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"The Touch"

By Rob Rosen
robrosen@therobrosen.com

Mindy was a smart girl, and precocious to a fault. She was materialistic to a fault, as well; and therein laid the seeds to the problems she would soon face. The combination of the two, after all, can be a mighty treacherous thing. Still, there was hope for her yet. There's always hope, you see - if you know where to look for it.

"I want this dress, and those shoes, and that hat," she whined to her mother, as they traversed the clothing store. It was Mindy's eighteenth birthday, and the two were out shopping for a present.

"You don't need any of those things, Mindy," her mother cautioned. "Besides, you know we can't afford them." Both statements were true to fact.

"But a princess should have the finest clothes," Mindy replied, very matter-of-factly.

"And what makes you think you're a princess?" Her mother now looked at her with a concerned look.

"Because Grandma says that we are descended from royalty."

"Your grandma is an old woman, Mindy. She's doesn't always know that what she's telling you isn't the truth." Again, both of her mother's statements were true to fact. However, in this instance, Mindy's grandmother was not mistaken. Far, far from it, actually.

Mindy frowned and walked ahead of her mother. As she strode by all the clothes that they couldn't afford, she ran her fingers across them, knocking several to the ground. Had the tears not been welling up behind her eyes, she might have noticed the slight change she had caused in several of the garments. Too concerned with her daughter's grief, her mother missed this as well. A shame really, because she might have been able to avert the situation that was soon to occur. Then again, probably not.

"But what if Grandma is right?" Mindy whispered to herself, as the two of them left the store, empty-handed. "What if I really am a princess?"

Mindy had been told enough fairy tales as a child to know what a princess was. They were the daughters of kings and queens. But Mindy's father was a plumber, and her mother was a housewife. None of the stories she heard featured people like that; or people like her, for that matter. The peas she put beneath her mattress grew rock hard with age. Her slippers were cotton, not glass. Her mirror never talked to her, and her Halloween pumpkins never, ever turned into coaches.

Mindy figured that what she was, however, was a real princess, and that fairy tales were made-up things. But if she was a real princess, where was her tiara? Where were the castle, and the moat, and the servants? Where was the king that had sired her, or her mother, or her mother's mother? Wasn't royalty in one's blood? Isn't it passed down from generation to generation? That's what she'd always heard, so it must be true.

And it was true. It was in her blood. In her very genes even. But what Mindy didn't know is that sometimes kings lose their powers. Or renounce them. And that sometimes, for very good reasons, the crown is not passed down.

Mindy, smart girl that she was, stopped asking her mother about such things. Instead, she waited until she was old enough to find out for herself. That day came a mere couple of months later, when her grandmother, who was nearly a hundred years old by then, passed away. It was Mindy's task to clean out and box up her worldly possessions, of which there were strangely few.

Still, amidst the rubbish that had accumulated during her grandmother's vast lifetime, there were some interesting papers. And stashed way in the back of a closet, buried deep in a box of yellowed documents, was the most interesting thing Mindy had ever come across. For there, finally, in black in white, was her family tree.

Mindy's heart raced. She had to put the aged paper down for a minute while she caught her breath. At last, once and for all, she'd know for certain if she were a princess or not.

The tree itself was massive, and older than the oldest redwood. It's branches stretched and stretched outwards, and climbed far upwards to the top of the long page. Mindy found her name marked across one of the lower branches, written in her grandmother's telltale scrawl. With a slight shiver up her spine, she traced her ancestry up, up, up the line. And there, countless ages almost straight to the top, she found the start of her royal lineage. It wasn't at all what she'd expected.

"King Midas?" she uttered, nearly in a whisper. "But how can that be? I thought that was just a legend."

But there it was, on the page, many generations straight up from her own name. And yet, reason suggested that this was some family joke. Mindy carefully rolled the document up and packed it with the rest of her grandmother's belongings. She continued with the task at hand and tried her darndest to forget about what she'd uncovered. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done. The thought rattled and careened around her addled brain. At last she gave up and slumped down on her grandmother's faded, old couch.

"Okay," she said with a sigh, "enough of this. Why would anyone joke about such a thing? And why would Grandma have brought it up if it weren't true? There really must have been a Midas and I'm some distant descendent. So what? It's not like I can change stuff into gold, right?"

As far as she knew, she'd never been able to do just that, but then again, she'd never really tried before. Maybe the power lay dormant inside her, ready to be set in motion when she reached a certain age, or something along those lines. Maybe all she needed to do was try.

