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Mitchell Waldman’s fiction and poetry has appeared in numerous publications, such as Wind Magazine,
Moronic Ox Literary Journal, Five Fishes Journal, The HazMat Review, Innisfree, Poetpourri, The Advocate,
Mobius, The Parnassus Literary Journal, Desperate Act, Poetry Motel, Poetic Hours, Bold Print, Woven Worlds,
Long Story Short, Rochester Shorts
, and in the anthologies, "Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing
Witness to the Holocaust", and "Messages from the Universe". He is also the author of the novel, "A
Face in the Moon", and co-edited with his partner, Diana, the anthology "Wounds of War: Poets for
Peace".
http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com
The Ring


He lies naked beside me, clinging to the pillow beneath his head. The thin white sheet lays over him, covering only his lower
portions — his feet, ankles, thighs. I reach down to the curve of his bare buttocks, but stop myself from touching him, afraid
that I'll wake him up.

I look at his face. In sleep the lines seem harsher now, the boyishness is all but gone, making way for reality — the cloudy spots
of gray, the sharp curve of his nose, the hairs growing out of the inside of his ears, off the tip of his nose, the bags cutting
deeply beneath each eye.

I look at his finger where the ring had been. He'd begun reaching, nibbling at my neck like it was some kind of soft cheese,
moments after he'd arrived this morning. I'd pushed him away gently. I'd told him to stop. The feel of the gold had been too
cold, too hard. He hadn't gotten angry. He'd just stood back, startled, hurt. I'd violated our understanding. We weren't to talk
about it. But finally he'd shrugged and slipped it into the pocket of his corduroys. And instantly the shy smile had returned, and
then the reaching and the nibbling.

Now I watch him as he sleeps so soundly, peacefully, so unconcerned, so unaffected by it all. I get up out of bed. The wood is
cold under my feet and I hug myself to stay warm. I walk around to the bedpost where his jacket and his pants are hanging. I
reach into the pockets of the pants, searching for it, jiggling keys, coins, and then find it, picking it out on my thumb. It makes
me think of that nursery rhyme, the one where "he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum..." And I think, it's been a long,
long time since nursery rhymes.

I look at David, make sure he's still asleep. Then I toss it lightly, feeling the weight of the circle on my hand. I slip it onto my ring
finger, but of course it's much too big. Then I close my fist around it and walk two steps to the bureau. I'm opening the top
drawer when I look up to see this awkward figure, this gangly-limbed girl standing there naked in the mirror. I bat my lashes,
but for a second I don't recognize the face, it seems like someone else's. I try to read the face, to determine what it's feeling,
but I can't. It's too tentative, too confused.

I stick my hands in the drawer, reaching, groping. In a moment I've found what I've been looking for. I open the green hinged
jewelry box with its gold-embossed heart, pull out the earrings — opals he gave me last Christmas — and throw them into the
drawer along with the mess of dead letters and greeting cards I've abandoned there. Then I carefully place the ring in the box
and snap the lid shut. Next I walk three steps to the closet and find the awful blood-red scarf that my mother brought for me
from Paris, the one I've never worn. I wrap it tightly around the box, and then shove the whole thing into the back of the
bureau drawer, covering it with old mail. I push the drawer in and think that one of these days I ought to go through everything
in there, get rid of some of the clutter.

I walk back to the bed, light a cigarette and reach for the remote control. I switch on the TV, but keep the sound off. A game
show's on. A woman's jumping up and down and then the shot moves to the audience. The people are sitting there in neat
rows, smiling and clapping and nodding, and a picture of a new car starts flashing on the screen, and then the picture goes back
to the jumping woman, and then back to the smilers and nodders and clappers. I lie there, staring dully at the TV, thinking this
is not real, nothing is real. After a while I find myself studying the orangeish glow at the end of the cigarette, watching it burn
down slowly to my thumb and forefinger.

That's how I am when David wakes up. Lying there, not thinking about anything. Just feeling, I don't know, funny. He gets up
quickly, whistles, picks up his shirt from the floor, throws it over his back, buttons up all the buttons. I watch him dress and,
after a while, say, "Do you really have to go?" Like I'm supposed to, and he says, "Yes, I really do," like he's supposed to, and
it's all done, we've said our lines. He's not even looking at me, hasn't looked at me since he opened his eyes.

He's patting his hair into place, gazing into the mirror. He turns around then and says, "Do you think I look all right?"

"You look wonderful," I tell him, but only because it's what he wants, it's what he expects.

