Writer in Residence · 09/29/2010

Artifact 22: Four Digits with Three Phalanges

Digitus II: Index

What is an amulet?
Sunshine. Chocolate. Ice. Vaccines. Wind. Cognitive behavioral therapy.

What is a talisman?
The rough axe he snapped in two after a day’s hard work. Her broken fingernail. Her yawn in the courtyard. His class ring with monogram and date, at the bottom of a lake that is cold in the summer, even on its surface.

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Digitus III: Middle

Rebecca’s grandmother let her sort through her jewelry box in the dining room. Rebecca would sit in the chair Grandma used on Thanksgiving, and Grandma would set the box on the table in front of her. It had four drawers of equal size. Rebecca waited until Grandma left the room before she opened the first drawer. Everything was jumbled — necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, mixed together. There was a drawer for each, and Rebecca would sort them while Grandma whispered to Mom in the kitchen. Necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets.

The morning after Mom shouted back at Dad, she put Rebecca in the car and they went to Grandma’s house. As always, Grandma set the box in front of Rebecca. As always, the pieces inside were a jumble. After Grandma left her to her task, Rebecca laid all of her jewelry on the vinyl tablecloth. She listened to Mom whisper to Grandma in the kitchen, and she sorted into the four drawers. Treasure, expensive, not expensive, worthless.

The next morning, Mom put Rebecca in the car again. But this time, they went to New Hampshire. Mom had a friend there who needed a waitress for her cafe. It was quiet and chilly and sad, and Rebecca hated Mom for a long time. They made up over a bowl of ice cream, and Grandma had a stroke two hundred miles away. Mom went home, and Rebecca stayed with her friend. When Mom returned, she whispered in the cafe’s kitchen with her friend while Rebecca folded napkins at a table in the dining room.

When Mom came out to the floor, she was holding a small yellow envelope with Rebecca’s name in Grandma’s careful, quivering handwriting. I didn’t look inside, Mom told her. Rebecca set down the napkin she had just folded, and took the envelope. She held it. After a moment, Mom went back into the kitchen.

Rebecca waited until the whispering began again. She opened the envelope and laid the contents on the linen tablecloth. Plastic bracelet, brass earrings, silver necklace, gold ring.

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Digitus IV: Ring

Prospective Husband, hereafter referred to as Doug, and Prospective Wife, hereafter referred to as Nina, agree on this fifteeth day of October, in the year 2000, at the Zee Chophouse on West Henrietta Road, after the drinks arrive but before the Kiwi-Tizers:

Doug and Nina contemplate matrimony in May, because June weddings are such a stereotype. They wish to establish their respective rights pertaining to each other’s assets prior to marriage. Nina is concerned because she has nicer things than Doug does, like a widescreen laptop, a vintage turquoise Vespa, and a leather couch. Assets will also be acquired during the marriage. Doug wonders while going over his wedding invitation checklist, what will happen if we get a dog and then we don’t love each other anymore? Sometimes he sees that future-dog at the end of a driveway, pleading in its eyes.

Doug and Nina have made a complete disclosure of all monetary assets and liabilities, except for Doug’s 401(k) from his last job, which he remembers but doesn’t mention, and Nina’s Christmas Club account at Fleet Bank, which she forgets, as she will this upcoming Christmas.

Doug and Nina hereby waive the following rights:
— Sharing in the increase of value of property acquired prior to marriage.
— Throwing drinks at the other party when they see them out somewhere with a new party, even that party is ugly or way too young for them.
— Sharing in retirement plans, profit sharing, or other investment accounts of the other.
— Talking shit about the other party to mutual friends, especially Kimberly.
— Fifty-fifty division of separate property of the parties, whether obtained before or after marriage.
— Calling the other party at 3am and then hang up, regardless of the state of inebriation.
— Making claims to assets based on length of cohabitation.

