Black Petals Issue #94 Winter, 2021

The Opal Ring
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Mars-News, Views and Commentary-Chris Friend
Basement Dweller-Fiction by Justin Swartz
The Beating of Their Wings-Fiction by Brian Maycock
Does the Bogeyman Live Downstairs?-Fiction by Clive Owen Barry
Dark Little Boxes-Fiction by C. M. Barnes
Death by Midnight-Fiction by Charlie Cancel
Forearmed-Fiction by Jan Cronos
Inconceivable-Fiction by Rich Rose
The Wolf's Den-Fiction by J. B. Polk
Treachery-Fiction by Ramon F. Irizarri
Tumour Wakes Up-Fiction by Alexis Gkantiragas
The Opal Ring-Fiction by Michael Dority
Flora and Fauna-Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Gnaw-Flash Fiction by Tony Kidd
Mad Money-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Madonna of the Damned-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Special Teeth-Flash Fiction by KJ Hannah Greenberg
The Death Set-4 Poems by Hillary Lyon
Five Haiku-Poems by C. D. Marcum
Misanthrope-Poem by Donna Dallas
The Wish Tree-3 poems by Christopher Hivner
Nebulous-3 poems by Juan Manuel Perez
The Sphinx at Night-5 Poems by Meg Smith
Nameless-Poem by David Barber

94_bp_opalring_afknott.jpg
Art by A. F. Knott 2021

The Opal Ring

By Michael Dority

 

Prologue

 

          Some people worship science like a god. Personally, I don’t find it very useful in explaining why, as Shakespeare said, we suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. There’s more to it than a fear of the unknown (death). For me, the spice of life is not variety, or even meaning. It’s mystery—the inexplicable—that captivates me, keeps me going.

          The mystery in my life has always centered around a single beacon of incongruity: Stacey Dettwiler.

          How did we meet? Long ago, as children. I’ll tell you the story, if you like. I’ve got nothing else to do, lying in this hospice bed…waiting.

 

***

 

          When I was six years old, my parents moved to Illinois and I started first grade in a large public schoolhouse. It was close enough to home that my mother could drop me off before class and pick me up afterward.

          The school sat on a hill not too steep for elementary students to climb, but it was more accessible via a winding flight of stairs terminating at its wide, double-doored entrance. The structure was redbrick in construction and without air conditioning, as were many government buildings back in the sixties. Large windows in the classrooms opened onto the world by turning noisy cranks built into the sills.

          I met Stacey on my first day. She was bounding up the steps, straining against her mother’s grip. I wouldn’t have given her a second thought, if I hadn’t noticed her other hand. She clasped it in a tight fist and held it up to her face, squinting at her index finger. A silver ring crowned with an opal adorned it. “Don’t worry, little one.” she mumbled, “everything’s going to be all right.”

          Both our last names started with “Ds,” so we were seated next to each other in class. While the teacher was busy introducing herself, we chatted in whispers.

          “I’m Mike,” I said.

          “Stacey,” she replied. “How old are you?”

          “Six.”

          “I’m seven.” She glanced at her hand.

          “What’s with the ring?” I inquired, “I heard you talking to it outside.”

          She peered quizzically at me, as if assessing my ability to distinguish truth from fiction. “Oh, nothing really. Just a silly ring.”

          “Why did you tell it it would be all right?”

          “That’s the fairy in the stone. We help each other.”

          I eyed the ring suspiciously. “What does he look like,” I asked.

          “I don’t know,” she replied. “Like a flicker, a little shimmer. He’s a she.”

          “How do you help each other?”

          “Sometimes I tell her stories,” she offered.

          “What about you?”

          She peered curiously at me from blue eyes set like gemstones in a face rimmed by golden locks. “What do you mean?” she responded.

          “You tell her stories. What does she do for you?”

          She glanced away. “She protects me.”

          “From what?” I asked.

          Her eyes momentarily dilated, as if she’d been startled. Then I noticed the teacher had declared the class in session and was calling the roll.

          Class had begun. Books came out and the morning lessons began.

 

          Recess came right after lunch. Children swung from monkey bars, spun on push-go-rounds and chased each other, screaming, around the playground. A thin layer of humidity clung to the earth as the kids stirred it with their bodies. A wisp of heat played across Stacey’s feet as she swished them back and forth, perched on the school steps.

I lay sprawled across the stairs, digesting the franks and beans I’d had for lunch and idly watching her legs swing.

          “How was your meatloaf?” I asked, not noticing that she’d been distracted again by the ring. Her other hand was cupped around the stone as if to see it in a clearer light. She bent over it and whispered something I couldn’t hear. Then she jerked her head at me and her mouth pursed in a sign of distress.

          “What’s wrong, Stacey?” I asked. “What did you see in there?”

          She solemnly shook her head and stared at me. “I’m sorry it happens to you, Mike.”

          “What?” I chuckled. “I’m fine.”

           Abruptly, she stood up and ran into the school. The hem of her dress rustled behind her as she disappeared behind the double-doors.

          I sat up and thought for the first time—but not the last—that there was something odd about this girl.

Since we became acquainted that day many years ago, I never seriously thought about ending our friendship. Even though I couldn’t have explained what I meant by it back then, I considered it fate.

 

          When I got back to class, Stacey was already sitting at the desk beside mine. I thought to greet her, but couldn’t catch her eye.

          A boy in the third row, Rudy, headed for the bathroom. The teacher, Mrs. Carlson, cut him off. She directed him back to his seat.

          “In my class,” she intoned, “we must first ask to go before we get up. Raise your hand, son.”

          The boy raised his hand and started to speak.

          “No, not that way.” Mrs. Carlson corrected sharply, “Wait for me to call on you, then you may speak.”

