The Last Gift
copyright March, 2000 by Shelley Wright

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  I never liked that cliche'.
It implies that my past isn't important.  It's damn important to me.  I
catch myself twisting the ring on my right hand and smile sadly.  A nervous
habit I picked up long ago.  It's the engagement ring from my first
husband, Zeke.  It's all I have left of him.  My wedding ring was stolen by
my rapist.

I have to catch my breath, even after thirty-eight years.  I wipe angrily
at an errant tear that escapes my left eye.  My hands are shaking and I
will them to stop.  I'm sixty-eight years old, damnit!  You'd think that
all the therapy I went through I would be better than this.  I know it's
not really the rape that bothers me.  No, what bothers me is that I lost
Zeke so soon afterward.  I had just started going to therapy.  We were
starting to talk seriously again after weeks of curt, meaningless
conversations.  And one night on the subway, he gets killed.  I remember
how he looked the last time I saw him.  I'm curled in the corner of the
couch, my customary position since...that night.  He stops with the door
open and turns back to me.  'Roz', he whispers in that raspy voice of his.
I look up.  Eyes so full of sadness meet mine and I want to weep for him
instead of myself.  I honestly don't know who hurt more during that time;
me or him.

I thank God I didn't have to identify the body.  The face was
unrecognizable, they told me.  A gunshot fired point-blank range at his
nose.  I had to have a closed casket, denied even that small bit of closure
of saying good-bye.  I stroked the coffin's edge and thought, 'You left me
just when I needed you most'.

Zeke was a decorated policeman; he received some of the highest honors.
His funeral was just as decorated, with attendance by the Police
Commissioner himself.  Zeke's pals at the precinct helped me box things up
and move into a small apartment.  Even his captain came by and made sure I
was taking care of myself.  I was grateful for what they did, but I
couldn't feel grateful.  I didn't feel much for a long time.  I hated
selling the house, but I couldn't stay there.  Not with the memories.  Not
with Jax's ghost.  Not without Zeke there to overshadow it.

I take a steadying breath and force myself to focus on the here and now.
Today, I retire from my teaching tenure of twenty years.  I don't know if
teachers get gold watches for retirement, or even if women do.  The staff
is throwing me a party, and I better get ready.  Jake will be home soon to
take me.

The party is a sweet gesture thrown by dear friends I've made at this
school.  I'm laughing and having a glorious time.  There is a small stack
of presents that they want me to open.  They really shouldn't have.  I know
what teacher's salaries are, and I jokingly tell them so.  The first is a
gold pen set, engraved with the name of the school and the years I've been
here.  Another is a mini-DVD collection of all the places I talked about
visiting.  'You better see them in person,' someone calls from the crowd.
We all laugh politely.  Jake's going to retire at the end of the year, and
we have enough saved up to travel for about six months.  That's the plan,
anyway.  He hugs me from behind, and I smile at his touch.  He hands me
another present, this one in a small, plain box.  Funny that it's addressed
to 'Roz'; no one's called me that in years.  My fingertip traces the name
as a warmth fills my chest.  The lid drops from my suddenly numb fingers.
I clutch the box despite the shaking in my hands.  It can't be.  Not after
all these years.  All sound fades in the background, nothing seems real as
I remove the wedding band.  I try to slip it on my shaking fingers.  It
doesn't fit; not surprising as it's been...too long.  Far too long.  Jake
is calling to me, trying to find out what's wrong.  I can't get words past
the lump in my throat.  I shake my head, my inability to speak not lost on
him.  He guides me to a chair, but my eyes never leave the circle of gold.
I don't know how anyone would know it was mine.  I don't know where it came
from.  They found nothing on Jax when he was arrested.  Then he was dead of
a drug overdose before the trial.  'Thank you,' I whisper to the wind,
hoping it will carry to whomever found my ring.

In a cramped alley in India, Ezekiel Stone knows that these are his last
moments on earth.  He hesitates for the briefest moment before stabbing out
the eyes of the last escaped soul.  Her screams of outrage at being sent
back to Hell do not affect him.  He is lost in memories of Roz.  Her smile,
her laugh; how she looked the last time he saw her.  He senses someone
watching him.

The Devil appears out of the shadows, applauding.  'Time for you to return,
too,' he announces gleefully.  Zeke feels a momentary flare of anger, but
it passes quickly into resignation.  He never really believed that the
Devil would agree to let one of his 'children' go.  He is damned to
eternity in Hell.

The last tattoo starts to burn off, but continues spreading, consuming his
flesh.  Zeke's borrowed time is up.  He has a flash of panic, and his hand
reaches up for the necklace that holds Roz's ring, forgetting he arranged
to have it delivered to her retirement party two weeks ago.  He wants her
to have one piece of him that is untainted by his sin.  A symbol of their
love that he takes with him back to Hell.  His earthly body disintegrates
without a sound, but the smile seems to linger until the last possible

The End

Comments? Feedback for the author?

Return to story index