In the afternoon I wash dishes, I do laundry, running up and down basement stairs, folding blouses, jeans, socks, and
underwear, putting them all in their proper places. I start letters to friends but wind up tearing them up. They're so mundane.
My life's so mundane. Except for him.

In the afternoon I don't know how many times I find myself back in the bedroom, back in that drawer, reaching in and pulling
out that circle, tossing it gently in the air, feeling its weight, its substance. I put it against my lips, rub the cool metal surface
against them. Then I get scared, I see myself in the mirror, that image of me that I don't know. And with shaky hands I place
the ring back into the box, shut the lid, wrap and hide it away again.

In the evening I'm just taking the chicken out of the oven when David walks through the kitchen door unannounced, his face
red, the muscles of his neck taut like two cords of rope. I'm standing there with an oven mitt on, holding a hot pan and he
comes right up to me, six inches from me and stops, holding his fist in his hand. He's breathing fast and I can smell the
bourbon on his breath. "Where is it?" He asks.

And I say, "Where is what, David?" He calms down a little then, mumbles something about losing his mind and walks into the
living room. I put the hot pan down, pull the mitt off, and follow after him. He's already down on his hands and knees, running
his hands through the shag carpeting. After each brush he looks at his hand. Then he reaches up, rips the cushions off the
couch and throws them onto the floor.

I get indignant. I say, "You can't just barge in here any time you like and start tearing up the place. It is my apartment, you
know." He doesn't answer me. He just runs his fingertips along the inside edges of the couch. "David," I say softly, "what's
going on?" I go up to him, try to put my arms around him, but his body stiffens, so I let go. He just stands there, staring at me
like some sort of madman, saying, "You don't understand, I've lost it. I've lost my ring." I'm not sympathetic.

"You did," I say. "Well, can't it wait? I was just about to have dinner."

"It's okay," he says. "You go ahead. You don't have to help... it's my concern." For a moment I feel like taking David by the
hand and leading him to the bureau, where his precious ring is. But I don't. I can only think of her.

I step back into the kitchen, take a chicken leg out of the pan and place it on a plate. Then I sit down, pick up the leg and bite
into it.

"You're welcome to have some, David!" I shout out between bites.

"Already ate!" He yells back. I close my eyes and try to picture what their meals are like. But I can't. All I can see is David sitting
alone at a bare wooden table, staring at his hands.

I take my time, eating slowly, chewing carefully, counting my bites. When I finish I slide the bare bones off my plate into the
trash beneath the sink, wipe my mouth clean, and look to see where he's gotten to.

I find him in the bedroom. He doesn't look good. His eyes seem wet, like he's about to start blubbering. And his hair is sticking
out in all different directions. He's pulled the sheets off the bed and they're lying in a crumpled pile on the floor. He lifts the
mattress and looks underneath it.

"I really don't see how it could have gotten under there, David," I say.

He looks at me with those wild eyes burning. "Think, think," he says, slamming his fist into his palm. "Where did you see it last?"
I think about the two of us cozy in bed together this morning, about feeling close to him for an instant, a moment. And I stare
at the pile of wrinkled sheets and then this man that I don't really know. I wonder if he looks anything like my father, if there's
really anything to that.

"I've got it!" He says, snapping his fingers. "It was in my pants pocket. You made me take it off." He looks around, then points
to the bed post. "They were hanging there, right there." A regular Perry Mason. He stoops down by the bedpost and feels
around on the floor, at last reaching under the bed.

I walk over to the nightstand, pick up my cigarettes, my matches, and my Niagara Falls ashtray. Then I sit down at the very
edge of the bed. I set the ashtray on my knee and light a cigarette. Suddenly I'm very cold. I say, "I think maybe I'm coming
down with something." David doesn't hear me, even though he's staring right at me.

"You did tell me to take it off, didn't you?" I'm looking at his corduroy pants and his corduroy jacket with the patches and
thinking how much I hate him.

He repeats himself, louder this time. "You did tell me to take it off, didn't you?"

"I don't know. I guess so."

"You haven't by any chance seen it, have you?"

I look at him now and think, I hate the sound of his voice, his smile, his smell. I hate his world that I'm not a part of. I speak
slowly: "Why would I have seen it? You said you put it in your pocket, didn't you? A grown man and you can't even keep track
of what's in your own pockets." I put my cigarette out, stamping it down to nothing in the ashes. I leave the ashtray on the
bare mattress and walk to the bathroom slowly, counting my steps. I close the door, grab for the tissue, and place it under my
eyes, waiting. But no tears come.

