The miser spoke of his miseries to a thief convicted of thirty thieveries in a dimly-lit jail cell on one particularly humid, summer night.
“Oh, miserable, miserable me!”
The thief listened patiently, allthewhile keeping a keen eye on something heavy and circular that was weighing down the miser’s left pant pocket. A stratagem began to emerge. The thief dripped thick nectar from his tongue.
“Tell me more, good fellow, if you please.”
The miser’s bellowing belly bounced boarishly.
“Take from me my m-misery!”
The one lightbulb in the hallway flickered. A full moon watched from the other side of the cell’s one cast-iron barred window.
“Why…friend, that is very easily achieved…” The thief casually mentioned that he could save the miser from himself…
“for a simple one-time fee.” His voice dripped like ripened honeycomb.
The miser leered at the thief…unknowing…
“Are you trying to rob me?”
“May such a thing never come to be!” The thief recoiled in disbelief.
“In the past, yes, I was a thief…but must this current summer’s heat be subdued by the chill of a long ago whispered winter wind? My friend, the suffering you speak of is very easily remedied.”
The miser felt miserably about his present situation and the perspiration intervened on his behalf in stating the obvious masterfully, yet he tried his best to defend his nonexistent honor. His hand was drawn to his pant pocket almost magnetically. His thumb and middle finger caressed his last and only coin.
“You had b-better not take me for a fool. You speak sweat-ly…I mean, ‘sweetly’, but look where your wisdom has le-led you to be…you who s-sit here, imprisoned just the s-same as me!” With his last shred of resolution, he bluffed…just a bit too loudly.
“Quiet in there, you fools!”
The warden rattled the cold iron bars with his billy club.
The thief “shhh-ed” the miser.
The miser continued…at a whisper,”But you speak like a man who knows something worth knowing…be a true friend and do not charge me for your words…for I have nothing left to be taken from me…nothing to give that won’t yet be owing…” The miser barely squeaked out the last few words. He had come to his final reservoir of inner strength.
The wind blew coldly through the iron cell bars and a rebuke shook the thief’s soul. His stratagem, though flawlessly effective, began to dissolve.The thief turned and looked out the barred window.
“I would eventually become just like you if I held on to this wisdom that you seek. I realize now how easily we all may fall into holding onto the world as we perceive it to be, thus becoming miserly.” He saw the moon. It smiled freely down at him. A smile infected the thief’s heart. “This world is nothing to be held onto so tightly.”
The miser looked out that same barred window and saw only a world that was being held just out of his reach. He was reminded of all the things that had been stripped from him. He became impatient with the thief and his nonsense.
“Well, are you going to help me or not?”
The thief turned back towards the miser, moonlight embers burning now in his eyes. The thick, deceptive honey had been stripped from his voice, leaving it true, elemental now.
“It is my belief, you see, that a miser holds only onto his own misery.”
The miser’s perspiring hand grasped for the coin again, which slipped through a hole in the lining of his pocket, fell to the floor and rolled under the cell door, rattling loudly as it settled out in the hallway.
The thief looked at the coin…the miser looked at the thief…the coin lay silent now…the dead president on the face-up side of the coin looked at the bare light bulb in the hallway…the bare lightbulb looked down on it all and hummed with electricity….
“Lights out!” shouted the warden and the lightbulb fell silent for the remainder of the night.
The coin was gone in the morning, as was the thief.
The miser felt miserably indeed. He clutched the iron bars, the only thing left to hold onto…
“Oh woe, oh woe is me! Miserable, miserly me!”
– Josephus Vice