Diamond Wedding Ring for Sale: $700

ring

Back in the beginning—before forever, before goodbye, before everything—we sparkled. Our mouths ached from our gaping smiles. Our palms were damp from hours spent with fingers interlocked. Our bellies were tight from endless laughter.

We were bright. Shiny. New. We were diamonds glittering across the sea.

Back in the beginning, you strung up paper hearts for Valentine’s Day. Hand-cut from newspaper, looped together in twine. A clumsy garland of headlines and obituaries and classified ads selling away the things that were once thought valuable.

I saw those black and white hearts hanging lopsided around the living room, and I laughed.

And that’s when you dug it out from your pocket.

Such a simple question: will you be with me always?

Such an easy answer: I will. I am. I do.

But like buying a diamond ring on credit, I should have known then that nothing is ever that easy.

You picked it out from the jewelry department at Kohl’s. It was sized too big for my knobby finger, but that didn’t stop me from gawking at it, left arm outstretched, fingers arched proudly to the sky.

I wore that precious five-stone set for six years, never understanding why it felt so heavy. Never figuring out how something so small carried so much weight. Or why my palms—no longer found snuggled next to yours—sweated at the thought of just one more year with this ring, this gift, this promise chaining me to you.

In the end—after stillness, after apathy, after everything—that diamond was the last of our sparkle. Our lips formed only straight lines. Our laughter choked by so much left unsaid.

In the end, I found the clarity that solitaire had all along—when I realized there’s more to happiness than carats and cuts.

And I listed the ring in a classified ad of its own.

MUCH MORE BEAUTIFUL IN PERSON. PICTURES DON’T DO IT JUSTICE.

Now I wait for some new young lover to buy it and surprise his girlfriend with the proposition of a lifetime. And I’ll whisper “I’m sorry” as I pass it off, tucked securely in the same grey suede box you hid in the pocket of your jeans so many years ago.

I’m sorry I didn’t know me better.

I’m sorry I didn’t know me sooner.

But I’m not sorry for following my heart.

This piece was written as part of a creative fiction challenge in which I found a classified ad and developed the story behind the ad. 

impatiently waiting

He waited for an hour, a painful hour. And during that painful hour, he reread the note in his mind 227 times. Two hundred and twenty-seven!

Meet me at Wal-Mart 2nite—school supplies aisle.

He agonized over it. Maybe he should have made it sound more like a question. Meet me at Wal-Mart 2nite? Maybe he should have said Target instead. Margret Ann’s family probably shops at Target.

He paced among the back-to-school clearance leftovers, willing her to show up. Margret Ann may not have said “yes” exactly, but she hadn’t said “no” either.

When he finally saw her bouncy red curls and eight-year-old swagger turn the corner by the spiral notebooks, he shoved the pink gel pens behind his back. Waiting until her red Converse with the rainbow laces were just inches from his flip flops, he presented them like a bouquet of fresh carnations.

These are for you.

 

Eight Years Later

He waited for an hour, a lingering hour. Because that’s how long it takes high school girls to get ready.

So even though she said Pick me up at 7:00, he sat with her parents through Wheel of Fortune AND Jeopardy.

Margret Ann’s parents weren’t quite sure what to make of sixteen-year-old Toby Malarky, frozen on their couch with the best posture they’d ever seen. His favorite shirt ironed crisp and tucked into his “nice” blue jeans. Hair slicked to one side, school-picture-day style. Cologne overdosed by about two and half pumps.

When Margret Ann finally came down the stairs, pink lips the color of those gel pens in his memory, all the air Toby held inside his whole body seemed to get vacuumed out in an instant.

 

(Still) Eight Years Later

He waited for an hour, an indecisive hour. Before texting her after that first date.

He’d heard his buddies say, Don’t call her for at least three days, Malarky. At LEAST three days.

But they didn’t say a damn thing about texting. So Toby wrote, revised, erased, and rewrote texts for 60 fat minutes before settling on one identical to his first draft.

