“So, let me get this straight,” the bearded old man said, adjusting his round spectacles and placing his palms on the cheap folding table that separated him from the customer. “You want to donate this gorgeous hunk of jewelry? And you don’t want any money if it sells? Well, I can guarantee that it’ll get snatched up as soon as I put it out with the other things.”
The customer, a tall, average-built 30-something, merely nodded. He wanted to explain everything to the old man, but it would have been too embarrassing to start bawling right there in the middle of all the bargain hunters.
The flea market volunteer hesitated and then slowly took the glistening ring from the young man’s outstretched palm. The customer sighed heavily as the small platinum band with the large inset diamond left his possession once and for all. Thoughts and memories flooded the young man’s mind: placing the ring on his new bride’s finger during the ceremony; the bouquets of Oriental lilies filling the chapel with their sweet, pleasing scent; Jennifer whispering “I love you” as they walked down the aisle toward the doors, anxious to begin their new stage of life together; and embracing his little boys every chance he got because they meant everything to him.
“Mister, you can probably get a few hundred for it at a pawn shop. You sure about leaving it here?”
Jim fought back tears. “It’s OK,” he said, waving his hand, barely able to choke out the words.
“Well, all right. That’s mighty kind of you. This’ll make someone’s day, that’s for sure,” the old man said, taking in Jim’s chiseled features. This poor guy is a wreck, he thought.
Turning back to the surplus items in boxes behind the sales tables, the old man didn’t hear Jim’s whispers: “Bye Tyler. Bye Garret. Love you, my buddies.” Jim sniffed and swiped at his nose. “Bye Jennifer.” With that, Jim turned around and weaved through various tables full of clothing and knick-knacks.
Looking back to see that Jim was out of sight, the old man turned to his wife, a round, cheerful lady. “Now, why would he do such a thing? I don’t get it.”
His wife smiled, the crow’s feet accentuating her squinted eyes. “Don’t worry about it, hon. Maybe you’re not supposed to ‘get it.’ Ever think of that? Go ahead and put it over in the ring display.”
The old man examined the exquisite platinum surface. A few scratches, but surely it wasn’t more than a decade old. Could have been a divorce. Then why didn’t he give me his ring as well? The old man became enveloped in his own thoughts. Everyone told him he dwelt on things too much; that it was a weakness of his.
Instead of placing the glistening treasure among the gaudy, rusted rings, the old man dropped it in his apron pocket instead. He wasn’t about to let just anyone have it for next to nothing.
By Sunday afternoon, most of the decent stuff, if you could call it that, had been snatched up. The tables in the sprawling yard of the community center contained only junk: watches that didn’t work; old, ratty clothing that no one would even pay 25 cents for; baby dolls with missing limbs; and so on.
About a third of the tables had been folded up and removed, leaving room for the children to run around while their occupied mothers milled about.
The old man set the newspaper on the chair beside his table and shook his head. He breathed heavily.
“What’s wrong, dear?” His wife glanced down to the folded paper showing a portion of the obituaries. The prominent photo showed a handsome, smiling man still in the prime of his life. “Didn’t I tell you to stop reading this section!”
The old man sighed. “That’s him. The guy who gave me his wife’s fancy wedding ring.” He shook his head again and wiped his eyes with a red handkerchief from his back pocket.
The woman picked up the paper. “James Michael Sherman.” She quickly scanned the few paragraphs under the photo and name. “Passed away Friday. Survived by his ex-wife Jennifer and two young sons.” She placed the paper on the table and covered her mouth, tears trickling down her face.
The old couple embraced, gently swaying back and forth.
“Um, excuse me.” The old couple let go of each other and looked behind them. A young guy dressed in a faded Polo shirt and shorts stood near the ring display. “Is this all that’s left?”
The old woman walked over to the man, forcing a smile. “I’m sorry, sir. They’ve been picked through all weekend,” she said, motioning toward the cheap remnants in the ring case.
The old man approached. “Looking for something in particular?”
The Polo guy smoothed his dark hair to the side. “Uh, I was hoping to find something for my fiancé. I don’t think she would go for these huge gaudy things, though.” He laughed.
“Have you tried the mall? Some of the jewelry places are having big sales, with the economy the way it is and all,” the old woman said.
The young guy laughed again, this time in embarrassment. “Speaking of the economy, I got laid off right after I proposed to her. Her folks are paying for the wedding, but I really wanted to give her something special. I guess that won’t be happening now,” he said, his eyes sinking to the ground.
“Wait here.” The old man turned and pretended to rummage through a box. Instead he pulled the platinum diamond ring from his apron pocket and turned back around. “Here it is! I knew it was in there somewhere.” He held up the shiny piece of craftsmanship.
“Whoa… How much do you want for it?” the young man exclaimed.
“Fifty dollars,” the old woman said softly.
“I’ll take it!”
After the Polo guy bought the ring and practically sprinted away, the old man reached for his wife’s hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back and put her head on his chest.