A sign at an intersection:
One Wedding Ring
Last Seen at the May 14th Car Crash at This intersection
He wasn’t a good husband. He wasn’t good in bed. He wasn’t ever home on time. He wasn’t a good cook. He wasn’t a drunk, but at the same time, he drank a lot. He wasn’t verbally abusive, but he wasn’t kind. He wasn’t a good husband.
Despite all of that, Lisa still had loved him. Even on that last day, after she had watched him put a fresh set of holes in the kitchen wall with his fists, even then she had still loved him. She loved him in his rage and fury at what she had told him just then about her and her boss. She had loved him as he grabbed his jacket as he stormed out the door, and even though he wasn’t a good husband, and barely a good person, she still couldn’t help but feel a pang of remorse as she lit a menthol cigarette, and watched him stomp down their driveway towards his truck.
He wasn’t a passionate person, her husband, and the most blood he’d pumped into their marriage, were the few drops that were now smeared across the punched in plaster holes in Lisa’s kitchen walls.
Still, he could have hit her, thought Lisa as she took a long drag of her cigarette, her exhale hanging like gun smoke in the aftermath of a firefight. But he never did, and he never had.
That, something as simple as that, she thought, as she heard his truck squeal out of the driveway, was why she had loved him.
Lisa stood there and tried to feel bad.
The pick-up truck blew a red light and slammed into the minivan like a warhead slams into one of those ISIS bunkers that Rick had been seeing on the news so much recently. Rick didn’t know if the car crash happened in slow motion for the people who were inside the vehicles, but it had seemed to happen in slow motion for him. He watched the truck seemingly float past the stop lines into the forbidden territory of the interior of the intersection. He didn’t remember hearing breaks squeal, or tires chirping on the pavement with any kind of desire to stop. He saw the driver of the minivan turn his head to face the oncoming truck, the look on his face a jovial smile, as if a song that he liked had just come on the radio. Then there was the impact, the side of the minivan folding into itself like the center a diner napkin being filled with drops of water. The minivan driver’s body crumpled slowly like he was changing positions in a contemporary dance routine; shards of glass bouncingly lazily across his flesh, sending soft fountain sprays of blood spiraling out into the interior of his vehicle.
As the truck collided with the van, the rear end of it slowly lifted itself off the ground, sending the contents of the truck bed into the air like children on trampolines in nostalgic home movies. He saw the symphonic flight of empty beer cans, a shovel, a half full bottle of what appeared to be cheap vodka. From his vantage point on the sidewalk, Rich saw the face of the truck driver in the moment before the crash; a visage twisted into rage and fury, the kind of look that said hurt had been wrought on this person, and it had been wrought deep. His view of the man’s face was obstructed quickly though, as the driver calmly lifted his hands off of the steering wheel to guard his face, before his body was gently pulled from it’s place behind the driver’s seat, and lifted through the front windshield. The visage of tortured hurt that Rick observed was suddenly broken, with divisions of ripped and lacerated flesh appearing like cracks on the surface of an icy lake.
That’s when the slow motion ended, and Rick’s reality resumed it’s normal, almost too quick for comfort pace. The truck driver’s body exploded through the windshield of his truck, his left arm catching the breaking glass at just the right angle to sever it at the forearm and fling it towards Rick’s feet, where it slapped to a stop into the pavement, where blood spurted briefly from the arteries inside it. The rest of the driver’s body came to a crippling sudden stop against the minivan he had hit, his head and body twisted at sickening angle and crammed through the driver’s side window of the minivan. The minivan spun out from impact and careened into a mailbox that sat on the sidewalk.
Finally, almost after the fact, the sound of the accident seemed to detonate in Rick’s ears like chucked hand grenades. Rick all at once heard the exploding glass, the crunch and shattering of the side of the minivan, and the hard, wet, slap of the truck driver’s arm hitting the ground in front of him. He still didn’t remember hearing any breaks.
Rick looked down at the severed arm on the ground in front of him. It took up all of his thinking, and he no longer even comprehended, or acknowledged the accident in the intersection across from him. The arm looked so real, because it was real, and it looked so alive, because a few moments ago, it had been alive. Rick kneeled down to take a closer look at it, to soak in more details about this new, strange, blood addition to his active consciousness.
