Dignity

He walks.

He could drive. He could cruise around town in his sleek black 1992 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance with its grey roof and tinted windows. He could send someone on his errands for him (no one would double cross him, no one would dare). He could do many things to collect the rent. But he walks.

He steps out of his house in a sleek-black suit with an emerald-striped tie, hand curled around a gold-plated cane, and takes to the sidewalk. He starts at the far side of town and raps on the first door, tapping his knuckle and a turquoise-ring against the burgundy-painted wood.

(In his dreams heis a peasant boy with a twisted foot, run down by a donkey cart because he is too slow to clear the road.)

By the time he reaches the sixth door, he's travelled four miles. Beneath pinstriped cotton trousers, his knee aches. He has painkillers in his pockets, and when he stops for a coffee at Granny's, he surreptitiously pops them into his mouth. Two aspirin for the swelling and an ibuprofen for the pain. But the pills will be the only sign, because he's lived far too long to let his weakness show (and even if he does, no one will comment. No one will dare).

And the pills will be the only sign because he won't stop walking until his briefcase is full to brimming with cheques and rolls of bills—even if knee is swollen as thick as his thigh, if his shoes rot away and his feet leave red smears across the pavement, even if he cannot take another step.

(In his dreams he is a spinner, knocked to the ground and cowering, scrubbing the taste of leather boots and mud from his lips.)

At the end of the day, everyone pays. Even if their clothes are threadbare and outdated, if their children stare at him from behind half-shuttered windows with wide, pleading eyes, they pay. Their cars may have flat tires, and they may hand him a pickle-jar with a slotted lid, filled with nickels and dimes instead of a roll of twenties and hundreds, but they pay.

He is a cripple, certainly. (His dreams have one thing right.) But here, in the daylight, he is respected and feared. In the real world he wears designer suits, custom shoes, and flashes gold when he smiles. And perhaps he's harsh at times, and cold, and he sneers and mocks and jibes. And perhaps they hate him almost as much as they hate their mayor. And perhaps it's lonely. (But nobody pities him. No one will dare.)

(In his dreams he is a monster.)

The man in his dreams pushes others away, because nobody to love means nobody to lose. Mister Gold walks, carrying a full briefcase to an empty house, and rejects that man entirely.

He belongs here, he thinks. In a town without donkey carts or boots to kiss, where men and women cross the street just to avoid him. Unloved but unpitied, on his own two feet even if his custom leather shoes blister and even if his knee burns with jagged glass edges and fire. Unloved but dignified, in a suit with a gold cane and a gold tooth and a gold watch, with a briefcase full of security and paymentand power.

He belongs in a place where nobody pities him, and nobody to love means nobody to stand in his way.