The old man held my left hand, briefly, then set it palm-down on a worn piece of plastic the size and shape of a fist and a shade of blue-green associated with futurism forty years ago. Underneath the plastic fist was a metal tray.
In the man’s hand appeared a small tool with a plastic handle the same blue-green and a circular blade with tiny teeth. Holding the tool with his right hand and resting his left hand on my wrist, the man pressed the blade on the ring, hard enough to make the ring dig into my finger, and began to run the blade carefully back and forth on the narrow surface.
He worked for a minute or two. He said, The blade is dull. I am sorry.
He had a strong Polish accent and a wonderfully full head of white hair, like the actor John Marley.
An older woman—the man’s wife, I assumed—attended to a customer nearby.
He worked steadily. I thought I saw a tiny groove forming, but I may have been imagining that. He pressed harder, making my finger hurt.
I am sorry, he said. The blade is dull. I must sharpen it.
Time passed in the way that time passes when responsibility has shifted from your hands to the hands of a professional. There is a sense of loss, but also a peace and lightness that come from being temporarily relieved of options, of the need to make decisions. A tiny amount of gold dust began to form on the ring. It slid onto the tray without touching my finger. The man removed his hand from my wrist, and I missed it immediately.
I said, I saw on the internet about using dental floss, slipping it under the ring and twisting it around your finger. Your finger turns purple, but then you pull on the dental floss and the ring comes off. I saw a video. I tried it, and my finger turned purple, but the ring stayed on.
The man paused and looked up. Oh, no, he said. Your finger should not be purple.
His correctness was instantly apparent. What had seemed so logical on the internet now seemed ludicrous when confronted with the firmness of his reason.
He returned to sawing. He asked if it hurt. Although it did hurt, I told him no, recognizing that no matter what I replied, I had no options.
The blade looked very old.
The amount of dust grew, but only slightly. I could not see a groove, but it might have been obscured by the dust. The ring was very narrow.
I felt I had to speak, but did not know what to say. I heard myself say this: Thirty-five years.
He stopped working and looked up at me suspiciously. His left hand returned to my wrist. He asked, How old are you?
I told him.
No, he said. He called to his wife. How old do you think he is?
She looked away from her customer and studied me grimly. After a moment, she stated my age accurately.
No, he said, not in disagreement, but in surprise.
She said, I look at the skin, the neck.
She returned to her customer.
He continued to saw, digging the ring harder into my finger. His wife spoke to the customer, a young man in a black suit.
In one motion, the man stopped sawing, released his pressure, and removed the ring. I was not aware of the actual removal; the ring was on and then it was off.
He set the ring on a scale that I had not noticed previously. My lack of awareness of my surroundings has been a subject of good-natured kidding in my workplaces over the years. Once I inherited an office with a huge, tacky, and rather ominous poster of a lion on the wall behind me. Why do you keep that poster? a co-worker asked. I said that I didn’t like it, but didn’t notice it and didn’t want to go to the trouble of figuring out what to do with it. My co-worker pulled the poster from the wall, pulling off some paint, and carried it out of the room. At my next job, a coworker hung on my bare office walls a picture of Uncle Sam, finger extended, with the caption, I want YOU to decorate your office. But two years later, the walls were still bare, except for her sign.
The man removed the ring from the scale, wrote on a small piece of paper, punched the keys of a well-worn calculator, and said, Fifty.
I nodded, and he dropped the ring through a slot into a square metal box that I also had not noticed previously.
With my thumb, I rubbed the underside of my finger on the spot where the ring had been. On the top of my finger, I could feel the ache of where he had pressed down on the ring. I did not rub this spot, not wanting the man to know he had hurt me.
The man stood, pulled a roll of bills from his pocket, counted off two from the outer portion and one from within, and handed them to me.
I thanked him, turned, and thanked his wife.
I wanted to shake the man’s hand, but somehow we weren’t positioned correctly.
Light pushed in from the windows that surrounded us. As I turned to leave, I could feel the business of the store resuming, no longer involving me.
ROBERT FROMBERG‘s fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, Bellingham Review, Tennessee Quarterly, and other magazines, and a short book, Blue Skies, was issued by Floating Island Publications. He taught writing at Northwestern University. This story is the second written after a 20-year break. He edits a website called Imperfect Fiction.
CHRISTOPHER DAVIS is a visual artist who grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. As a Sophomore in high school, he began to paint and draw every day. His math teacher referred to him as “Crayon Boy.” The painting “Trees and Fingers” was produced in high school. He was admitted into the Maryland Institute College of Art with the highest awards offered, including MICA’s Presidential Scholarship. While in college, he majored in painting, minored in general fine arts, and experimented with many different art disciplines. He now lives in Chicago. He states: “I have a fascination with functional art. With painting, I tend to focus on color, composition, perspective, iconic imagery, and emotion like ecstasy and joy, and fear and greed. I am obsessed with the freedom of abstract expressionism. While I was in high school, my art was very psychedelic, and throughout college I was interested in the unconscious, or what the darkness beneath the surface might be portrayed as–possibly looking like intuitive biomorphic images, faces and patterns and subliminal imagery. In 2015, I made a series of paintings that seemed blocky, like a juxtaposition of rectangular colors. This year I made a series of paintings focusing on exterior images of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.”