The Opal Ring
By Michael Dority
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.
mystery in my life has always centered around a single beacon of incongruity:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Mike,” I said.
she replied. “How old are you?”
seven.” She glanced at her hand.
with the ring?” I inquired, “I heard you talking to it outside.”
peered quizzically at me, as if assessing my ability to distinguish truth from fiction.
“Oh, nothing really. Just a silly ring.”
did you tell it it would be all right?”
the fairy in the stone. We help each other.”
eyed the ring suspiciously. “What does he look like,” I asked.
don’t know,” she replied. “Like a flicker, a little shimmer. He’s a she.”
do you help each other?”
I tell her stories,” she offered.
peered curiously at me from blue eyes set like gemstones in a face rimmed by
golden locks. “What do you mean?” she responded.
tell her stories. What does she do for you?”
glanced away. “She protects me.”
what?” I asked.
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.
had begun. Books came out and the morning lessons began.
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.
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.
wrong, Stacey?” I asked. “What did you see in there?”
solemnly shook her head and stared at me. “I’m sorry it happens to you, Mike.”
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
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.
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.
boy in the third row, Rudy, headed for the bathroom. The teacher, Mrs. Carlson,
cut him off. She directed him back to his seat.
my class,” she intoned, “we must first ask to go before we get up. Raise your
boy raised his hand and started to speak.
not that way.” Mrs. Carlson corrected sharply, “Wait for me to call on you,
then you may speak.”
Rudy, what can I do for you?”
Carlson,” Rudy squawked, “can I go to the bathroom now?”
Carlson shushed a round of titters from the room.
good manners, boy. Say, ‘May I go to the bathroom, please?’” Mrs. Carlson
Ma’am,” squeaked Rudy, “May I go to the backroom, please Ma’am?”
Carlson nodded her head in approval. “Yes, Rudy. You may.”
rushed to the bathroom amidst a sudden outburst of giggles.
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.
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?
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.
raised my hand.
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?”
Carlson turned to face us as several other hands joined mine in the air.
Rebecca,” she said, recognizing a girl three seats down. “Come up to the
blackboard and write it down, please.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
In the years
followed, what seemed like serendipity brought Stacey and I together when
various life crises befell me.
The day after
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,
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
At age 52, when
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.
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
Oh Jesus, am
Who is it?
 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
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
Mr. Dority is not
particularly optimistic about his chances of realizing this literary goal.