“What She Lost” is the second-place winning story in SNHU’s 2017 Fall Fiction Competition.
by Meagan Lucas
Clementine slid into consciousness with the tiniest of moans. It was dark. That much she could tell from under her still closed lids. She didn’t care about anything else. Saturday mornings were for sleeping in and reading in bed. Maybe she would spend the entire day between the sheets. She rolled over, wiggled deeper beneath the duvet and yawned. The smoky caramel richness of coffee brewing flooded her tongue and filled her sinuses. The espresso alone was worth the immigration lawyer. “Mmmm…” she said, knowing now he was tempting her awake. Morning people are evangelists.
She hid her smile behind the blanket as he invaded her cocoon. He cradled her foot in his hand, and skimmed his fingertips up her shin and down her calf. Warm wet suction on her second toe. The grazing of teeth. She waited for the delicious pop as the soft pad of her toe slid from his lips and the bolt of lightning that would shoot up her leg. His thumb traced the arch of her foot. “Tommaso…” she sighed.
“Wake up, Piccola.” His lips blazed a lazy trail up the tender flesh of her thigh. “I’m hungry.”
Tommaso was extraordinary at convincing her to get in, and out, of bed.
“I’m awake now,” she said after, pulling his body to surround hers.
“Come watch the sun rise across the piazza. I love the look on your face as you watch that little dog of Signor Mangone’s eat his breakfast.”
She did like watching that pug’s tail wiggle. Tommaso opened the French doors to the balcony and the light from the rising sun turned the violet room to lavender. Clementine sighed. She picked up his shirt from the floor and pulled it on, fastening just enough buttons to avoid scandal. It smelled of his skin: vetiver, salt and musk. He walked over to the bed and pulled her to him. His mouth met hers with all the passion and history of his people combined in a single kiss. “I thought you wanted me out of bed?” she asked, winking. He took her left hand and raised it to his lips kissing her palm and the inside of her wrist before tucking her hand beneath his arm and leading her to the balcony. As she sat and he poured, something scratched at the back of her brain. Something was wrong, but she didn’t know what.
Tommaso opened the paper. He was always reading; she loved that about him. Clementine sipped her espresso and kept her eye open for Signor Mangone’s cucciolo as she watched the piazza simmer to life. First came the shuffle of shopkeepers, and then the clink of dishes from the café. The sweet scent of pipe smoke wafted up to the balcony as the old men escaped their wives for a half hour to pick up the cornetto for breakfast.
“Oh, there’s my little boyfriend,” she said, moving to the rail to watch the little toasted marshmallow wiggle his way across the cobbled courtyard.
Tommaso snorted and put down the paper. “See, Piccola?”
He smiled as she ruined the rolled r. Clementine was too delighted with the piggy tail bouncing into the butcher’s to mind his teasing. “Oh, he is gone for another week. I don’t know how my heart will survive. I will have to drown my sorrows in coffee and pastry.”
“That too. I’ll go get breakfast.”
“You know I love you.”
Clementine went into the kitchen and pulled the crostata from its hiding place in the pantry. Her knuckles brushed the counter top and again that shiver of discomfort slid up her spine. Something was off. Ignoring the feeling she balanced the tart, some plates and forks on a tray and carried them out to the balcony. Pushing the spare sections of Tommaso’s paper out of the way with her left hand while she was lowering the loaded tray, it hit her.
Glassware and pastry exploded at her feet as the tray hit the floor. A lone fork skittered across the tile and teetered on the edge of the balcony before gravity stole it and it fell three stories to the piazza below. Tommaso jumped out of his seat. A blob of amarena jam globbed on the top of his foot.
“I’ve lost my ring.”
Clementine had never described herself as distraught before. She was strong and independent, not prone to emotional outbursts. Once, a man called her a robotic bitch. But a cold cloud descended upon her; soaking her skin with ice water and filling her lungs with freezing damp. Her chest hurt so much she couldn’t draw breath. Her heart refused to beat.
“When did you last see it?” he asked.
Practical. Logical. Like she usually was. But all she could think about was the first time she’d looked down at the ring on her finger, how the gold lay perfectly against her skin, how it became an extension of her body. And now the extension had been lopped off. She was an amputee. She flipped through the rolodex of yesterday’s events. “I, I had it in the bath last evening. I remember I saw it when I was shaving my legs.” She took a deep breath. “I had it at dinner, you remember that ridiculous waiter? When he spilled the wine and I went to the bathroom to wash up I remember taking it off to put on some of the moisturizer the attendant offered. The cream was lovely, orange and coriander I think-”
“Oh! That’s easy, we’ll go back to the restaurant when it opens, they’ll have it-”
“No, I remember putting it back on.” Clementine could no longer stand. She searched behind her for the chair. Tommaso held her arm and lowered her. Her face in her hands she whispered: “it’s in the Tevere.”
“Are you sure?” He knelt beside her; his hands on the outside of her thighs.
“When we were at Ponte Milvio. We closed the lock. Then I threw the key in… I’m sure of it.” She could see the glitter of the streetlights reflected on the surface of the river. She tasted the gin martinis he’d been drinking on her lips. She could feel the thrill in her chest that they were making this commitment, locking the lock, promising their love. She could hear the sploosh of the key and wondered if she could almost hear the tinkle of her ring landing in the Tiber too.
“Why are you so undone, Clementine?”
“It’s my wedding ring.”
“I’m aware. But I’d hoped…Now that… I didn’t realize it meant so much to you.” His eyes searched hers. The lines between his brows faded, but the corners of his mouth turned down. He stepped away; his eyes on the floor. “You’ll have to ask your husband to replace it then.”