Jack stood alone in his living room, transfixed on the small bauble sitting on the kitchen counter. Slowly, he began walking towards it, filling the room with the soft cacophony of the dirty, waxen soles of his feet as they stuck and peeled on the hardwood floors with every shaky but deliberate step.
Gradually, the mystery object came into focus. It was round. Its candy apple red exterior popped bright against the dull emerald faux-marble countertop. But it wasn’t until he hovered over it that he realized it was a prize egg from one of those coin-operated glass machines still seen gracing the entryways and exits of supermarkets and drugstores; those machines that have the audacity to trade three Chiclets for a quarter.
He cracked it open to reveal a poorly folded Post-It note.
You’re sweet, but we both know why I can’t keep this, it read.
It was signed, “N”. Just “N”, with a small consolation heart punctuating the initial.
Jack peered into the opened prize egg, then shook a plastic ring out of it. The small, child-sized band was coated in a clumsy “metallic” finish, and instead of being set with any kind of stone, there was a glossy yellow happy face roughly the size of an M&M pressed into it.
As he reread the Post-It he tried idly to put the ring on but found he could only get it onto his pinky, and even then it was stopped abruptly by the bulge of his top knuckle. He held his hand at arms’ length, inspecting the ring’s vapid happy face as one might admire the luster of a diamond. Still finding nothing remarkable about it, he yanked it from his finger and studied it closely for a moment before allowing it to tumble unceremoniously onto the countertop.
“No, I don’t know why you can’t keep this useless piece of plastic,” Jack said aloud, hoping someone would miraculously respond.
He processed every possible reason why she wouldn’t take the stupid toy ring. Did she have a boyfriend? Did she wake up in bed with Jack and decide that she had made a huge mistake? Was she just slumming it for the night and leaving because he was unemployed and broke?
Jack crumpled up the note, jammed it inside the band of the ring, stuffed the whole mess back into the egg, and looked defiantly out of the bay window of the living room at the chilly February mess outside.
“I will be goddamned if I don’t figure out what the hell this all means,” he asserted to himself, the words hissing with forced heroism as they passed between his whiskey lips. “It’s not even about pretty brunettes anymore; this is about pride and self-respect! No girl skips out on a one night stand with Jack Sitwell before Jack does!”
He nodded in self-satisfaction at the tone and tenacity of his locker room pep talk and went straight for the shower, undressing as he went, leaving lumps of Hanes 100% Cotton in his wake.