2night was perfect.

U r perfect.

<3 Tobes

Margret Ann danced around her pink bedroom before flinging herself on the bed, giggling with glee.

Ur perfect 2. xoxo -MA

 

Two Years Later

He waited for an hour, a panicked hour.

Sweat ran down his face like condensation on a Coke bottle. He wiped it away with the cloth napkin every chance she looked away, but she wasn’t looking away enough. She hardly ever looked away.

Margret Ann prattled on about Yale or Georgetown or even NYU. Five acceptance letters had arrived just that week. Her freshly-painted pink fingernails flew through the air with every animated word.

Toby couldn’t focus on her excitement. He nodded and smiled and munched on the most expensive meal he hoped he’d ever have to pay for. But all he could think about was the ring in his pocket, the question on the tip of his tongue.

After one hour and four courses he cut her off mid-sentence and blurted it out.

Margret Ann, marry me.

Immediately, he wished he’d made it sound more like a question.

 

One Year Later

He waited for an hour, a terrifying hour. Smack-dab in the middle of First Presbyterian. Standing by the altar with two best friends by his side, Toby’s insides bubbled like a pot about to boil over.

At first they said she was just running late, but as minutes swelled into half-hours, he knew it was something else. He saw concern and pity beginning to fill the eyes of the guests.

Staring up at the rafters of that old sanctuary, Toby willed her once again to appear. With his mind racing and face growing hot and pink, Toby pulled his phone from his jacket pocket. His fingers flew over the keys; he knew what she needed to hear.

Margret Ann, you don’t have to do this if you’re not ready just yet.

I’ll wait for you as long as it takes.

<3 Tobes

Minutes passed. You could hear a pink gel pen drop in that airy church.

And then you could hear the soft buzz of a phone vibrating. Toby took a deep breath and looked at the text.

On my way! Sry I alwys keep u waiting. xoxo -MA

Toby just shook his head smiling.

No need to be sorry, he thought. I love every horrible minute I spend waiting on you.

 

semifiction

poloroid camera by a stack of books

It was sophomore year of high school, Ms. Hager’s American literature class, when I learned one of my favorite words: semisubnebulous.

It was used in a short story, but I can’t remember which one. Probably something by Faulkner. Maybe Chopin. What I do remember is a footnote at the bottom of the page provided the definition.  

It means walking around in dreamlike state. Half asleep. Half awake. It’s basically sleepwalking, but it sounds so much cooler than that.

Or at least that’s what it means to me. Because to this day, I have yet to see it defined anywhere else. It’s a ghost of a word, but I love it just the same.

There are plenty of non-ghost words that start with semi. Semiannual. Semicolon. Semisweet. Semitruck. Semicircle . . . But semifiction isn’t one of them. There’s just no such thing.

That’s because writing is not some two-lane road paved thick in black asphalt with reflective yellow lines that clearly divide the fact from the fantasy. Or if it is, we’re weaving in and out of our lanes like drunk drivers fleeing the scene of a bar fight.

The truth is even our most imagined tales are steeped far too long in boiling kettles of reality and history. And our most honest stories are fuzzied by slanted perspectives, by blurry Polaroids thumbtacked along the walls of our minds.  

It’s unavoidable. And poor James Frey had to learn the hard way. But to this girl, there’s no difference between a million little truths and a million little lies.

It’s all in what we remember. In how we remember. In how we write what we remember.

It’s the emotions that seep out of our pores. It’s the words we make up during our high school English classes. It’s the scenes we try to capture–in fiction and in memoir–each one rooted in fading recollections, sepia-toned facts, and yes, even semisubnebulous memories.

So go on. Write your heart out, storytellers. Let all the semitruths spill from your veins.

The world will probably only believe half of them anyway.

Photo credit: ForgottenCharm on Etsy

 

the farmer’s daughter

da vinci's study of the womb

Winter seemed reluctant to release its hold. But DeVera could still feel the subtle shift of the distant star drawing nearer, and with it, the warmth needed to bring her world back to life.

