(Okay, so I’m kind of cheating because I didn’t write this story today, but I did write it in about 15 minutes the other night! Let me know what you think—Rona)
Copyright 2010 by Rona Fernandez (All rights reserved)
In the first blush of morning, when the sky was just turning pink, Horace found the ring. It was laying on the edge of the sidewalk, glinting and gold, as he walked home from the bar where he’d taken to spending his late nights and his early mornings, the only twenty-four hour bar in town, and the one where Maria had met him the night before, only to leave before he’d gotten around to a second round of drinks.
The ring was plain, unadorned. He squatted down to pick it up, the dirty flecked gray of the concrete showing off the ring’s dull shine. It felt cold between his fingers, as if it had been there for a long time. He looked at it for a moment, saw that it was a man’s ring from its thickness, the circumference of it, and slipped it into his pocket. It looked real, and it was perfectly nondescript. Horace had no idea whether the ring fit him, and he didn’t care.
By the time he got home the pink of the sky had turned baby-blue, and he knew his wife would be waking up soon. She had stopped yelling at him when he came home in the morning, reeking of alcohol, cigarettes and another women’s stale perfume.
“I have better things to do than worry about your sorry ass,” she’d said to him just the day before, and the words had been like music to his ears.
“Just a couple more weeks,” he’d told her, his lips settlng somewhere between a grin and a sneer. “Then you’ll never have to worry about me again.” Her curt nod and upturned bottom lip were enough to tell him that there would be no problem with signing divorce papers. It would be a relief to them both.
When he came into the apartment, she was humming to herself in the kitchen, and he could smell coffee. He thought about going in there and pouring himself a cup, but knew better. Most likely, she’d only made enough for herself, and there was no point in tussling over something that didn’t really matter now. Instead, Horace snuck past the kitchen while his wife’s back was turned, stepped into his den, and locked the door behind him. Not that his wife cared what he did, but he didn’t want to take any chances now. He dialed Maria’s phone number and fingered the gold ring in his jacket pocket.
It’s going to happen, he thought. This ring’s gotta be worth at least a hundred bucks at the pawnshop—enough for two one-way bus tickets to the City and away from this place. Thinking this, Horace couldn’t help but smile, a genuine smile, and he felt a welcome warmth spread throughout his chest, feeling the way the sun felt on his skin, only inside.
The phone rang and rang, and Horace remembered that Maria hated being woken up early in the morning. She’d gotten angry with him the night before at the bar over some trivial thing—his eyes lingering for a moment too long on the shapely buttocks of another woman—and she’d left without even kissing him good-bye. But that was the way things were with them—there’d been plenty of times when she’d flirted with another man in front of him, or even given another man her phone number, and except for the time that Horace had been drunk enough to actually get into a fight with the guy, this had not been such a huge problem.
We’ll leave tomorrow, maybe even today, and I’ll call my boss from the road, Horace thought, and his smile grew wider. The ring seemed to grow warm under his fondling fingers. The phone rang and rang. It was Maria’s landline, because he knew that she wouldn’t answer her cell phone this time of day—he was the only one, besides her mother, that had this mother, and she knew that if it rang this time of day it had to be one of them. The two people, Horace said, that matter most to her in her whole life. He felt the ring inadvertently slip onto his left ring finger.
The receiver clicked on the other line, picked up.
“Hello?” Horace’s breath caught. This wasn’t Maria. It was a man.
“Hello?” he managed to say, his throat tightening like a vise. “Is Maria there?” he prayed that he’d dialed the wrong number—mistaken a 2 for a 5 in his excitement, or a 9 for a 6.
“Um, she’s in the shower,” the man said, his voice deep, masculine and powerful. The voice made Horace imagine a man with huge muscles knotting his arms and legs the size of tree trunks. “Who’s this?” The edge in the man’s voice sent a jolt through Horace’s spine.
He hung up, and couldn’t help but shiver a little, out of fear or anger or disgust, he wasn’t sure. Then Horace sat down on his desk chair and took the gold ring out of his pocket. He put it on the desk blotter. He noticed that it seemed less shiny now, and showed three tiny chips on one side, undoubtedly where someone had knocked it against something equally hard—steel, most likely, or even some kind of stone. It must’ve been too dark, he thought, to notice the spots earlier.
Then he heard a knock on his office door.
“Horace, are you in there?” It was his wife, her voice all nasal and no softness, the voice he’d tired of years ago. Horace put the ring back in his pocket, got up, and walked slowly to the door to unlock it.