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Fire Opal

Meg Pokrass

Jill was trying on jeans in the bathroom. She’d soaked them in the tub to stretch them out overnight. But denim waists were not made for this kind of thing, the material wasn’t giving.


Today, fog was so thick that only a tiny bit of light filtered in through the window. Her breasts ached. She could hardly tell it was day. She was suspicious of San Francisco, with its weird weather, overbred dogs and perfectly outfitted people.


Russell came in from the puffy white air. At first she could hear him in the hall, shuffling and clearing his throat as if preparing to enter a scene. He was an amateur actor and a waiter, and now he was applying for a very boring job as a refrigerator delivery technician. Russell looked like a person you’d spot in a crowd. “How’s my girl?” he said, bending down and touching her waist, kissing her lips.


“Ambitious today,” he whispered. She leaned against him, absorbing his heat.


“I was up all night thinking this through, and I can’t keep the ring,” she said.


He backed up. She could hear the steam radiator in the dining room sigh, the blast of warmth that made cooking in the tiny kitchen sweaty. She sometimes wondered if she’d survive feeling so hot and so cold in the same apartment for much longer. She worried that such drastic changes in temperature could harm the baby.


“It’s not that I don’t love it,” she said. “It’s incredible,” she said quickly, looking at her awful reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her face looked older than it did just yesterday, before he brought the ring home. She knew this kind of stress could be dangerous.


“You’re being a child,” he said, his voice tight and old.


She pulled at the ring, twisting it, trying to ease it off. It was the most beautiful Mexican Fire Opal she’d ever seen, even in photo. It was going to be sad, but she wanted it done. She oiled her knuckle with Vaseline. Backed herself down on the toilet seat. It rushed off all at once and she held it in her hand.


He placed his hands on his narrow hips, looking at her. He was too good looking, and too crazy. Nobody would believe she had gotten into this. He went over to the sink, splashed his face with short, jerky movements. His arms were covered with thick, dark hair.  It was the thing he used to hide when they first going out, said it made him appear simian. But recently, he acted proud of it. It was as if he believed he could get away with things now. The baby growing inside her belly was making him arrogant.


“Can’t you even see one step ahead?” she whispered. She went to him, pressing her hands underneath his shirt. He turned back and picked her up in his arms. When he carried her, she felt like a doll, her swollen body became light again.


He placed her on the living room sofa, covered her up with the blanket. He took the ring from her hand, set it gently on the bamboo coffee table.


She decided it was best to enjoy the beauty of it one last time. To spend some time with the ring before he took it back to whoever he had stolen it from. Closing her eyes, she imagined the sun on her belly. She had never been to Mexico, so she locked her eyes on the strong little rock, a fiery beauty surrounded by six garnets, like flecks of blood.


“Who deserves it more?” he said. She felt water leaking from her eyes. It looked even better when she couldn’t quite focus. There was a new way he made love to her, something she never knew she would like; but did. She watched the colors and relaxed while he did it, taking his time. She locked her eyes to the light inside herself as much as the light inside the opal. It heated up, and the sun finally came out, deep colors swallowing weaker colors.

(pp. 27-28, The Hong Kong Review, Vol. II, No. 1)

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