The knuckles on the hand were bruised, and discoloured, and Rick noticed that the knuckles on the hand were hairier than his own knuckles. Where the hand meets the wrist, the word, “whiskey” had been tattooed in dark black ink, in a script that seemed almost childlike. The last thing Rick observed about the hand was it’s fingers; the nails of each finger and the thumb were well cut, and the cuticles appeared groomed. On the ring finger was a tungsten wedding band. Rick knew it was a tungsten wedding band, because his old wedding band, which now lived in a change dish on the top of his fridge, had been tungsten as well.
Rick reached out tenderly toward the hand, barely aware of the screaming of sirens coming from some far off city street, headed toward the accident scene. His fingers touched the fingers of the truck driver’s fingers, and he almost withdrew them when he felt the warmth that was still contained within them. He drew his fingers across the back of the hand, up and over the tattoos, taking in the feeling of the quickly cooling skin, and not thinking all the while about how strange it was to be doing it. The path of his fingers returned again to the digits, and then finally, to the wedding band on the ring finger. With relative ease, he quickly slid the ring off of the finger, and tucked it into his overcoat pocket. He wasn’t thinking about the driver’s wife, he wasn’t thinking about whether the driver was still alive or not, all Rick could think about, in the aftermath of seeing the accident, and seeing a severed arm slap onto the ground near his feet, was that the wedding band on this hand looked a lot like his old one.
With this ring in the pocket of his overcoat, Rick wandered away down the street toward his apartment, as the sound of sirens got closer.
Lisa hadn’t posted the ad right away. In actuality, she hadn’t even thought about her husband’s missing wedding band until her mother had brought it up during one of her now twice-a-day phone calls that Lisa mumbled through, and endured though the strength provided by chain smoking and gin.
“What about Dale’s wedding ring? Did you get it back from the police or the paramedics or whoever?” she had asked, and right then was the first that Lisa had thought about it. That moment with the wall phone in the kitchen pressed up to her ear, a menthol cigarette between her fingers, and her cheeks as dry as bone fields; as they had been for days.
“How are you holding up hon? The shock of it all. He was so good to you too, a good man,” said her mother later on in the conversation. Lisa couldn’t respond with the truth, that she felt nothing, and had since she had found out that her husband had died. So she unloaded canned answers to placate her mother’s notions of what her grief should sound and feel like.
When Rick got back to his apartment, he closed the door behind him, locked it, and then walked over to his kitchen table. He pulled the ring out of his pocket and placed it on the table. He stared at it, and a feeling of wonder crept through him, almost as if he had completely forgotten how the ring had ended up sitting on his kitchen table. He tried to remember more details of the accident, but any thoughts about the whole thing seemed drenched in impenetrable haze.
Rick stared at the ring, and one or twice brought his hand up to run his fingers around it. He then walked over to his fridge and took the change bowl he kept on top of it down and put it on the table beside the ring. He fished through the dimes, nickels, and quarters of the dish till he managed to find his old wedding ring. He pulled it out and laid it in comparison beside the ring from the accident. His finger was smaller, although his wedding ring seemed to have taken more abuse, and showed more signs of time passed, although whether that was from his time wearing it, or from it have spare change dropped on it for the better part of four years was unknown. Rick picked up his ring and thought for a second about slipping it back onto his finger, but thought better of it, and instead dropped his old wedding band back into the change dish, replaced the dish to its place on the top of the fridge, and then walked over the mini-bar to make himself a double Tanqueray gin and ice.
Through an open window somewhere in the apartment, Rick heard the sirens again. He wondered to himself what they were for. For a split second, a moment of clarity gripped him, and he was forced to pause midway through a large slug of his drink and come to terms with the events of the last few hours.
He had stolen a dead man’s wedding ring. He knew nothing about the man who had died in the crash, he hadn’t stuck around to see if the man had even survived the crash, he hadn’t stopped to tell emergency responders that the person in the truck was married and that maybe somebody who cared about him was worried about him and his safety. All he had cared about was taking off that wedding ring and putting it in his pocket. He was a thief, and cursed with whatever the short circuit in his brain was that allowed him to take a wedding band off an accident victim’s severed arm.
Who the fuck does something like that? Rick thought to himself, and as he did, he felt a slow bead of cold sweat form on the side of his head and make it’s way down his face. He finished his drink in one deep gulp, the ice cubes slamming into his teeth with the force at which he tipped his glass.
Rick walked briskly over to the stolen wedding ring on the table, picked it up, walked over to his desk by the window, pulled open the side drawer and dropped the ring in, it landed with a slight spin onto the top page of some legal paperwork.
As he closed the drawer, Rick noticed that a small brushstroke of blood had appeared on the paper below the ring. He tried not to think about it, and went and made himself another drink.