But for now, the young one had no choice but to stay inside, commit to her studies under the guidance of the elder.

“Bring the anatomy books, child,” Demaurus called from the cavernous study hall.

DeVera obliged with haste, rushing from stack to stack of texts piled high along the walls, pulling each one with the foreign word printed across its spine, hoping they would all be filled with exotic pictures of the plants and animals of earth, or even the humans themselves.

“An-at-toe-mee,” she rolled the word around with her sharp tongue as she reached for another volume. “An-at-TOE-mee. An-AT-toe-mee.” She tossed the syllables about, trying to land the tricky inflection Demaurus had mastered so well.

Her gnarled, smoky arms strained from the weight of the books, and she heaved a heavy sigh as she set her selections in front of Demaurus for approval.

Can’t we do art instead, elder? She pleaded with her mind.

He raised an eyebrow at this request. In human tongue, he commanded.

DeVera hesitated, pulling together the right phrases and asked again, this time out loud and in English, Demaurus’ favorite of the earthly languages.

He nodded, pleased with her efforts, but replied flatly “No. Today is anatomy.”

Demaurus tugged at the third text down in the stack and handed it to the child. “Page 42,” he directed.

Sitting down and spreading the book across her lap, DeVera flipped through the pages, following the numbers along the bottom. Forty-two was the start of the text’s third chapter, “Study of the Womb.”

DeVera’s round mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide as she began to take in the hand-drawn images before her. Little bitty humans, like peanuts in their shells, were sketched from every angle across the pages.

She traced a bony, grey finger along the rough lines. The tiny, delicate ears. The five baubles of toes on the end of each soft, smooth foot.

Humans are just . . . beautiful, she thought to herself.

An impatient cough from Demaurus tore through her wandering thoughts, “Read, child.”

DeVera’s soft voice stumbled through the technical text, the elder correcting her pronunciation along the way. Em-BREE-o. FEE-tus. YOU-ter-us. Uhm-bill-eh-cul cord. To DeVera, it all sounded too fantastic to be real.

At the conclusion of the first section, she looked up at Demaurus, Who is responsible for these drawings?

He sighed at her for slipping back into mind-speak, but answered the same way, Leonardo da Vinci. A human from long before.

Did he practice medicine? she questioned.

No child, he was a great artist, an inventor, a mathematician, a genius.

Can I be a great artist too? 

DeVera’s thoughts carried with them a tinge of hope. Demaurus could feel it just as he could feel her words. Sitting down beside her, he tried to summon patient tones. Destinies are never easy to explain.

Child, you are the farmer’s daughter, the last one of your kind. This is why you must study the womb. One day soon you will grow your own crop: human beings so perfect, those of earth will not be able to resist loving them, believing them, following them without hesitation . . . even to their own demise.

Your time has almost come, DeVera. And your harvest will be our salvation. 

Nodding numbly at the answer she somehow already knew to be true, DeVera stared out the window at the frozen tundra stretched before her.

More than anything else, she wished that she was just another peaceful babe floating safely in her mother’s womb, in a world where she could be a great artist, inventor, mathematician.

Or anything other than a reaper of souls.

 

the last great act

painting of a woman walking on a highwire
“Auf dem Hochseil” (On the Highwire) by Wilhelm Simmler

Without a word, she dropped to the ground.

Those that had gathered below let out a unified gasp. Mothers drew young children into their bodies to shield their innocent eyes. Business men with slick hair and shiny shoes, already late for afternoon meetings, emails piling up  in their inboxes, remained frozen with shock. Some turned their faces in anguish; others buried their heads into their hands.

But Nathan refused to look away.

He had arrived at the corner of Bristoff and West 1st an hour earlier, just as he’d been directed in the letter. And there he waited, holding her words in his sweaty palms as the blue ink began to bleed into his skin.