And that's just what she did. In her hand she held one of her grandmother's cheap vases. She stared at it intently and chanted, "Turn to gold, turn to gold, turn to gold." Nothing happened. It stayed plastic in her tight grip. Then she recalled the tale of her purported ancestor. It was his greed that ultimately allowed him to turn objects golden. Perhaps that's what was missing, she thought. And greed was something she knew about quite well. Hers had increased exponentially over the years. Of the haves and have-nots, she was still clearly in the latter, and this, above all else, made her incessantly miserable.

"But maybe not for long," she said, and quickly left her grandmother's house. She headed straight for the mall.

Just as she had done on her birthday, she went right for the women's clothes. Eagerly, she scanned through each of the racks until she landed on the one item she wanted more than all the rest, and that she could never have afforded. It was a beautifully colored Hermès silk scarf that cost just under two hundred dollars: extravagant by most tastes, even Mindy's. She clutched it in her sweaty hands and wished like crazy that she could afford to own it. When she again looked down at the item, it was no longer multi-colored. It was now just one color: gold. Mindy let out an audible gasp.

In shock, she dropped the precious item to the ground. It landed with a dull thud. The once light-as-air scarf now weighed a good quarter-pound, all of it solid gold.

"Oh my," was all she could say. "Oh my," as she backed away from the scarf. "Oh my," as she ran to the exit of the store. And "Oh my," as she sat in disbelief inside her miserable, little car. But then a new thought entered her head: "I'm rich!"

Now that calmed her down considerably. But as she grasped the steering wheel to pull out of the parking lot, a strange thing happened; it too turned to gold. The floodgates, Mindy figured, had been opened. In reality, a gene had been flicked on. Mindy laughed at the realization. Her wreck of a car had instantaneously quadrupled in price, and all with a simple touch. The world, it seemed, was now hers for the asking.

She was quick to discover, however, the drawbacks of her newly acquired talent, just as Midas had done those countless centuries earlier. For when one thing turned to gold, everything else did, as well, at the slightest touch of her finger: her purse, her car handle, her doorknob, her refrigerator, and a banana - all turned to solid gold.

Mindy slid to her kitchen floor and groaned. She held her magic fingers away from her body, lest she was able to change into gold as well. But where there's a will, there's a way, she figured. The way came in the form of two oven mitts she kept in a drawer a few inches from where she was sitting. With her teeth, she opened the drawer and dropped the mitts to the ground. In an instant she turned them into gold, and then slid her hands inside.

"Not ideal," she said, "but at least I can't change anything else while I have them on."

Just then, there was a knock on her front door. Mindy peaked through the eyehole to see who it was. Her mom was waiting on the other side. Mindy ran to her couch, managed to get under a blanket, and then shouted, "Come in, door's open."

Mindy's mom stepped inside and found her daughter lying there. "Taking a nap?" she asked.

"Um, yeah. Tired," Mindy responded with an exaggerated yawn.

"I bet," her mother said, shaking her head back and forth.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Mindy asked.

"I saw the steering wheel and the doorknob.

"Oh. I painted them, on a whim," she lied, badly.

"Forget it, Mindy. I'm your mother, you know. And your grandmother's daughter. Trust me, I know gold when I see it. I know it only too well." Mindy's mother sat down next to her on the couch.

"Oh," Mindy said again, this time resigned to her fate. She lifted her hands from beneath the covers and rested the heavy, golden mitts on the blanket.

"Nice touch, dear, but eventually that will grow wearisome."

"Ah, so this, um, talent didn't skip a generation, I take it," Mindy said with a forced smile.

"It never does. It's been passed down to all the women in our family. Some have coped with it better than others. Some worse."

"Coped? Coped with what, being rich?"

"Um, you don't see a problem with this ability you now have?" Mindy's mother frowned at her daughter.

"Well, I suppose it will take some getting used to. Maybe I can hire an assistant to do everything for me. I'll certainly be able to afford one."

"And how will you hold your husband's hand, or your baby in your arms, or even pet a dog? With a gold oven mitt? Sounds awful, if you ask me."

Mindy sat in silence for a moment, digesting what her mother had said. Finally, she answered, with a heavy sigh, "I hear what you're saying.but I think I'd rather be rich."