Outside it had started to rain, and Rick turned and watched out the window.
Two people called Lisa about the ring before Rick did, and neither of them had her husband’s wedding band. Lisa wondered to herself how many wedding rings could have possible been located at that particular intersection, and came to the conclusion that both of the people that had called her were either desperately lonely. If there was another reason for them calling for no reason, it was probably something sick, and she didn’t want to think about it. Both calls had ended when the person on the other end asked her how she was holding up, and when they did she hung up on them as quickly as would on someone selling vacuum replacement parts.
There had been a hundred other calls not about the ring though, all of them from her old boss. Sometimes she would listen to 30 seconds of his pleas, and his panted desires to “talk it over,” before she hung up. Other times she’d let him talk himself out of breath, saying nothing in reply and just listening to him vomit a sickening heap of apologies and desires for the two of them to, “work through this tragedy.”
Eventually, he’d give up and hang up.
A week later, as soon as she felt her thoughts moving on from the ring, and instead on to trips to the liquor store or whether or not she ate that day, Rick called.
She didn’t say hello when she finally picked up the phone after 10 rings. She wasn’t in the mood to listen to her boss anymore, and with her thoughts about the ring slowly moving on from her daily routine, there wasn’t much reason for her to answer the phone. Even her mother had given up calling her recently, and during their last conversation, Lisa had told her to not bother calling her anymore, as she would call her instead, as the ringing of the phone bothered her grieving process.
Miraculously, her mother had bought that.
“Hello?” asked Rick quizzically.
She didn’t recognize the voice on the other end, but that wasn’t enough to make her answer right away.
“Hello?” asked Rick again, this time drawing out the “o” on the end, as everyone does when their first hello to a strange number isn’t answered.
“Why are you calling?” blurted out Lisa. She hadn’t meant it to come off so forceful, but the phrases got away from her as they left her mouth, tinged with more aggression than she had wanted.
There was a pause on the other end. Lisa could hear music in the background, but she either couldn’t make out the song, or didn’t know it well enough to know what it was.
“I’m calling about the missing wedding ring,” said Rick.
“Have you found it?”
“I think so. It matches the description you mentioned.”
“Where did you find it?”
Rick stammered his way through to an answer, not really arriving on a concrete one till he managed to conjure up the response, “I found it in a gutter near the crash scene after everything was cleaned up.”
“Did you see the crash?”
“No,” he lied.
“When did you find the ring then?”
“ When I was out walking later that evening,” he lied again.
Lisa thought for a moment, unhappy that this ring that she had almost stopped caring about had now only found it’s way back into her thinking, but now also required action. She didn’t know what to do next. A part of her wanted to tell whoever this person was on the other end of the line to throw the ring in the trash, or pawn it, or do whatever the fuck he wanted to do with it, and yet another part of her told her that as bad as her husband was, he didn’t deserve that finally indignity to his side of this symbol of their marriage.
“Is there a place I can meet you to get the ring? I can’t give you any money for it,” said Lisa.
“That’s fine. I don’t want any money for it.”
They exchanged names, and agreed to meet at some local coffee shop later that day.
Rick got there early. He ordered a black coffee and sat at a corner table and waited. He had told Lisa he would be wearing a brown overcoat, but in his haste to leave his apartment with the ring, he had mistakenly put on a gray one. He had hoped that the coffee shop would be empty enough that he could discern who Lisa was when she walked in, and lucky for him, there were only two other people in the whole place; quietly sitting across the shop reading chemistry textbooks and drinking steeped tea.
Ten minutes later, a woman walked in, walked to the till and ordered, “whatever’s cheap,” and then scanned the shop with a look that said she was looking for someone. Rick watched her eyes pan over the shop, and got up to go and talk to her. She had to be Lisa.
He got up form his tabled and walked over to her with his hand extended outwards.
She turned around and looked him up and down.
“I thought you said you were going to be wearing a brown coat.”
“I fucked up while leaving the house. Sorry. Want to come sit?”
She nodded yes, and he led her back to his corner table.
Rick took a sip of his coffee and then reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring. He placed it down on the table gentle, as if he would have broken it if he had dropped it. Lisa, her hands under the table in her lap, made no move to pick it up. She just stared at it.
Rick took another sip of his coffee and burned his tongue. He could feel the silence in the air like it was slowly crushing his head in a vice grip. He felt that he should say something, but all of his thoughts fell apart like wet paper. He was never good at comforting people dealing with loss, and he vividly remembered a time a co-worked had told him their grandmother had died. His stammered phrases of condolences had all sounded like bad sitcom dialogue, and he had no desire to revisit that whole situation. So he took sips of his coffee, spun the mug, fondled the grip, and watched Lisa look at her dead husband’s wedding band.
