by Alicia Tai
You fiddle with your new engagement ring, feeling it hang loosely on your fourth finger. It would probably fall on the ground if you didn’t grip it so hard. You slide your gaze through the white and blue gemstones, the world shattering within it. You breathe deeply, the scent of chemical coconut shampoo filling your lungs, and you put your book down.
“I’ve been thinking...” Your voice feels muted by the thick caramel walls and the blue blankets covering the bed.
He’s been at his desktop for 6 hours already, his thin frame hunched over and typing up another assignment. His face is mere inches from the LCD screen although you tell him every night that it will ruin his eyes.
“I said,” you choose your words carefully, “I’ve been thinking recently.” “About what?”
“The ring…” You pause, staring at the fantasy posters tacked on the wall, a knight slaying a dragon. “It’s a beautiful ring.”
“I’m glad you like it, babe,” he absentmindedly murmurs. “You said that your favourite crystal was sapphire, right?” You look up. Little upside-down mountains dot the ceiling like baby stalactites, threatening to fall and pierce the two of you.
His right leg keeps bouncing up and down. His nervous tic. It makes you nervous too. “It’s a bit big, really.”
“I mean, I love the diamonds and the sapphires. I love it… It’s just… A bit big.” “What do you mean?” He turns his head around, looking at you through his big bubble glasses, magnifying his bulging brown eyes like a goldfish. You want to tap on the glass and see if he’ll retreat to his plastic castle.
“I mean... It slips off the fingers sometimes, and I’m afraid that I might lose it when I walk.” You pick a piece of beige cotton off of the ring. “Sometimes it catches on my clothing.” You wonder if it’s too big for him too. You try to look, but they’re busy typing again.
“Is that all you have to say? I need to work. I’ll finish soon. Sorry.” You inhale, twisting your ring so hard it cuts into your other fingers. They feel like they’re bleeding, but it’s probably nothing more than a minor scratch. Maybe it didn’t even make a mark. It feels like it did, though, so you preoccupy yourself with untangling the knots in your bleached blonde hair.
“What’s the story about?” There’s another moment of silence. It’s thick and ugly and contorts itself into every little crevice in the tiny room until you can’t see anything but its tendrils, and you start to suffocate. Finally, he places both his hands down on the desk and pushes himself backwards, spinning around on his chair.
“What’s going on baby? Why are you asking?”
“Nothing. I just want to talk.”
“Okay?” You open your mouth, but find that you can’t speak. There’s a lump in your throat you can’t swallow, so instead you just sit there.
You recall the days when you two would stay up making forts every night, watching movies until 5am in the morning, when you would promptly fall asleep on his shoulders while he stuffed popcorn in his mouth. In the afternoon, you would wake up to him asleep on your shoulders, but you wouldn’t move because you were afraid he’d wake up, and all you could smell was the coconut shampoo that you bought him on sale, half off. It wafted to you like a breeze, and with the sun streaming through the windows and the birds chirping, you could almost forget the calculus test that neither of you had studied for, but planned to study for way back, when the night was still young, the day before. When did it change? After graduation?
“Hello? What do you have to say? Can you talk?” His brows are furrowed, his interest waning. He’s waiting for you to say something. You need to say something. But you can’t. All you can do is stare at him, with his soft features and his messy hair and the dark circles under his eyes.
No. Even after you graduated, there were still days like that. Less, of course, since both of you were knee-deep in school work. You, furiously scribbling the notes to your new song, your family berating you for simply following your dream. Him, passionately telling you the new plot to his three part story that you knew would be discarded at the end of the next month. But it didn’t matter. None of it did. He loved you. That was enough.
He brought you into his world of stories, painting the sun when it was raining, teleporting you to the beach during the wintertime. He was gone, most days, tucked away in his mind. But at least he brought you with him.
You don’t know where he is anymore. He’s lost in another dream. Is he ever going to come back?
Something moves in your field of vision, and you realize he’s turned around again. He’s back working at his computer. Tears swarm and fill your vision. You really can’t remember the last time you two talked. For the past six hours, you had been sitting on his bed, flipping through a book you brought just in case he went on another one of his writing binges, the room silent.
Maybe it was a joke. Maybe he had something surprising planned for later. You had hoped, all through the first hour, then the second, then the third. It took you three more hours to sum up the courage to say something.
“What day is it today?” You ask him, keeping your voice steady while wiping your eyes quietly. You see him mouse over the date, and respond.
“April 15th.” He switches the tab back again, and begins reading an article. He doesn't give the question a second thought. You nod. He doesn’t need to respond. He’s forgotten.
You bite your lip. A part of you wants to scream, to throw your book at the ground and demand his attention. The other part of you wants to break down and cry, and wonder where it all went wrong, lament about the past and curse at fate. But you do neither. You keep your emotions close to you, as you always do. You look down.
The ring sits idly on your finger, fracturing the computer’s dull glow to all corners of the dimly lit room. Why doesn’t he speak? Why can’t he turn around and talk to you? Why does he keep typing his endless stories when the most important one’s about to end? His eyes are glued to the screen. You realize that you’re standing up, so you take a seat on his bed. Your body acts without thinking, and your mind follows after.
“You can have it back.” The ring falls off your finger. You realize something. You don’t want to fidget with it anymore. You don’t want it catching on your clothing. You don’t want to constantly have to worry about it slipping off. You don’t want something that doesn’t even want
to stay on. “You can keep it.” He doesn’t look up. You start walking, and then you remember something. “And my favourite gemstone is aquamarine.”
When you reach the doorframe you hesitate for a split second, and turn to look at him. His back is still turned to you, nothing’s being written anymore. Is he trembling? You take a step back, but then you see his fingers. They’re completely bare. His leg is bouncing up and down again, and you exhale.
As you push past his door, your fingers instinctively reach for the ring, but it’s not there. You look down. You were right. They didn’t cut deep at all. There isn’t even a mark.
I wrote this piece because of a university assignment that pushed me above what I normally write about. To begin my process, I wrote the dialogue to this piece emphasizing on what was unsaid rather than said, the underlying thoughts of the characters. After the dialogue, I transferred it to a piece of short fiction, around 1,300 words, and made it into something that I would have never imagined writing about. I tried to incorporate a lot of symbolism and nuances throughout the piece, which required more thought and planning that I usually give my pieces. I revised this piece maybe 4 times before I finally decided on this one and, although it may still have room for improvement, I am quite proud of what I wrote.