Brendan A. McGrath
“Credenti omnia convertuntur in Christum…”
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
It wasn’t what I’d imagined. No diamond that would have rested on her finger like a bud upon a twig, ready to flower in the evening. No darkened pearl concealing a faded, otherworldly light that had once glimmered with a lunar enchantment. It was just a simple, gold band. I measured it: nine-tenths of a centimeter wide, with a diameter of a centimeter and seven-tenths. It wasn’t particularly lovely—it had lots of scratches, and “smudged” was the first word that came to mind.
His ring wasn’t much different, but it was only half a centimeter wide, though the diameter was larger. It had a little clip inside to adjust the fit—he’d lost some weight, he’d explained earlier that night when giving it to me. The inscription inside hers read “D.J.F. to C.M.O’C. 1-26-73”; inside his was the reverse. I couldn’t quite make it out, but I think “Rings-O-Bliss” was marked on his. Hers, however, said simply “Bliss.”
I turned over each one in my fingers, feeling the texture, letting them slide down onto my palm, placing one inside the other. It was like they were the only two things in the universe, spinning and tumbling through space together, gracefully eluding each other’s touch.
It was May of 2003, two days after my twenty-first birthday, and long ago he’d promised that when I reached that age he would give them to me if I wanted. I forget how old I was when I first asked him what had happened to them—perhaps nine or ten. I have a vague memory of asking him a few years later where they were, and him saying he might have melted them down, or that maybe she still had hers… but then I remember him saying once again a few years later that I could have them. I don’t know why I wanted them—perhaps they’d hold what words couldn’t give.
There was no engagement ring—perhaps that was what I’d been imagining hers would look like. Hadn’t he gotten down on one knee, I’d asked earlier, opening a small felt-covered black box with rounded edges? No, he said… His voice sounded like a man arriving home empty-handed after a long journey, having to tell people who’d heard he was a hero that the myths were much more glorious and dramatic than the reality. There’d been no engagement ring—or maybe it was lost—he couldn’t remember; he said he’d probably blocked much of it out.
There were two other items he’d found with the rings. The first was a golden key. The top part was shaped like a coin, with her initials in an elegant script on one side; it had a closed hook that attached to a golden chain so she could wear it around her neck. When did he give it to her? What did it unlock? He didn’t remember—the memory was locked away somewhere that this key couldn’t open.
The chain was thin and silky, each link smaller than the head of a pin. It collapsed into my hand and opened again when I lifted it up, lithe and supple in my fingers like a cowardly spine.
The second item was a small silver tab for a key-chain, with an inscription: “I would say yes again today.” The letters were so lightly engraved that it seemed like they would float away.
I held the silver tab in my hands late that night, turning it over with my fingers as I’d done the other items. The light shimmered upon the words as I rotated it back and forth—now and then it seemed to flood into them like a tide of molten stars. When I looked deeper, I could see my reflection behind the letters. Without the light and the action of my hand the message would vanish, faded into darkness.
He’d kept these things together in a blank envelope, which he gave to me as well. It was cream-colored, perhaps yellowed with time, its paper strong and thick. If there’d been strips of adhesive to touch with the tongue, they had disappeared long ago. Looking at it closely I’d noticed the embossed words “J.E. Caldwell Co., Philadelphia” on the edge covered by the flap. I asked him what it meant—he said it might have been the company that provided the stationary for the wedding invitations.
The envelope, he said, was the same one in which she’d returned her ring to him in 1984 at the time of the divorce.
It was late… the deep hours of the night. I got up from the chair in the third-floor room, slipping the envelope into my pocket, and went to the window, raising the shade. Far below I could see the empty street, and all around the leaves and beds of ivy trembled in a spectral stillness. The street lamp was out; the only light came from a neighbor’s driveway illuminated by two lines of bulbs thrust out into the shadows. Out on the main road I heard a car passing through the dark like a ghost’s long sigh. The rain clouds from the day still lingered in the air above, and somehow their presence made the night sky brighter. Maybe it was the light of the city in the distance.
I folded my arms and rested them on top of the lower window frame where the lock was fixed, long encrusted into place by layers of white paint. It had been like that for years, a relic from a time I couldn’t remember. The window looked east, as if waiting for the paint to melt away in a sunrise.
Outside, the world was the same as always, but somehow tonight it seemed to glow with a supernatural darkness. The sky, tinged with its violet, rose-colored light, made the edges of the silhouetted foliage quiver with possibility. I stood there for a while, watching quietly, looking outward at what was within.
I would say yes again today…
I thought of what I’d been given—the words had a meaning for me as well.
My arms dropped from the window, and I removed the envelope from my pocket, holding it up to the otherworldly night. I let the tears fall finally upon my face, not knowing what they meant.
I closed my eyes, and clasped that which I held in my hands to my heart.
Brendan A. McGrath is 24 years old and from the Philadelphia area, where he was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Waldron Mercy Academy and by the Jesuits at St. Joseph’s Prep. He is a 2005 graduate of Georgetown University, where he continued his Jesuit education, majoring in English and minoring in Theology. In spring of 2006 he taught Religion and English for a semester at Bishop Shanahan High School. He is currently at the University of Notre Dame for a Masters of Theological Studies, and intends to continue teaching after graduation.
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