Twice already she’d shaken the sheets and dirty laundry and ruled out the plated shower drain. She’d even looked in her car, but she knew it had to be in the house. The last time she saw it on her finger was the night before, when she was tying up her hair in front of the mirror before bed. She’d spent the day alternately crying on the floor and then pulling herself back together to tear the house apart.
It spun on her finger; they hadn’t had it sized yet. He bought an 8, she was a 6.5—this didn’t surprise her, he always overestimated her size. This morning when he returned from surfing they had sex the way he liked, with the blinds open—after all, he’d finally proposed—and after he’d left for work, she’d showered. That was when she saw that her hand was bare.
He bought an 8, she was a 6.5—this didn’t surprise her, he always overestimated her size.
She got up at least once a night to use the bathroom. This irritated him; he was a light sleeper. He wouldn’t allow her to drink liquids after 7:00, would even dump out her bedside glass of water if he caught her with one. Last night she’d had to pee anyway. It was entirely possible that the ring had slipped off as she’d reached, half-asleep, to flush.
She wasn’t ready to admit this.
+ + +
It was 5:30. He’d be home in an hour. She gathered her mother’s recipe and ingredients: ground beef, egg, ketchup, garlic, onion, and herbed breadcrumbs. She had just worked up the nerve to tell her mother that they’d gotten engaged in Napa last month; how would she now explain that the wedding was off?
Fifteen minutes later, the meatloaf bubbled with a juicy scent. She washed the cutting board and glass mixing bowl. She would call Roto-Rooter tomorrow, get an estimate, hope Ray didn’t notice her hand tonight. As she dried the bowl, it slipped from her hands and smashed onto the ceramic tile floor.
The vacuum had no suction. Fucking Ray. He’d used up the bag getting sand out of her Sentra, his surf-mobile. God forbid his Audi get sand in it. In her haste she ripped the bag by the edge while lifting it out of the canister. The dust that puffed out was like mushroom spores, and it spat out something solid. It jingled. Her heart leapt with hope.
The dust that puffed out was like mushroom spores, and it spat out something solid. It jingled.
The piece of jewelry she found was a stainless-steel bar the size and arc of a fingernail clipping. A ball bearing at each end held dangling charms of hot-pink cubic zirconia XOs and the initial B. She she’d seen this jewelry before on the pierced bellies of baristas, of girls in the mall, of Tony Soprano’s strippers.
She dipped her pinky into the silken gray dust and examined it. She once read that domestic dust contained billions of human skin cells, pollen, dust mites, and mite feces. After ten years, the weight of a mattress doubled due to the accumulation of these things. The fact that people could live so obliviously amazed her—little pieces of themselves falling off and floating away, or being trapped in beds indefinitely.
When she moved in with Ray, she insisted they replace his bachelor mattress. She said it was bad for her back. But when the delivery guys carried the old mattress to the truck, she saw the weight of Ray’s other lovers in their biceps and shoulders. They shakily walked it up the ramp and heaved it onto a stack of other old mattresses, other old problems. The new mattress, she had convinced herself, would prove lighter.
+ + +
She changed now into white linen shorts and a black tank top, and put the barista jewelry piece on his bedside table. It would be in the way of his water glass tonight. This was her out. When he found the jewelry, she would tell him that she was leaving. Just like those women scorned in movies, setting fire to things and not apologizing. In the past there had been no physical evidence—but now, it seemed like it had found her.
Her packed bags were in her car, the keys in the ignition. She was steeped with adrenaline.
+ + +
She was pouring their wine when he walked in. He brought flowers—lilies, which she always thought smelled like pee after a day or two. She and her naked hand stood behind the counter. He asked how her day was, told her he had a surprise for her, and handed her a ring box.
She’d heard that a woman always knows when a man is cheating. He will bring flowers, he will not be able to get it up anymore, he will suddenly grow a goatee or begin worrying about his abs. But what she knew now was that he had found her ring and put it back in that box. When she opened it, he would swing up, catch her in the chin with the fist that clenched the flowers, ask her when she had planned on telling him it was gone. There would be orange pollen dust on her chin.
He will bring flowers, he will not be able to get it up anymore, he will suddenly grow a goatee or begin worrying about his abs.
She braced herself and opened the box. The fiery solitaire looked happy, nestled back in its velvet slit.
“You left it on the bedside table this morning, before you got in the shower,” he said, laughing. “I thought you must be shitting yourself all day, looking for it. I kept expecting you to call me, freaking out.”
She gripped her wine glass. The lilies were still in his hand, their bright, dust-covered anthers teetering. “You’re a real bastard, honey,” she said, shaking her head as if he’d really gotten her with his clever joke.
He laughed and laughed. “Oh, you should see your face!” he said.
She sipped the wine, letting it pool on the part of her tongue that was not responsible for forming words. It was cabernet, from a case they had bought in Napa. Its aroma—a dense, ripe blackberry—now seemed to have aged into something peculiar and smoky. She thought of the mattress upstairs, of the microscopic pieces of herself that she could not get back. She thought of all that wine still left in the case. It would take a long time for them to get to the end of it.
Jennifer Genest grew up riding horses and playing in the woods of Sanford, a mill town in Southern Maine where her family still owns a concrete company. Her story, Ways to Prepare White Perch, won the New Delta Review Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Short Fiction in 2014, and was selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 (very) Short Fictions. Her novel manuscript, The Mending Wall, is currently seeking publication.
Illustrated by Caytlin Kuszewski.