Frantically Laura scrabbled among the toiletries on the bathroom shelf. Shampoo and moisturiser fell to the floor as she searched breathlessly.
"Oh God, where is it!" she said, her mind reeling. "It can't have gone." She shoved more toiletries out of the way and tried to ignore the spider webs at the corner of the old wooden shelf. "Where is it?" she cried, as finally the shelf was bare. Desperate panic had set in as still she had not found it.
This was the last straw. Her spirit lower than it had been ever before, she sat on the bathroom floor and wept. What the hell was she going to say to Neil? He would never believe the ring had gone while she showered, never. Neil seemed to believe hardly anything she said these days.
Laura sobbed loudly, her tears falling not just for the loss of the ring, but for the loss of so much more in their relationship. They had known the total raw joy of love when they married, but over time it had become rubbed and dulled by the mundane activities of living and trying to make ends meet. The child Laura had always longed for had never arrived and for the last two years their relationship had slipped beyond the dreary to the almost intolerant. She only had to speak to Neil and whatever she said was wrong or he knew better. He never even bothered to try and touch her. The last time they had had sex was so long ago she could not remember.
Looking at the ring he had made for her when they first loved had been the only thing left to remind her of the sweetness of that treasured time. Now, the ring was gone.
Finally her buttocks became numbed from the wooden floor boards and Laura got up. She rinsed her face and then slowly picked up each of the bottles she had thrown off the shelf, half hoping the ring would be on the floor as she cleared it.
But it was not. She even lifted the rug to see if it had somehow rolled beneath it, but no, it was not there.
Realizing time was getting on and Neil would be home from the shop soon, she went down to the kitchen to check on the casserole. It was fine. She put away the pile of ironing and as she took the basket back to the bathroom, could not resist the urge to look again. It was still gone.
She looked at her face in the mirror. So many lines had appeared since she and Neil were married. She sighed, his hair had begun to grey, her body had rounded and they were dissolving into just another sad, middle-aged couple whose minds were full of what might have beens. She looked at her finger, which felt naked without the silver ring he had made. She missed the sparkle of the pink stones he had placed in it. The ring had been his representation of their love and delight in each other and made when his skill was beginning to bloom. Now she had nothing but the memory of it. She wiped tears away and went down to the kitchen.
Laura heard the front door and then Neil's steps as he walked up the stairs to change from his suit. It was like a religious act, this changing each night. She longed for the days when he would come home and grab her and more often than not carry her upstairs to help him undress. The dinner had often been burnt in those days by the time they came down after loving so long and so sweetly. Laura sighed again as she got the meal from the oven.
But tonight was no different from the thousands of others as they had aged. The passion of youth was overwhelmed by the mortgage on the house and the problems of running a jewellery workshop.
He came and opened a bottle of wine as she served the food and they sat to eat. "How was your day?" Laura asked, waiting for his standard reply.
"Fine," he said and ate.
What could you do with a response like that? Not a lot. Sometimes she wondered if he would even notice if she answered the door smeared in chocolate or wearing nothing but the tea cosy. She shrugged and when the meal was finished made some coffee. She handed some to Neil, who went to check his e-mails, and she wandered out of the house into the dampness of the garden, enjoying the coolness after the afternoon's brief, summer shower.
This really had become a wilderness garden, but she loved it--the pond always a center of insect life, the sweet smelling, rambling roses and the bright jewelled Rowan trees. One of the reasons they had bought the house was the loveliness of the garden. Like the house itself, the garden was old, and here you could still feel the beauty of the countryside and the seasons reflected in its ever-changing patterns. They had been enchanted in the summer when they first moved in at the appearance of fairy rings of mushrooms so often. She remembered Neil telling her it was a magical place and how they had laughed and loved in the cool darkness of the shrubs in the starlit evenings.
Watching the sunset, the loss of the ring gnawed at her again. She would have to tell him. She wondered when would be the best time to do it. She turned to look in surprise as he came out of the patio doors and down to join her in the pleasant cool of the evening.
"I've had an email from Phillip in Pittsburg. He says he will be over with Liz at the end of next month and would we like to meet up," he said.
"That would be nice," Laura told him.
"It would only be for one evening, not too much trouble to arrange."
She was certain he never heard a word she said. She watched despondently as he strolled down the path and went to sit beside the pond. The dragonflies, recovered from the soaking of the late afternoon showers, were skimming over the water. Going to sit beside him, she was surprised when he took her hand. He hadn't done that for weeks.
She saw him look down at her hand as he realized the ring was missing.
"What have you done with your wedding ring?" he asked, his voice tense.
"I've misplaced it. I took it off when I went to shower today and can't remember where I put it," she said, waiting for his response.
"Laura, if you want to tell me it's over, there are better ways than this, you know," Neil said as he let her hand go.
"It's not over, and that's not what this is about," she said, watching him stand up. "Neil, it's not that at all. I took it off and when I got out of the shower, it was gone. If I wanted to take it off permanently, I would tell you."
"Look, we both know this has been coming for a while. Let's at least be grown up about it and deal with it," he said, his voice bitter in the glow of the evening. "If you want to split, then so be it. I won't stop you. I won't even try."
"Neil, that's not it. I have just misplaced it," she tried again, but he walked off swiftly. Her tears came again as she realized he hadn't even heard her.