the edges of things

one of the highlights of my recent literary life, was to find that one of my short (short) stories placed in the top 25 for the “very short fiction award” in glimmer train  – one of my all-time favorite literary journals…the “veru short fiction” contest, as dictated by glimmer train, is for any piece of fiction 3,000 words and under. i like this length…it forces you to really focus on your meaning and choose your words very carefully…

this piece means a lot to me, so i’m sharing it with you…it’s called “the edges of things.” i hope you like it…

The Edges of Things by Katie M. Zeigler (copyright katie zeigler 2010)

My father’s wedding ring could usually be found on the edges of things. Bathroom sinks. Kitchen counters.  A thin gold band teetering on the rim of furniture. At first, he said it was because it got in the way – impeding his progress with a lawn mower; feeling cumbersome while his fingers gripped the wheel of his Nash Rambler on his rides about town. He would say that it felt “constricting.” And that word made me think of a boa constrictor. And I imagined my father’s wedding ring swallowing him up.

My father’s wedding ring was masculine and simple. Thin and round.  It was yellow gold, and large enough to wrap around his thick fingers. But only when he was wearing it.

Some nights, I would find his wedding ring on the edge of the bathtub as I sat and soaked in the bubbles. Just sitting there, either burrowed deep in the white soapy residue in the corner or placed just so on the shampoo cap.  I used to put two slippery fingers through the hole and hold it up to the overhead light. I liked the way his ring looked on my fingers and I’d pretend I was married to a gentle man who’d sit on the toilet while I took my bath and kiss the top of my head. And this ring that held two fingers would be the symbol of our endurance and I would never take it off.

Mr. and Mrs. Rutledge, the neighbors next door, insisted that my father should just take it off altogether and I heard them say so at the end of the church meeting in our living room. Reverend Paulsen and his wife Irene concurred on one occasion, but only because they thought no one was listening.  

“Too much time has passed,” Reverend Paulsen said, in that Christian voice, muted to a whisper in case God doesn’t agree. “He ought to find some new happiness in his life.”

“It’s time to move on,” said Mrs. Rutledge, her fingers playing with the ladybug brooch on her blouse. “We all think so.”

And I wondered if my father left his ring behind as a test run, to see if he could survive without it. And then, at the last moment, like he was trying to hold his breath under water, he would rise to the surface to breathe.

Mama always said she wanted to live by the ocean. She and I used to sit outside on our green and white patio furniture on warm summer evenings with our eyes closed. “Think of the ocean, Rosie,” Mama would say. “We’re two mermaid ladies on the ocean.” And I’d scrunch by eyes closed and dream of silvery fins and a fancy pink shell bra. Mama would have made a beautiful mermaid lady – her red hair coiled up in a comb made of a clamshell. And I would have been just a smaller version of her. Me and my mermaid mama.

From what I’ve read about them, mermaids are interesting creatures. Mostly, because they don’t need men. Sure, they woo them from the waves and make them crash into rocky crags, but for the most part they have very little contact with daddies and brothers and sons. And I wondered if this had something to do with why Mama left. If the lure of the ocean and the promise of a shipwrecked sailor were what called to her the night she left. I was just a wee one then and I just remember my daddy listening very quietly to an Elvis recording. I don’t recall now what song he was listening to, I just remember that it was sweet and sad and Daddy sat with his head in his hands.

It was strange that my father never lost his wedding ring. He would assume it was gone at times, but would not accept that fate with any sense of panic or distress. Rather, my father became accustomed to the possibility of its loss. “It’ll come around again,” he’d say, as if his ring were a disobedient child who wanted to run away with a knapsack full of cookies, but only got as far away as the corner and couldn’t wait to come home. “Just you wait,” he’d say, daring that ring to remain as lost as we felt without Mama.


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