She finally picked up the ring, and held it between her thumb and index finger like it like it was a spider she’d found in the kitchen and was gingerly bringing towards an open window because she couldn’t bring herself to kill it. She dropped it into her purse with zero ceremony, and heard it clatter off some loose change and her keys.
Lisa wanted to get up and leave. But as she stared into the spinning abyss that was her latte, she couldn’t find the strength to stand up. It was if seeing her husband’s wedding ring had sapped all of her energy and cattle prodded her, leaving her nerves friend, and her muscles crippled. So she stared into her latte.
Rick finally managed to find the courage to say, “sorry for your loss.”
Lisa said nothing, and the two of them sat in a silence so weighted, awkward and painful, that anyone who walked into the coffee shop had their eyes drawn to them.
“How old was your husband?” asked Rick, thinking to himself that if he didn’t say something else there was a danger that this situation could somehow become more awful, or that Lisa would just get up and walk away, and Rick didn’t want Lisa to walk away. Not because she was an attractive woman, she was, but because Rick had a sense that he needed to try and talk to her, that she needed someone to talk to, and she just hadn’t found the right person yet to unload on.
The voice of his feminist sister exploded in his head with phrases of, “the last thing she needs as a woman, is the opinion of you, a man, on her grief.” But Rick banished them, and waited to see if his question could penetrate whatever it was that had seemingly paralyzed Lisa.
“He was 47. He is, or was, three years older than me.”
“What did he do for a living?”
“He was an electrician.”
“What was his name?”
“That sounds like a name for an electrician.”
Lisa didn’t smile. But she thought about it. She stopped staring into her coffee and looked up to meet Rick’s eyes for the first time since she had sat down. They were brown. They had a kindness in them. They also had something else that she couldn’t place; a sadness? She thought to herself that his face looked old, and tired; warped and scratched like a record that had been left in the sun and played too many times. His stare reeked of trust below it’s surface, like an ocean you knew to contain no monsters.
“How old are you Rick?”
“Rick, I was cheating on my husband.”
Rick took a sip of his coffee, a reflex response for when he had no answers to a question.
Lisa kept talking, and like Rick had assumed, it all came roaring out.
“I was cheating on my husband with my boss, and I told him on the day that he died. After I had finished telling him, my husband punched some holes in the wall of our kitchen and left, and that was the last time I saw him. Now that’s he’s dead, I keep waiting to feel bad about it, like it’s all going to come crashing down on my head that everything happened because of me, and that it’s my fault that he’s dead. But that hasn’t happened Rick, and I don’t think it’s going to happen, and the more I think about it, the more I think to myself that even though I told myself every single day that I loved my husband, the more I think to myself that that was always a lie. Because if it was true, if I had loved him, then wouldn’t I feel bad by now?”
Rick sipped his coffee, Lisa continued,
“I don’t want to look at his wedding ring. I don’t want to look at it because it stares back at me and asks question that I don’t have answers to, or if I do have the answers, they make me feel like my soul is full of cockroaches, or that I wasted all my life with a man I never really did love, even though I kept telling myself that it was so, like some kind of fucked up mantra. I don’t know why I ever asked for his ring back, and when I think about it, all I want to do is throw it into the fucking ocean.”
She finished speaking and dropped her head into her hands. She didn’t cry. Even then she still couldn’t cry. But she felt something; lightness, and it was the first thing she had felt in weeks.
“Then let’s go do that,” said Rick.
“Throw it into the fucking ocean.”
They drove to the breakwater in Rick’s car. It was a cloudy day, and halfway there it had started to rain. The radio played an old Springsteen tune about sins and water, and Rick thought it was fitting for their errand, but didn’t turn the radio up.
They pulled into the parking lot, got out, and walked down the steps to where the sand and rocks met the waves. The wind had picked up, and water smacked the rocks as if daring them to come closer.
A wave curled in and soaked their shoes, but neither of them moved. Lisa looked into the vast expanse of the ocean, and felt a kindred spirit of uncaring. The waves and the water did nothing but what they had always did, and they were unceasing in their lack of worry.
Lisa smiled, reached into her pocket for Dale’s wedding ring, pulled it out, and tossed it into the water.
Rick did the same with his own wedding band, which he had brought along.
The ocean washed away rings, mistakes, feelings of guilt, and everything else.