Beth Colburn Orozco
The teardrop ruby earrings I took from Rose were in my skirt pocket. She served strawberry shortcake and placed a hand on my shoulder when she set a plate down in front of me. The strawberries she had picked earlier that day from her garden. She was saying this when I stuck my hand in my pocket to rub the rubies. The earrings had been in a porcelain dish next to the sink in her bathroom.
All of our friends were there. It was the first time I’d been with them since my husband, Edward, passed. I thought I was ready to smile at parties, but I wasn’t. When I knew I couldn’t control my tears, I excused myself and went into the bathroom. The rubies were cool against my fingertips. With them in my pocket I didn’t think about Edward, and I could eat my dessert.
Rose invited us into the living room where her husband Raymond showed slides of their trip to Hawaii. A young man, Anakoni, whom everyone called Tony, was in more slides than Raymond. I’d never thought of Rose as someone who might enjoy the company of a dark-skinned island boy, but she has nice legs and long shiny hair. I’m sure he noticed her first. I stuck my hand in my pocket. The earrings kept me from saying something I might regret.
That night I put the earrings in before going to bed. I was so preoccupied with thoughts of Edward, I hadn’t slept in months. I woke the following morning feeling refreshed and decided to wear the earrings every night.
Rose still wonders about her earrings. Every once in awhile several of us will be playing bridge or swimming at the country club, and she will bring them up. “I bought those earrings in Aruba,” she says like a broken record.
She mentioned them again during a luncheon. Barbara Sullivan reached over my cob salad and whispered, “Honest to God, I wish she’d let it go. Those damn earrings went missing months ago.”
Rose fired her housekeeper the week after I stuffed the earrings in my pocket. I felt I was to blame, so I hired her. Rose was beside herself with worry until I assured her I had locked up my valuables. Elena still works for me. She’s great when it comes to vacuuming and dusting, but I don’t let her near the bathrooms since I caught her using scouring powder on my marble counter tops.
When Barbara isn’t gossiping about Rose and her missing earrings, she’s fretting over the sterling silver gravy boat that disappeared Thanksgiving Day. Lyle, her husband of twenty-nine years, took off with the thirty-something set of breasts who worked the parts counter at the auto supply store. She couldn’t bear to spend her first holiday alone, so several of us agreed to join her. Poor Barbara, both her daughters flew to Jamaica to be with their father and his new
girlfriend for Thanksgiving. Barbara said the girls were having
trouble dealing with the divorce. I say leaving your mother by
herself on a holiday is unforgivable.
After dinner we offered to help Barbara clean up. While wiping dishes, I came across the gravy boat. I decided Rose’s earrings would look elegant set against sterling. I put it in my handbag while people were saying goodbye in the dining room.
At home I took the ruby earrings and placed them in the gravy boat. They looked lovely together. Before going to bed, I put in the earrings and set the gravy boat on Edward’s nightstand. The following day, while in the basement doing laundry, I found an old wooden toolbox Edward had made before we were married. I scrubbed it out in the stationary tub then left it to dry for two days. Afterwards, I polished the box before moving it upstairs to my bedroom. The earrings and gravy boat felt like they belonged to me once they were inside the toolbox Edward made.
Later that afternoon Barbara called to say her gravy boat was missing. “I don’t understand. I remember ladling gravy into it right before we sat down. That gravy boat is part of a set that belonged to my grandmother,” she said.
“I don’t remember seeing it,” I said.
I didn’t take anything again for quite awhile. The fact the gravy boat had belonged to Barbara’s grandmother bothered me. I felt awful that Edward’s toolbox harbored something that meant so much to such a dear friend. I would have felt better if the gravy boat had been
a gift from her lousy husband.
I’d never been lonelier than I was on Valentine’s Day. No one called and my dining room table seemed enormous and awkward without the two dozen red roses Edward had always sent accompanied by a note that said, From Your Secret Admirer.