Mindy's mother was stunned at her daughter's response. She'd had this same exact conversation with her mother so many years prior, and the outcome was quite different. Even Midas himself was quick to change his ways when given the chance. Still, she'd learned that telling her daughter to do something would always wind up with her doing the exact opposite, so she simply shook her head and said, "Well, if that's your decision, I'll just have to live with it. I hope for your sake, dear, that you'll be able to."

And live with it she did. In extravagant luxury, Mindy spent her days selling gold and shopping. She told her assistant, Laurie, that she was crippled and could not use her hands. She hid them in the gaudy oven mitts so no one could see her deformity. Laurie was accustomed to working for quirky, rich people, and never questioned this. For her own sake, it would have been better if she had, as, eventually, her curiosity won out; and one afternoon, while Mindy was taking a nap, Laurie snuck over and carefully removed one of the mitts.

"Hmm," she said, very quietly. "They seem like perfectly normal looking hands to me. Not deformed in the least."

Laurie reached down to touch them, and, of course, never found out for herself that the only thing her boss suffered from was a severe case of unbridled avarice. Mindy awoke with a start at the odd sound that flesh makes when it turns to solid metal. She blinked in astonishment at the golden statue that stood above her, and gasped when she realized what had happened.

Quickly, she sprung up and ran to the phone. She called the only person she knew who could help; at least she prayed as much. Her mother arrived a short while later. She'd been expecting just such a phone call.

"That's your assistant?" she asked, with a shrug. She was clearly not as stunned as Mindy had thought she'd be.

"Yes it is. And aren't you taking this a little lightly?"

"Well, I hate to say I told you so, but I do believe our dear ancestor Midas did the same thing to his own daughter. Kind of ironic, don't you think?"

"It's not so much what I think, but what the police will when they notice that Laurie is missing. Or worse, turned to gold."

"Now dear, don't be so overdramatic. What's done, can be undone. That daughter of Midas didn't stay golden for too long, if you recall."

"Refresh my memory, Mother," Mindy said, as she sidestepped Laurie to sit back down on the couch. Recent events had wiped her out.

"Midas prayed to the god Dionysus to turn everything back the way it was, or at least that's how the story goes. That part might be more myth than fact, though. For myself, and your grandmother, and all our ancestors as far back as I'm aware, it was greed that brought on this calamity, just as it was originally with Midas. The curse can only be undone if we live our lives content with what we have. No more, no less. I suppose it's a good lesson to learn. For our family, it's a necessity. That's why you were raised only with what you needed. Any extravagances would have.well, I think you now know what that would have brought on. Besides, there are other things more valuable than gold, dear."

Mindy's mother smiled and went over to hug her daughter. Mindy grudgingly returned the smile and added, "And now I'll be able to get a puppy. Gee, isn't that swell."

"That's the spirit, dear. But I'd get a mutt if I were you. Those purebreds can cost an arm and a leg." Mindy's sarcasm wasn't lost on her mother, just ignored.

The two of them then started to laugh as, one by one, Mindy's purse, and car handle, and doorknob, and refrigerator, and banana, and oven mitts, and, lastly, Laurie, all reverted back to their original form. Not a speck of gold could be spotted anywhere in the apartment, then or ever again.

"W.what happened?" Laurie asked, as she tottered and fell onto the couch. "Wait, I remember, your hands. You're not crippled at all."

Mindy looked at Laurie and then to her mother. Smiling, she replied, "Nope, apparently, I've been cured. It's a miracle! Guess I don't need an assistant anymore, sorry."

Confused, but glad to be away from the obviously crazed women, Laurie gathered her belongings and quickly left.

"Nice girl," Mindy's mom said when they were alone.

"But easily spooked." Mindy added with a mischievous grin.

"Being turned to gold can do that to you, I hear," Mindy's mom added, with a grin of her own.

"It doesn't do wonders for the person who's the cause, either."

"Just remember that, dear, next time you go clothes shopping."

"Yep, no more Neiman Marcus for me. I hear Target has some nice things, though. Guess I'm gonna find out."

"And maybe we can stop by a pet store on the way. You know, a scarf can't give you the kind of love that a dog can."

"But it sure looks better wrapped around your neck," Mindy laughed, as she stood up and hugged her mother.

Then, arm in arm, the two walked out into the crisp, autumn air. And Mindy never again thought about those things she couldn't afford, and could easily do without. But, to be on the safe side, she avoided the jewelry aisle, even at Target. Old habits die hard, she figured, and a golden salesclerk wouldn't go with her décor. Plus, it might scare the puppy.

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