is what stops me.”

“I wasn’t fond of making ends meet either, never knowing for sure I could many times. Now those times seem like the best I had.”

“Nostalgia certainly erases the discomfort, doesn’t it?

She smiled and nodded.

I looked down and saw that the pump indicator was almost 35 psi. I disconnected the pump, unplugged it from my dash, and walked back to her car.

“Do you want to take this pump? I don’t mind. I’ve given one away before.”

“That’s so kind, X. I’ll be okay.”

Because I was curious, I asked her, “How old are you? I like to be rude and just ask.”

“You should always ask. Rudeness and courtesy are overrated. I’m 83.”

I pretended to whistle. “Wow, that’s REALLY old!”

I got yet another laugh.

“Yes, I remember thinking 60 was over the hill. Can I pay you for helping me?”

“Of course not. Just a few minutes of my day. My probation officer will ask where I’ve been, though.”

“Are you sure? I won’t be offended either way.”

Because I’m wired to catch people off guard, I said, “How about a keepsake, like something ridiculous to repay me?”

“I have just the thing. Let me extract it from my purse.” She moved her purse from the passenger seat and rummaged through it. She removed a coin holder and opened it. As her fingers came out, I thought she pulled out a large coin.

“Here, take this. I’ve had it for years. It was given to me by someone I used to sing with.”

I reached in, and she put a round disk in my hand. I looked at it. It had, at one point, been on a necklace. On its face was a star of David and two Hebrew letters.

“This looks personal. Are you sure you want me to have it?” I felt just a tinge of guilt for having joked about her paying me with a keepsake.

“It is personal. It’s sat in my coin purse for a long, long time. It’s time it had a new home.”

“Thank you, Angeline. Do you need anything?”

“No, but I do appreciate it. And you.”

I stepped away from her car and saluted. It seemed like the thing to do. She smiled.

As I went to my car, I realized I had many questions about a total stranger. I had the sensation that I’d met someone with a fascinating life and story. I put the amulet in my pocket. As I backed out of the parking spot, I waved to her like Gump.

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I still haven’t figured out what the coin inscription says. I showed it to Erika. When I said, “How do you know it’s from Israel?” She laughed, “Because it says ‘Made In Israel’ on the back.” I hope it says something preposterous like, “Drink Coke.” But I have wondered more than once who the woman was and who gave her the amulet. I can’t shake the idea that it was much more meaningful than a polite conversation would have permitted her to disclose. I didn’t write this anecdote down because I thought I’d find out what the inscription says before I did. Now, I appreciate the mystery of not knowing.

The short talk I had with her reminded me that the word “sonder” is us. We’re like an undulating mass of birds in the sky, all of us invisibly moving in unison, believing that we are choosing our own direction.

Love, X
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