By Adam Straus
Like a magpie, Momma is drawn to shiny things. Especially engagement rings. She’s got a shoebox full under her bed. Every night, she runs her hands through the rings and lets them fall like grains of sand. She’ll walk around with two fat diamonds on each finger, bumping into walls as she stares at her hands.
She gets the rings when she’s out for the day. Momma leaves and I sit on the couch and read. Momma comes back and goes into her room. I hear the shoebox scrape across the floor and the rattle of diamond on metal. I read the same sentence over and over again.
There are mirrors on every wall in our apartment. If you stand on the sagging couch and shine a flashlight at the mirror on the back of the door, the light reflects around and shines on the back of your head. When I get tired of reading after Momma goes out, I chase myself around with beams of light. When the light gets tired of chasing me, I lie on the floor and throw paper airplanes at the fan. The air drafts toss them to the four corners of my one-room world.
At night, Momma talks. She talks about the way the streets smelled that day. She talks about the fountain in the park filling up with coins and bubbling over. She tells me how a man in the bodega thought he won the lottery. He checked his scratch off and totaled the numbers up and yelled. He’d won. The excitement overwhelmed him. His chest tightened. The man clutched at his sternum, tried to pull the bone away from his spine to give his heart more space. He went down on one knee, about to offer up one of those beautiful rings, and then he rolled back, quiet. When the police came they looked at his scratch–off for evidence. The man had misread it. He was one number off.
When Momma left yesterday, I read, I chased the light, and I napped with my head on the couch’s arm rest and my chin tucked in. I woke up and she still wasn’t back. The rings started to shake. I could hear the cha-chaka-cha-chaka-cha, a metallic maraca’s rhythm. I stood in the door frame and watched the box slide from under her bed. The box had never moved for me before. When I opened it, the glow from the diamonds shone across the apartment. I grabbed two fistfuls of rings and squeezed.