He offers you twenty five and asks how long has it been, as if collecting data. As if he gets this all the time, a woman who walks straight to the counter and hands him the ring. A woman who doesn’t even look at the displays of watches and jewelry that other customers have left behind. There’s a tally mark for that, too, because sometimes there is a gap between the jingle of the bell at the shop door that tells him to get up from his desk in the tiny dark room at the back and the moment she gets up the nerve to approach the cash register.
In his line of work, he’s always measuring time, it’s second nature. Between procrastination and resolve. Timidity and regret. Anger and resignation.
Sometimes a woman just needs the cash. Ready with a lie if anyone who matters notices the shadow where the band used to be. Sometimes a woman just wants to get rid of it. Evidence of a mistake. Reminder of her lack of judgment. Those are the ones he asks, keeping his voice matter-of-fact, as if he has every right to know. As if she might tell him the truth.
It’s a vague question, really. Just like a horoscope. Different for each customer, but its meaning understood. How long has it been since the divorce, the death, the murder, the falling out of love.
Sometimes the woman keeps her fist closed until the very last moment. Sometimes she leaves the ring in her jacket pocket and pretends to be there for something else, asks for directions to the nearest laundromat. You’re not those women. You enter the shop with your hand outstretched, make your way to the counter. You look him in the eye. You raise your palm so he can see each delicately braided strand of gold.
He offers you twenty five. Whatever you expected, this is not it. You shake your head in disbelief. How long has it been? The bell jingles on your way out. Next to the bus stop is a conveniently located blue postal box, the distinctive USPS truck just pulling away. You open the flap as if mailing a postcard. You hear the ping of metal on metal when the wedding band hits bottom.
Nan Jackson is a retired mathematics professor who enjoys sharing her lifelong love of poetry with strangers. Her poem “Shiawassee Street Bridge” is engraved in the pavement along Lansing’s River Trail not far from the Michigan Capitol. Other poems have been more traditionally published, appearing in the anthology “Rumors, Secrets & Lies” (Anhinga Press, 2022), Tulip Tree Review, 3rd Wednesday Magazine, and the East Lansing Art Festival Poetry Journal. She also writes flash, memoir and creative nonfiction.