Thursday, April 8, 2010

Henry's Box

This short-short story is based on the following prompt: Seated to your left at a coffee shop, he takes out a cigar box and pulls out jewelry, piece by piece. You strain to hear the conversation taking place.

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Henry’s Box
by Margo Kelly

Henry, my lover and companion of seventy-eight years, sat to my left on the tattered red vinyl bench of the coffee shop booth. He reached into his satchel and pulled out an old cigar box. Odd, since he never smoked. I peered into his crystal clear blue eyes and glanced again at the box. His knobby knuckled hands rested on top. He said something.

“What? I can’t hear you,” I said.

Henry turned toward me. “You didn’t wear your hearing aids, did you?” Henry always boasted that while he was two years older than me, he could still hear better and see better. A prideful man. But still a pleasure to look at after all these years.

“What?” I asked, but I heard him this time. I leaned closer and placed my own arthritic hands on the diner’s table. My nails were brittle, but I kept them trimmed and manicured. No rings would fit over my large knuckles anymore, and age spots decorated the skin where jewels no longer rested.

Henry opened the box lid to reveal black velvet boxes with gold trim nested inside. He mumbled again. I looked at him, and he stared at me. A tear ran down his cheek and then another.

“What’s a matter with you?” I asked.

Henry placed his hand on mine and said loudly, “This is important.”

“Go ahead,” I said and focused on his lips.

Henry opened the smallest black box and held it out to me. A large marquee cut diamond engagement ring sat inside along with a wedding band embellished with smaller diamonds. I looked back at Henry determined to hear his words but unable to focus on his lips due to my own tears.

“Rings I should’ve offered to you eight decades ago. I bought them for you all those years ago.” Henry’s hands trembled as he set the open box in front of me. I struggled to catch my breath. Henry reached for the next box. He opened it. Inside was a sapphire bracelet.

“I bought this for what should’ve been our twenty-fifth anniversary.” Henry continued to pull out boxes and identify them as gifts for the milestones of our lives: birthdays, anniversaries, births of children, grandchildren, and so on.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m saying sorry.”

I understood. He couldn’t have given me these markers of love any sooner. I wouldn’t have accepted them. But with the death of his wife last year, Henry was now available.

“Will you marry me?” Henry asked and held up the engagement ring.

Tears ran down both our faces as I said yes. He kissed the knuckle which refused to allow the ring a home. He returned the ring back to the box and said, “We’ll have it resized.”

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