          “Now Rudy, what can I do for you?”

          “Mrs. Carlson,” Rudy squawked, “can I go to the bathroom now?”

          Mrs. Carlson shushed a round of titters from the room.

          “Use good manners, boy. Say, ‘May I go to the bathroom, please?’” Mrs. Carlson admonished.

          “Yes, Ma’am,” squeaked Rudy, “May I go to the backroom, please Ma’am?”

          Mrs. Carlson nodded her head in approval. “Yes, Rudy. You may.”

          Rudy rushed to the bathroom amidst a sudden outburst of giggles.

          …Then I felt the first pang of discomfort. Not wishing to share in Rudy’s embarrassment, I ignored it. Besides, there was only one bathroom in the back of the classroom and Rudy was using it. I’d wait, or maybe it’d just go away.

          A couple of minutes later, another burst of displeasure washed over me as I quickly glanced at the bathroom door. Exasperated, I noticed it was shut. What was Rudy doing in there for so long?

          The pressure on my bladder increased as I crossed my legs against it. I almost cried out in relief as I saw Rudy return to his seat.

          I raised my hand.

          Mrs. Carlson was explaining the rules of subject-verb agreement to the class. “If the subject is singular,” she said “the verb must also be singular. Who can give me an example?”

          Mrs. Carlson turned to face us as several other hands joined mine in the air.

          “Yes, Rebecca,” she said, recognizing a girl three seats down. “Come up to the blackboard and write it down, please.”

          The fringe of Rebecca’s dress brushed against my arm in passing, and the dam broke. I whimpered as the warm wetness spread across my lap and seeped out onto the seat of my chair. When I glanced up, Stacey was staring at me with sympathetic eyes. She peered down at the ring and whispered, “Yes, I see now, Aja[1]. We’ll have to keep this one near.” I burst into tears, and everyone noticed me in my shame. Some of the other kids laughed; a few jeered.

          Mrs. Carlson’s face blanched. “Why didn’t you tell me you really needed to go?” she chided. She pointed a bony finger toward the back of the class. “Go to the bathroom! I’ll have to call your mother and have her bring a change of clothes.”

          What seemed like hours later, Mrs. Carlson cracked the door and thrust her arm through. I took the clean clothes out of her hand and she withdrew it instantly. The door clicked shut as I placed the pile of clothes on the sink.  

          With a rush of horror, I realized my predicament. How was I going to clean myself? I peeled off my soiled pants and shorts and tossed them into the trash can; there wasn’t anywhere else to put them. Using paper towels moistened in the sink, I tried my best to scrub off the urine. More paper towels followed in a feeble attempt to blot myself dry. I put on the fresh clothes my mother had dropped off at the front office but didn’t change my shirt. ‘It’s hardly even wet,’ I thought.

          Sitting on the toilet seat with my hands on my chin, I made a solemn promise: I would never again depend on anyone for help. Nothing and no one would force me to cry. Ever.

 

***

 

Epilogue

 

In the years that followed, what seemed like serendipity brought Stacey and I together when various life crises befell me.

The day after my father, in a schizophrenic fit of madness, chased my mother through the woods and choked her, I ran into her at Publix. I was seventeen then.

When I was 24, I was swindled in a business deal and went broke. Bankrupt, I was forced to move back home. The humiliation of the setback was almost unbearable. A week later, deeply depressed, I answered a knock at the door and Stacey was standing on the porch.

At age 52, when my wife left me and took my daughter with her, I saw Stacey again. I’d been seeing a counselor every two weeks to cope with the loss. I was driving down Sunset Boulevard in my Mustang convertible and thinking how easy it would be to hop the median and veer into oncoming traffic. My grief was palpable. I stopped at a red light, and she was standing on the corner, waiting. How can it be?

When my mother died of complications from dementia at 94, Stacey came to the funeral. How did she know? I hadn’t told her. She looked at the opal ring she still wore on her finger and then at me with tears welling in her eyes.

Through the years, though, I had faithfully kept my promise. My eyes were dry.

When the service was over, we went out for coffee. In the middle of small talk, she fell silent and rubbed her ring. “It’s true, you know,” she said. “The ring is magic.” Somehow, she’d realized it was the very question I’d always wanted to know the answer to, but was terrified to ask.

Now, I’m on my deathbed. The cancer is like a fire in my belly. There is nothing left to do but wait. Not just for my death, but for…what?

But surely you understand why I didn’t believe her story about the ring? Why I can’t believe her now? You do understand, don’t you?

Oh Jesus, am I crying?

Who is it?

Mother?

—Who’s with you?

          …Stacey? 


[1] The Yoruban demigod of healing



Michael W. Dority was born in Linton, Indiana in 1958, son of a Protestant minister and housewife, both survivors of the Great Depression. He moved to Florida at the age of nine and now resides in a suburb of Orlando. He obtained a degree in Computer Science and eventually chose technical writing as a vocation. Or did it choose him? He doesn’t know.

 

Mr. Dority wrote his first work of fiction when he was 10 years old and has sporadically dabbled in the genre of science fiction for the past 30 years.

 

His literary achievements include editing an anthology, a not inconsiderable feat he accomplished in 2018.

 

Mr. Dority has recently had the following stories accepted for publication in the indicated ezines:

  • “The Disposary,” Aphelion (December 2020 issue)

  • “The Opal Ring,” Black Petals (January 2021 issue)

  • “The Old Hipster,” Schlock (February 2020 issue)

  • “Heaven’s Black Top Hat,” Schlock (March 2020 issue)

 

His ambition is to one day write good poetry. (He insists all previous attempts at rhyme have ended in catastrophe.)

 

Mr. Dority is not particularly optimistic about his chances of realizing this literary goal.

 

 

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