The Price of Gold

Contemplate the smoothness of the gravestone.

This is your moment.

Trace the indented curves of the letters and dates blasted by sand.

You are surrounded by unearthed stone. All the stones of this place rested in the earth before they were quarried, cut to nearly uniform sizes, then replanted as upright markers of death.

It is this stone that interests you.

Elsewhere in the cemetery there are larger markers and even mausoleums to commemorate the dead. You remember reading in some book the dead also have their neighborhoods, rich and poor. The thought gives you no comfort.

The stone before you seems smaller than you remember. The marker cast a long shadow on the sunny day of the funeral. Then, it seemed a towering monument of your grief.

If they had died this year, you think, I would have been able to purchase something better. A statue even. An angel to watch over them.

You stand, brushing loose snow off your knees, crossing yourself. You murmur a fragment of a half remembered prayer then stop. You recall the plastic flowers in your coat pocket.

Real flowers depressed you after a time. As your visits became less frequent with the years, you'd seen them as wilted sentinels meticulously charting the spans of your absence with lost colors and dried heads. You told yourself they were dead anyway. Dead the moment they were cut.

But plastic endures. The fake flowers can be conveniently purchased from the shop by the cemetery gates, too.

You kneel again to place the flowers at the juncture of stone and snow. A small wire basket waits there for such things.

You notice something shiny in the basket's bottom.

A ring.

Judging by its look and weight you think it must be gold. You feel a tiny brush fire in your stomach as you quickly pocket it then glance around.

An old woman is the only person in sight. She hunches over a tombstone. She must be catching her breath, her mouth moving rapidly, as she leans on the marker for support. Or she is talking to the grave. A moment passes. Your knees are cold in the snow. You realize she is not an old woman at all but a statue frozen in mourning.

You place the white plastic carnations next to the plastic orchids from six months ago and stand. You brush snow off your wet pants. Your impression in the snow resembles a quotation mark.

Seated in your car you pull out the ring. The design on its face is simple and elegant -- two snakes entwined. They circle the ring, forever beginning and ending, beginning and ending.

Inside there is a gold mark and a jeweler's stamp. The fire in your belly flares. What is it worth, you wonder, turning the ring in your hand. What is the price of gold these days? You notice an inscription, etched in tiny cursive along the inside band: For M. with love eternal.

You read the inscription over, then again. The M sticks in your mind like a fork. The ring is too small even for your pinkie finger and your hands are slender.

You crush the thin band against the dashboard until it is no longer a ring. It is now a tiny mouth, open for a kiss.

You stuff the ring in your coat pocket as you exit the car and march back to the tombstone of your beloved.

You are breathing hard by the sixth kick. After ten kicks, your foot feels as if it will break and the tombstone leans only slightly back, like a beach chair set for reading in the sun. The nearby statue, that is not an old woman, seems to stare sadly as you yank the fake flowers from the basket and toss them on a stranger's grave.

You drive home.

You draw a hot bath.

Your hands shake as you open the wings of your razor. You have heard that this is a painless way to kill yourself. You discover it is not.

Months later, when your coat is being dry-cleaned, the ring will tumble to the floor. Perhaps someone will find it. Perhaps they will be lucky and their lover's name will be Michael or Michelle.

This does not concern you. This is not your moment.

Contemplate the smoothness of the gravestone.

This is your moment.

About the author:

Michael Harris Cohen is a recent graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Brown. He is spending the year abroad as a Fulbright Scholar in Sofia where he is be translating Bulgarian Folktales with his wife, Rositsa. Recently, his work was seen in Virgin Fiction 2, Lurch, WebConjunctions, and is upcoming in the Land-Grant College Review. He has completed a collection of short stories and is currently at work on a novel.