“What Should Not Matter”

A thimble. This is what she had picked—with great care he was sure—to give him for their first anniversary. I wanted to do something, well, different, she said. Something you’d always remember, that you could keep in your pocket and remind you of me. A watch does that too, he told her. He laughed when he said it, but he was thinking, What can I do with a thimble but lose it? Do you really like it? she asked. I got you other things too. And she had. A cashmere sweater and tickets to the Celtics versus Heat on his birthday. She had thought of those things, but this thimble, this was her prize, her special gift.

Lying flat, it didn’t even cover his thumbnail. He fitted it onto the end of his pinky and tapped it against the coffee table. Tock, tock, tock. He smiled at her. I like it, he told her. It’s sweet. Cute. He plucked it off his finger and dropped it in his pocket.

For weeks after he carried it there. And when he was paying for a coffee or pack of gum, out the thimble would land on the counter as he pulled forth the loose change. It spun there like a top and he would scoop it up, sometimes with an apologetic glance or even with an outright explanation. Anniversary present, he’d say, raising his shoulders. One year. And the man or woman behind the counter would give a tight smile.  Sometimes the person working caught it before it went flying off the edge and they’d snatch it out of the air and drop it in his outstretched hand.

Once, in a rush to grab his ringing phone, the thimble came tumbling out, end over end, right by the T Stop in Central Square. Flattened, black dimes of gum dotted the sidewalk and the thimble, gleaming against the sun, rolled its way through the feet of passersby. He chased it bent over and right before it hit the stairwell he stomped it with his foot and flattened it. Nicked and scratched, rough to the touch, he dropped it back in his pocket and returned the missed call.

When she left, clearing out the drawers in the bedroom, removing the pictures she hung in the hallway and the apartment was empty, almost as if she had never been there, he saw the thimble in its place on the nightstand where he always dropped his keys and wallet. They were so very grownup about the whole thing, he thought. No tears. Lots of nodding and agreement about how it was sad but necessary. He helped her with the last box down the stairs and then she came back up to make one last check. Her hair was in a ponytail, her tee shirt dark under the arms from all the moving and lifting. I guess that’s it, she said. Everything. I suppose so, he said. I can walk you down, he told her. Would that be okay? I’d like that, she said. She caught the thimble in a glance to the nightstand. The deformed silver still shiny. I guess you don’t have to carry that around now, do you? she said. I guess so, he replied, and remembered the roughness of it in his palm.

On the sidewalk, in front of her car, they shared an awkward last hug, the rankness of her sweat rising up to his nose. There was someone else she’d told him months before. There’d been counseling and proclamations of forgiveness but you could not convince your body of what your mind told you to say, he said to her at last. I think of him. Of you and him. I can’t stop. I know, she said. I’m an awful person. And he had said nothing to her when she said that because he believed it too. Keep in touch, she said and he lied that he would. A drink sometime. We’ll get a drink, he said. Then she was in the car. In minutes she’d be crossing the Charles on a bright summer day, driving into a brand new life. She honked the horn one last time to him and he raised his hand and waved and when he put his hands in his pockets he felt their emptiness.

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Michael Croley

About Michael Croley

Michael Croley was born in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Corbin, Kentucky. A graduate of the creative writing programs at Florida State and the University of Memphis, his work has won awards from the Kentucky Arts Council, the Key West Literary Seminars and the Sewanee Writers' Conference. His stories have regularly appeared in Narrative where he was named to their list of "Best New Writers" in 2011. His other fiction and criticism has been published in The Paris Review Daily, Blackbird, The Louisville Review, The Southern Review, Fourth Genre, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. He lives in Granville, Ohio and teaches creative writing at Denison University. For more information visit: www.michaelcroley.com