When I come back out he's looking on top of the bureau, setting aside my jewelry, displacing and carelessly replacing the
bottles of perfume.

I don't know why I say it, but I do: "Which is more important to you, David, me or that ring?"

He starts, turns around, and looks at me bewildered, his eyes shining oddly.

"You mean you know where it is?" I don't say anything. I flick some cigarette ash into the ashtray. "What, are you crazy or
something? What does one thing have to do with the other? It's only a ring, the ring, dammit, the ring I'm after!"

"Yes, the ring. You have your choice," I tell him. "What'll it be, David? The ring or me?"

He doesn't know what to say. He whispers my name softly, but I don't fall for it. He wants both, he says, is that so hard to
comprehend?

"You can't have both," I tell him.

"Why, for God's sake, why? It's only a goddamned ring we're talking about here. Come on. Be serious." He steps over toward
me, stands right in front of me. "Marcie, I don't understand. What's happened? What's come over you?" He touches me then,
just a touch on the arm, but I lose my head, I become unraveled and start slapping him in the face with both hands as hard as I
can, one after the other. He's stumbling backwards, yelping like an injured dog. I follow him out of the bedroom, through the
living room, and into the kitchen, my arms still flying. I stop only when he's out the door, and he's standing there on the
sidewalk, rubbing his nose with one hand and pointing at me with the other, saying, "Don't do this, Marcie, don't do this." A
drop of blood trickles down from his nose onto his white shirt. He wipes the nose with the back of his hand, stares at the streak
of blood on it and in a loud whisper says, "You stupid girl."

I close the door, leaving him out there.

About half an hour later I'm peering out from behind the curtains, half-expecting him to still be there. But he's not. There are
only the leaves which have fallen in his place.

When it gets dark I drive out to the mall. I drive into sparse clouds of fog that appear before the headlights but vanish when I
get to the spot where they seemed to be.

Inside the mall I walk past a man who looks like David, walking with his wife and pushing a stroller. His wife's right there but he
smiles at me anyway. I shudder and look away quickly, thinking of David's touch.

I walk into a jewelry store. A boy of about my age comes up behind the circular counter and smiles. He puts his hands on the
glass counter top. He has nice hands, the skin smooth like a baby's.

"Can I help you with something?" He asks.

"Yes," I say, "I have something I'd like to sell." I reach into my purse, shuffle through the tissues and lipsticks and scraps of
paper and pens, afraid for a second that it's not there, that I've lost it. Then my hand falls on it and I place it on the counter.
We both stand there staring down at it for a moment, not saying anything. But then, as he reaches for the box, I grab it back
and tell him I'm sorry, I've made a mistake, it's something I want to keep for a while. I put the box back into my purse and he
smiles and I tell him again that I'm sorry, I really am.

Driving home the fog has grown thicker. It's become a pillow that wraps around the car, that blocks all sight, that smothers my
breath. I have to drive very carefully, crawling behind where I think I see red taillights ahead.

When I get home the first thing I do is take the package out of my purse. I unwrap the bloody scarf, open the box and set it on
the table. Then I go to the refrigerator, reach in for a leftover leg of chicken. I pull out the milk carton, pour myself a cold glass
of milk. I drink it too fast. It hurts my teeth. I sit down at the table, stare at the ring, think of David, of her. I wonder what
they're doing right now, if they're warm and cozy in bed, if they're making love. I stare at the ring and I bite down hard on the
chicken leg, all the way down to the bone.

When I finish, I carefully wipe the grease from my lips, from my hands, and pick up the ring, take it out of its box. I walk
through the arch of the kitchen doorway, through the living room where David crouches, running his fingers along the inside of
the couch, into the bedroom, where he kneels, running his hands along the bare wood floor under the bed, into the bathroom,
where he does not come, he does not follow. I stand there over the toilet with clenched fist, contemplating the water. I feel
weak now, but loosen my grip. The ring falls from my opened hand, entering the water with barely a sound, disturbing the
water's surface for just a moment before floating down to the bottom of the bowl. Suddenly I feel dizzy, I feel the fog outside
coming back, appearing first as scattered dots of light which flash before my eyes, but then growing, the dots multiplying,
overlapping until all I can see is white light. I can barely see the water, the ring, the bottom. I feel myself falling but hold on,
steadying myself with one hand against the wall next to the toilet. Then I close my eyes, thinking of the soft white hands of the
boy at the jewelry store, and I reach down in my blindness, feeling with my other hand for the stainless steel lever. I find it, take
a deep breath, and flush.
Mitchell Waldman
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