Things Left Behind
Among other misfiled sundries, the box of Legos held a three-legged rhinoceros and a malfunctioning battery-powered choo-choo train. The box also stored—surprise!—a dozen or so actual Legos; a solitary argyle sock, toddler-sized, smelling faintly of peanut butter and pee; and the mama’s wedding ring, missing for 17 days. (She was still counting the days.)
On the night the ring had gone missing, she had fretted about whether or not to wear it. She didn’t want to deceive anyone, exactly, but… an empty ring finger would certainly make things less complicated. It kept options open.
She'd pictured her husband in a hotel room in Ohio or Illinois or Michigan, removing his ring, leaving it in a sock in his suitcase. He traveled so much for work she had agreed, almost a year ago, to this arrangement: open. No need to ask questions or share lustful details, they agreed. And no falling in love.
She assumed he was pleased with the agreement – he was home less often—and that he took full advantage of it. She, home with the two-year-old, had not.
With slight hesitation, she dropped the ring into her oversized mommy purse on the dining room table. It clinked down amidst baby wipes, toy cars, and an assortment of Crayolas. Then she crammed lipstick, cell phone and cards into her glittery handbag, which wouldn’t hold even a pack of gum more, and bid the babysitter goodnight.
The child, bathed and clad in monkey pajamas and mismatched socks, mumbled goodbye, eyeing the peanut butter and honey sandwiches the babysitter held. “Brush teeth, two books, then bedtime,” mommy said on her way out the door.
The babysitter read herself to sleep, one arm and one leg hanging from the toddler’s bed. The boy, undrowsy, clambered over the foot rail and into a toy box. Among the stuffed animals, puzzle pieces and alphabet books, he found a sippy cup half-full of fermenting juice and gulped until he was satisfied.
The only light in the house was the kitchen’s, so there he went. Climbing from chair to table was a routine matter, and he perched on the formica, monkey in a treetop, to root around in mama’s purse. Keys, lipstick, lighters, mints—a bottomless well of fascination and reprimand. He sifted past things meant for children to seize the more-interesting pens, insurance cards and fingernail clippers. The only sound was the rev and retreat of a nearby car.
Squatting on the tabletop, he held up a treasure: a gold ring. He put it on each finger, his tongue and his nose—briefly—before it slid off and clanged to the floor. He froze, expecting a parental reaction. The house, the dog and the babysitter were quiet.
But then the sliding door sighed an air pressure sigh, and the boy looked up.
“Daddy!” he said. “You came back!”
The dad’s mouth made a smile but his eyes did not. He put a finger to his lips. “Shhh, buddy. Let’s not wake mommy.” He reached into his pocket and jangled out a keyring. He unthreaded two keys from it and laid them next to her purse.
He swept an arm around the boy and buried his nose in his hair. A hard kiss on his head. “I love you, buddy. Daddy’s gotta go.” Then he was gone.
The child, accustomed to his daddy’s departure, climbed down off the table to retrieve the ring, which he stuck in his sock. Then he walked down the hall to his parents’ room, and put himself to bed.