Printed from WriteWords -

The Wedding Ring

by  LMJT

Posted: Sunday, September 7, 2014
Word Count: 799
Summary: For this week's 800 word challenge. Be warned: Bit of a ropey, rushed ending!

Gravel crunches beneath the tyres of Reenie’s car as she pulls into the parking lot of Malone’s, the headlights sweeping across discarded beer bottles and balled up McDonalds wrappers.

She pulls into one of the bar’s ‘staff only’ bays by the entrance out of habit and switches off the engine.
It’s just before 8pm and she’s early, so she reaches for her handbag and takes out the packet of Marlboro Lights she bought on the way here. She quit smoking when she first moved out of town six months ago, part of the ‘new start’ that so many of her friends had preached to her about, but nerves have got the better of her this evening. She’s asked herself the question all the way here: What if Al doesn’t even want to get back together? What if this is all just a big mistake?

She lights a cigarette with the engraved Zippo that he gave her for their sole wedding anniversary and winds down the car window just enough for the sounds of the bar to wash in and the cool winter night to kiss her cheek.

As snow settles on the bonnet beneath the glow of the bar’s gaudy Christmas lights, Reenee thinks of the twins at home with her mom. They’ll still be up in their matching pyjamas, their warm faces pressed against the windows, watching the world turn white before their eyes. Imagining their delight when she brings their daddy home for Christmas, she smiles and stubs out her cigarette. This is for them. This is all for them.

The warmth of Malone’s envelops Reenee as she pushes open the door and she savours the heat of the open fire and familiar smell of mulled cider stewing on the bar.

The bar is thick with regulars who have probably already forgotten she ever worked here and she feels drunken eyes upon her as she pushes through the crowd.

Al is sitting at the far end of the bar beside the jukebox, exactly where he’d been when they first met, and she feels a prickle of nerves.

His stubble has peppered with grey since she last saw him in the summer and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone to reveal curls of hair that still remind her of those early days; lazy sex, black coffee and him singing along to Johnny Cash as he cooked bacon and eggs in her apartment.

The twins’ presents, their agreed purpose for meeting, overspill large cardboard box-bags printed with a jolly snowman on the floor beside him.

‘Hi,’ she says, but he doesn’t hear. Then again, louder over the music, and with a self-conscious wave, ‘Al, hi.’

He looks up and his smile comes with the slowness that tells her he’s been here a while. Maybe since he finished at the factory at midday.

‘Reen,’ he says. ‘I almost didn’t recognise you. Your hair.’

She runs a hand through the dyed blonde hair she still hasn’t got used to, despite having it coloured in September.

‘You look great,’ Al says, holding her gaze. ‘Can I get you a drink?’

‘Sure.’ She smiles. ‘Thank you.’

‘Still vodka diet coke, no ice?’

‘Still the same old,’ she laughs, taking off her coat and sitting at the bar.

Her smile fades as she watches Al being served by a young barmaid with tattoos up her arms. Reenee doesn’t recognise the girl, but she knows Al by name and they share a joke that Reenee can’t hear over Elvis singing ‘Blue Christmas’.

Her heart sinks as Al throws his head back and laughs the way he used to with her. She feels suddenly exposed, as if they’re laughing at her; laughing at her naivety that Christmas is reason enough to forget all that’s happened in the last 12 months.

Embarrassed, she looks down at her hands in her lap and the wedding ring she still wears, despite their separation.

As Al pays, her eyes are drawn to his ringless fingers and she wants to cry.

The barmaid slides $10 change in one dollar bills in a small metal dish across the bar.

From working here for years, Reenee knows the round would have cost little more than $10 and she waits for Al, always so penny-pinching, to take back some of the change. But he leaves it all as a tip. Al, who had once lambasted her for leaving supermarket coupons at home, leaves a 100% tip.

Before he can hand her her drink, Reenee pulls on her coat and squeezes back through the raucous crowd.

As she weaves past revellers, she slips her wedding ring from her finger and drops it on the floor where it disappears underfoot and is slowly shuffled into a corner of the bar and forgotten completely.