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Band Of Gold

by Estêvão Sousa

There was a loud and deliberate knocking at the door. Martha checked that her robe was securely shut and got up from the kitchen table to answer it. Two men in uniform stood on the front porch with solemn demeanors. Martha was a very beautiful woman, the kind seen in magazines. The two men noticed right away, and their facial expressions showed it.

 

“Mrs. Ryne Vandermere?” said the taller one.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m Johansen and this is Wagner,” said the second man pointing to the first. “May we come in?”

 

“Please, come in. Sit down.” 

 

 The two men removed their hats and made their way to the kitchen table. Wagner, the tall one, sat down immediately as if it were his only job. Johansen stood over the table and waited.

 

“What is this all about? Ryne has been away. It must be three weeks now. Security detail in Philadelphia, an armory or warehouse or something, he never talked about it much. I spoke to him yesterday. Not a very dangerous assignment. I wish he’d come home.” Martha said and sat down.

 

“There is no easy way to have this discussion Mrs. Vandermere,” said Johansen. The dog began to bark loudly from the next room.

 

“Jack,” said Martha and the dog ceded. 

 

“Your husband, Ryne, was manning a military warehouse outside of Philadelphia. There was a fire last night. The fire was intense,” said Johansen. Wagner just sat silently and nodded his head 

 

“He didn’t make it," Martha said as a matter of fact. 

 

“No, he didn’t. I’m sorry. We offer our sincere condolences. He was a good man and a great soldier.”

 

Martha motioned for the short man to stop talking and she began to cry. 

 

“There is one more matter.”       

 

Martha collected herself and nodded. 

 

“We are here to deliver his final remains.”   

 

Martha looked confused and Wagner shifted his seat uncomfortably. Johansen reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small cloth bag. “As I said before, the fire was intense. The only thing that was found among the debris, at this time, was a gold ring. It is assumed to be a wedding band. He was the only man on site and if you can identify the ring then we can close the matter fully.”

 

Johansen handed Martha the small cloth bag. She opened the bag and looked at the contents.“It’s his ring. This is all that’s left?”  

 

Both men nodded and began to stand up. Wagner headed for the door. Johansen aimlessly extended his hand towards Martha but realized she was unresponsive to the gesture and slowly followed Wagner to the door. Johansen stopped in the open doorway and turned around. “He will be missed, ma’am.” And both men departed.   

 

Martha sat at the kitchen table and imagined that Ryne would walk through the front door that afternoon just as he was scheduled. She hoped it was all a bad dream, an errant thought, a worst fear realized in her imagination. She looked longingly at the ring and placed it on the side table in the next room. If the wedding band was out of sight, she might realize Johansen and Wagner were more blot of mustard or crumb of cheese than men with grave news. Nightmares caused by undigested food. She would wake up from her afternoon nap and meet Ryne with a smile and a hug and live happily ever after, as they had always planned. She would tell Ryne about her awfully vivid nightmare of two men with terrible news and a solemn delivery. They would laugh about it and he would assure her he would never leave her widowed.   

 

Martha snapped out of her trance-like state at the kitchen table and walked into the next room. Maybe she was right, and it was all a dream, she thought. The ring was gone and the side table bare. Jack, the dog, suddenly dropped the ring from his mouth with a cling and a clank on the hard floor, shattering the delusion. “Jack, no.” Martha said. And the dog scooped the ring up with his tongue and seemingly swallowed it. She ran over and checked his mouth, but the ring was gone. All that was left of her marriage was now inside the dog. She laughed and cried. She felt absurd and sad. The happenings of the morning felt so surreal to her that she wondered if she had gone crazy.

 

Hours later when the feeling subsided and reality set in, Martha decided to load Jack into the car and take him to the vet. “It will pass,” said the vet.

 

“It will pass?”

 

“Yes. Within the week, it will traverse the dog’s digestive system and it will pass right through.

 

“A week?” said Martha. “Will he be alright?”

 

“Yes. Jack will be fine.” The vet smiled the way car salesmen do. “It will pass”

 

“I need the ring”

 

“Check his stool for a week, you will find it. It will pass.”

 

“What if I don’t find it?”

 

“It will pass. If you look diligently, you will find it.”

 

“Within the week?”

 

“Yes. It will pass. If it doesn’t pass in a week, you will have a dead dog.”

 

“What do I do then? I need that ring.”

 

“It will pass, and you will find it. If you look. Diligently.”

 

“But if the dog dies, in a week. What then?” 

 

“You would need to have the ring cut out of the dog.”

 

“So, I come back, and you surgically remove the ring?”

 

“We don’t do that here. Not on dead dogs.”

 

“Can you remove it from a living dog?”

 

“Martha. It will pass. Jack will be fine. If you diligently inspect his stool, you will find the ring.”

 

Martha huffed and smiled and took the dog by the leash and left the office. On the way to the parking lot, Jack veered towards a small patch of grass and squatted. He had a movement. Martha laughed and marched the dog back into the office. She asked the nurse manning the front desk for a pair of medical gloves and returned to the scene of the release. Martha knelt down and apprehensively pressed on the dog feces with the tip of her gloved index finger until all the rounded spots were flat. Flat enough to guarantee no ring was hidden. She was relieved it was over but dreaded having to check the next one. She loaded Jack, the dog, into the car and drove home.

 

***

Every day she went through Jack’s fecal matter looking for the ring and every day she came up short, as it were. By the time the week was nearing its end, she stopped using gloves and was not squeamish about handling Jack’s excrement. It felt natural to her now. No ring materialized and Martha began worrying she missed it early-on when she was apprehensive. That night, she slept. She woke to the sound of Ryne walking through the front door and embracing her. Martha wept and Ryne gained possession of her like he never left. It was a dream. A waking nightmare. A reminder of what can never be. When she realized it had all been her imagination, she walked to the kitchen tripping over Jack on the way to the sink. The dog was dead. Martha fell to the floor and wept anew.