When she appeared, stepping off the edge of the highest building with confidence and grace, he had to squint to make out her sleek silhouette. Even then, he could barely detect the slight line beneath her feet, the highwire splitting the sky.

In the letter, her words had been pleading and honest.

Nathan –

I write you requesting a specific favor. And in return, I offer you the perfect angle for a piece in your underground pub (I’m afraid it won’t be suitable for the mainstream edition). 

I’m sure you’ve heard of the most recent sanctions. They’ve moved beyond guns and liquor and cigarettes to recreational pursuits. Skydiving, long-distance running, skiing, rock climbing, hang gliding, bull riding – all sanctioned. And the list goes on; there are hundreds more.

They’re saying it’s to protect us, to keep us safe from these “high-risk” activities. Can you believe that? They’re hobbies, for Christ’s sake! But that’s the world we live in: a dictatorship under the guise of excessive mothering! 

As she began to make her way across the wire, a crowd formed on the sidewalks and street corners. For a moment, the busy world halted mid-sentence, mid-stride, mid-latte to wonder at this figure walking across the sky.

This isn’t about risk, Nathan. No, no, no. It’s never been about that. This is about stifling what drives us, what gives us purpose. This is about stomping out our embers of passion. This is about breaking us down. 

Soon, it’ll be painting and singing and writing. They’ll say they’ve linked creativity to brain cancer; they’ll offer data from their own studies to back the claims.

That’s why you started the underground paper, isn’t it, Nathan? Because they took away your editorials? No more opinions, just the facts, right?

Only minutes had passed before marshals from the Enforcement could be seen from the roofs of both buildings – the one she had stepped off of and the one she was destined for. They waited eagerly for her arrival, like predators who had chased their prey up a tree. But she seemed not to notice their presence, focused solely on her act and nothing more.

Of course, the skywalk was on the sanction list. Hell, the old-fashioned tightrope made the list! But I can’t give it up, Nathan. It’s all I’ve ever known. 

I’ve got a plan to prove them wrong. And I need you there. I need you to cover the story. 

Come to the meeting of Bristoff and West 1st – in front of the old stock exchange – the first Monday in April, 1:55 in the afternoon. You’ll know where to look for me.

Please bring your camera – and don’t be late.

Yours,

Aurelia 

Suspended halfway between the two high rises, her progress stopped. Motionless except the wind whipping her ponytail with violent ferocity, she raised her head first to the overcast sky. Then shifted her gaze to what waited below.

Nathan felt the sudden, overwhelming sensation of his lunch rising in his stomach. It had not occurred to him before that moment that she had no intention of making it across.

Unrolling the wrinkled letter once more, he saw something he had missed: a postscript scrawled across the back in faint pencil.

The most high-risk activity of them all is denying ourselves what we love. We simply cannot survive it.

We have to let them know. We have to let everyone know.

Nathan looked up only to see her fold her arms across her chest before letting herself fall backward, the triumphant finale to her last great act.

Grabbing the camera from around his neck, he waited for his shot as she fell from the sky.

 

playing the victim

“He left a voice mail,” I muttered, eyes locked on my cracked cell phone screen.

“He did what?” Izzie called, her head stuck inside the kitchen pantry. I waited until she re-emerged to respond.

“A voice mail. He left a voice mail on my phone. Last night.”

“Well,” she spun on her heels, thrusting a wooden spoon in my direction, “What did it say?”

My gaze shifted from her to the phone. “I . . . I don’t know,” I stammered.

“You don’t know?” she called back, her body returning toward the stove.

“Yeah,” I replied softly. “I don’t know. I haven’t listened to it.”

But Izzie was humming to herself now, reading the directions on the back of a box of whole wheat pasta, focused on the task at hand.