Doug and Nina are represented by freely chosen legal counsel. Tim represents Doug. He is a 1L at Penn who is home for Columbus Day weekend even though he should have stayed at school and studied. Victoria represents Nina. She is a friend of Nina’s from high school. Victoria is a paralegal, and she hopes doing this means she won’t have to be a bridesmaid and pay a few hundred bucks for a dress she will never wear again. She also thinks Tim, sitting across from her and working on an ANZAC Day Apple Martini, is not her type at all.

Doug and Nina have resources to provide for their individual needs. Doug’s resources are his parents, who do not know about this agreement. Nina knows who will end up paying for this meal at the Zee Chophouse.

This agreement may be changed only in writing that is subsequently signed by both Doug and Nina. Any change to the agreement will be done someplace like The Grail Grill, where the knighted staff shouts “Well met!” each time guests walk through the door. It feels good to be over-acknowledged, and the Dragon’s Egg Chipotle Salad is delicious.

If any aspect of this agreement is invalid because it is not compatible with local, state, or federal law, that provision can and will be isolated from the rest of the agreement. Doug asks Tim to put this in, because he is still thinking about the dog in the future’s driveway. He is not thinking about the so-called month’s salary that flashes before all of their eyes every time Nina takes a sip of her Christchurch Cooler.

This agreement is made in accordance with the laws of the state of New York. Any dispute will be addressed with reference to the laws of that state. Nina wonders what will happen if she gets into graduate school next year. She is going to apply to schools in Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and California. Doug doesn’t know yet that Nina is applying to graduate school.

This agreement will become valid upon the solemnization of matrimony. Doug will be told to kiss Nina, and Nina will have already warned him not to mess up her makeup too much. Doug will think of the night they met, glow bowling at Clover Lanes. He will think of visiting her at college for Homecoming Weekend, of how Nina’s roommate hated him and Nina thought it was hilarious. He will think of their future-dog, and it will be wagging its tail. Then, Doug will mess up Nina’s makeup.

I HAVE REVIEWED THIS AGREEMENT. I ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROVISIONS AND IMPLICATIONS. I FULLY UNDERSTAND THIS AGREEMENT, AND CONSENT TO ALL TERMS. I SUBMIT TO ITS EXECUTION.

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Digitus V: Little

The plan was simple. We would meet Balec and his men on the western slope at daybreak to renew our treaty. He would be obliged to approach the makeshift dais, and to kiss the ducal signet. At that signal, my men would cut him down as a traitor and a heretic. The justice dealt in that moment would be sung for years in the commonlands. It would be a lesson to everyone.

I did not allow my sweet Ariyal to accompany us, although it was her right. I need your eye and hand at home, I told her. She tossed her pretty head and pouted, but in the end she obeyed. An obedient woman is one of many rewards that can be reaped on a true and righteous path.

I saw Balec moments before anyone else did. I knew where to look, and what to see. As children, we had been fostered together in these hills. We knew their bends and their shortcuts, which was how the savage tribes had fallen to us several years before. I knew his caution whistle, his slightly uneven stride, the color of his dark brown hair in the sun. It saddened me, to think about how much had changed since the days Balec and I laughed and dreamed, arms tightly wrapped around each others’ shoulders.

Balec approached the makeshift dais, where ten of my carefully chosen comrades and I stood. He was alone. He brushed his riding cloak to his side and we saw that he wore crimson festival garments, although there was no festival in the commonlands that day. Two of my guardsmen shifted closer to me. Balec looked at them and smiled. For just a moment we were fosterlings again, hiding from the chamberlain. I wanted to warn him that we would be surely be caught at our mischief.

I stood, and held out my hand. “Balec, I am pleased by your presence.”

“It’s good to rest my eyes upon you again, my lord,” Balec replied. As the eleven of us watched, he took my hand and brought it closer. He lifted it up, up, so that my fingers fanned out to him and to the western slope. I looked at my signet, now between us as it had not been, long ago. A lion, turned completely on its head.

“I have missed you.” Balec said, between my fingers. And when our eyes met, he kissed my palm.

Erin Fitzgerald’s stories have appeared in many fine online literary magazines. She is editor of The Northville Review, and she lives writes, and teaches in western Connecticut.

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posted by Amber Sparks