 

Martha carried the dead dog into the vet's office and demanded that she speak to the vet immediately.

 

"He-he's at lunch," said the woman at the front desk. She looked at the dog and blocked her nose upon smelling it. "Wait here just a moment," she said and walked out of the room. "He will see you now. Take the dog with you."

 

Martha walked into the back and dropped Jack onto the table where the vet was standing. "It didn't pass," said Martha.

 

"I'm sorry for your loss."

 

"I need that ring and it did not pass."

 

"We can't cut open a dead dog on the off chance something might be there. You will have to let it go."

 

"He was alive when I brought him in last week and now I need that ring cut out of him. I will let it go when I have the ring."

 

"I can't. And even if I could, I won't. Just isn't right." The vet put his hand to his face and grimaced. "You ought to bury him or at least put him on ice before that stench gets any stronger."

 

"I won't. I won't until I get my wedding band back."

 

"I'm sure your husband will buy a new one."

 

"He won't." Martha began to cry. "He's dead too."

 

The vet sighed long and heavy. "Hold on a moment." The vet walked into the next room and returned with a pen and writing pad. "This guy may be able to help you. He lives three hours north and you will have to go to him, but he handles things like this on occasion."

 

"Thank you," said Martha.

 

The vet ripped the paper off the pad and handed it to her.
 "Get some ice."

 

***

The air conditioning of Martha’s car was cranked up as high as it goes, and her windows were all rolled down. The floor of the passenger seat was filled with bags of slowly melting ice. Jack was perched, lopsided, on top of the mound of ice. “You know you were supposed to be practice, ” Martha said to the dead dog in the passenger seat floor-well. “We’ll get a dog and name it Jack and see how it goes, Ryne would tell me. I always wanted kids, but he would also say how they were dream-killers.” Martha scoffed and kept on driving. “Not if your dream is to have a family. A dog ain’t no family.”

 

Martha toggled between laughing and crying and before long she was wearing her shirt collar up over her nose to dampen the smell. “I thought you stunk when you were alive.” The ice was melting significantly and the passenger seat floor turned into more of a pool than a cooler. Jack’s face looked almost as if it were melting. The features flattened. “Why couldn’t you leave well enough alone. Every turn you had to make things difficult. Ryne only wanted a dog to keep me company while he went away more often than he was home. That isn’t love. That is a diversion.” Gas released from one of the dog’s orifices and made a sound that resembled a response in agreement. Martha laughed. “Exactly Jack. Exactly. Now you’re getting it. Who does he think he is? Leaving for weeks at a time and wanting me to mourn his death. Absurd. You have my back. You’re on my side.” Martha imagined Jack agreed with her. “I always knew I could count on you. Ryne was unreliable, couldn’t even make it home, but you were always there for me.”

 

Martha was lost. She began hour five of a three hour drive by trying to recalibrate her sense of direction. “Where did I go wrong Jack?” Jack didn’t answer. “Was it when we turned south on fifty-five? Or was it the last intersection?” Jack responded the way dead dogs always do, by being still and silent. “You’re right, Jackie. We should stop at a motel for the night. Great idea.”

 

Martha carried the dead dog into the motel room and placed him in the bathtub and went to get ice. She was exhausted by the time the bathtub was full. The stench had subsided and she decided to keep the bathroom door open overnight. “In the morning, Jackie, we will find Mr. Sewall’s farm and get that ring out of you.” Martha said as she lay down in bed. “Good night, Jackie-boy.” And she smiled.

 

That night, she had the same dream she would have most nights. She was in her own bed and Ryne walked through the front door and asked if he could love her. To which she replied, “you can’t. You’re dead.” every time, and then she awoke. It was three in the morning and she decided to get Jack loaded and hit the road. Going back to sleep was too frightening and by the time they found their way the sun would be firmly in the sky.

 

“There it is. Sewall Farm. Jack this is it.” They pulled down a long dirt farm road that led to a series of barns and silos. Varying degrees of aged old pickup trucks littered the way that led to the front door of the main house. An old man answered the door before Martha could climb the porch stairs and knock.

 

“How can I help you, Miss?” said the old man.

 

“Mr. Sewall?” Martha asked. 

 

The man nodded in a friendly manner.

 

“My vet gave me your name and address and told me that you might be able to help with my predicament.”

 

“What predicament is that, Miss?”

 

“Missus. Well, now I guess miss. Miss Vandermere.”

 

“Okay, Miss Vandermere. What can I help you with?”

 

“I have a dead dog. A dead dog, Jack, that needs surgery.”

 

The old man shook his head and grinned. “Surgery? Why is that?”

 

“He swallowed a ring that is very important to me and then he died. It killed him.”

 

“And you need the ring?”

 

“Yessir.”

 

“What condition do you need the ring to be in?”

 

“Not inside of a dead dog.” Martha said and they both laughed awkwardly.

 

“Alright, I’ll get the woodchipper.”

 

“Woodchipper?”

 

“That’s the easiest way. The ring might get a ding or a scratch but you’ll have it by 9am and I won’t need to even put gloves on.”

 

She looked back at the car and thought about Jack for a moment. She looked back at the old man. “Let’s do it. I have to warn you he smells.”

 

The old man nodded. “They all do.”

 

“This dog more than most,” said Martha.

 

“I meant dead things, not dogs.”

Estêvão Sousa lives on a farm in rural Maine with his beautiful wife and 7 children. "Band of Gold" is his first publication.

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