I sighed, turning my head from side to side, popping the tense muscles in my neck. It’s just a little voice mail. Fifty-eight seconds. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Maybe he called to say he made a mistake. That he can’t stop thinking about me. That he was a fool to let me go. Maybe he called to confess how I haunt his dreams. How he wakes every morning in agony, groping the sheets in search of a trace of me, to find my bones buried among the wrinkled cotton. Maybe he called to say how he has to breathe in my scent one more time. That he needs to wrap my hair around his fingers. Feel my hips press into his.

Fifty-eight seconds. Surely, he must just miss me.

I rose from the couch and moved to my room. Sat down slowly on the end of the bed, surrounded by all the shirts I tried on this morning, but didn’t wear. With my heartbeat rising to heavy strum, I pressed the play button. And held my breath.

His shallow breathing panted in my ear. “Claire? . . . Claire, I need to tell you something . . . I made a mistake today . . . I stole a purse . . . That sounds crazy, right? . . . It was just some random woman on the street. I saw her go into a building – carrying this yellow purse, and then I waited for her outside. When she came out, I grabbed it and ran. She chased after me, but I got away . . . I know. I know how this sounds. But Claire. I had to do it . . . I needed to know what it felt like. To take something that didn’t belong to me. To have no remorse. To run from something with complete abandon and never wonder what disaster I left in my wake . . . Don’t you see, Claire? Don’t you get it? You’re nothing more than a petty thief . . . And this time, I guess you got away.”

I stared blankly at the phone. Did I cause this? Did I do this to him? To me? All this time I pulled away, isolated myself, ignored his phone calls and texts. Created space so we could have a clean break. Sabotaged the good. Severed ties before I was too far gone.

I stood up and looked in the mirror and saw something poking from underneath the bed.  Whipping around, I threw myself on the ground to grab it.

A yellow purse. Deflated and worn. Nothing left inside.

Through the clarity of retrospect, the obvious conclusion surfaced: things don’t always turn out as planned.

vacancy

When she finally stirred, light poured through the cheap blinds, draping the scratchy comforter on the hotel bed in even stripes of sunshine. Her head throbbed as the room spun around her. The stench of cheap bourbon and cigarettes hung in the air and mingled with something sweeter – like day old perfume or the lingering scent of shampoo on a pillow. It might have been mid-afternoon, but the clock next to the bed blinked 12:00 and gave no clues to the time of day.

Rolling onto her back and covering her head with a pillow, she groaned as snapshots of the night flashed in her head. A speakeasy with a password. A bartender with a crooked smile. And the darkest eyes she’d ever seen.

Trying to free herself from the memory of it all, she sprung up from the bed. Dropping two unsteady legs onto the floor and leaning on the doorway to the adjacent bathroom for support. She stumbled in, not quite willing to let go of the wall.

A shower. A shower would make her feel better. She turned on the water and sat dazed on the cool toilet seat as steam began to rise toward the hum of the fluorescent lights.

The water stung, pounding her shoulders in uneven bursts, but she didn’t budge as her wet skin turned pink in the heat. She looked unconvinced at the frail bar of cheap hotel soap. Surely it was going to take something much more substantial to wash it all away.

A good intention. A bad idea. A hotel with a room. A heart with a vacancy. And do not disturb. Do not disturb. Do not disturb.

But it was far too late for all that. She was more disturbed than ever before.

She tried to remember that saying about forbidden fruit, as she was fairly certain it would apply, but her mind was clouded and slow. All she could think of were the shape of the lips that bit into hers last night. The feeling of the tongue that swam inside her mouth. That made her body throb and her mind race. That made her want to somehow surrender and escape at the same time.

Stepping out of the shower she wrapped herself in a thin towel and avoided her reflection in the foggy mirror. She began piecing together her outfit, discarded haphazardly around the room. A black pump. A lacy bra. A braided gold hoop earring.

She spotted her top, halfway draped over the nightstand. As she grabbed it, a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. Hesitantly, she bent down to retrieve it.

A receipt from the bar. With a note on the back in rushed red cursive.

We all make mistakes, love.

But please believe me when I tell you,

this is not one of them.

Jessica