Down to the Five and Dime trucked Walter, his life savings to date safely pocketed. Everything looked bigger with the intention of making a purchase. Twenty-two stairs from the clothing section of the main floor to the basement filled with goods couldn’t be longer than the trail to temples and ruins of Machu Picchu. With each step, the young Walter bucked up his courage, a testament to the enormity of the task at hand.
At the far end of the room, beyond the sporting equipment, next to the appliances, a shimmering glass case beckoned. Jewelry, or what passed for baubles and decorations in this small rural farming community, laid out in neat rows on two shelves; one box dedicated to rings. He pointed to the box and looked up with hope in his eyes at the old woman on the other side of the counter.
Each ring, tied with a small string indicating increasing prices from left to right, top to bottom, more beautiful than the one before it. His eyes grew wide at the flash of precious metals and facets of cut jewels. Walter removed the funds from his pocket, carefully smoothed out the crumpled bills and arranged the coins in order of denomination. $2.78. When he pointed to the last ring in the box, a gaudy zirconium, the clerk waggled her finger and shook her head. She, in turn, pointed out the first three rings, all plain and dull in comparison.
Walter pursed his lips. He had trouble seeing the rings for the mist gathering in his eyes as he looked to the rings, then to his amassed savings, and back to the rings. His heart sank. Would any of these inspire love and gratitude on the part of his intended, or would she laugh at him and his paltry offering and dismiss him with a wave of her hand?
Sullen, he picked the copper band, the one with the highest price he could afford, and held it up for the clerk who took the ring, and his cash. She pushed a few buttons on the mechanical cash register, which dinged as it opened to receive his payment. Walter and the old woman looked at each other as she was about to place the ring in a paper bag. They paused, each appraising the other.
The old woman tilted her head, harrumphed, and reached under the counter. A box. A small box. A small velvet covered box with a silk lining and a slot. The clerk slipped the copper ring into the slot and handed it to Walter. Somehow, in that small box, containing all the hope he had in the world, the ring took on a glow that surpassed even the glinting zirconium gem. He beamed as he accepted this treasure. Walter stared at the copper ring in its velvet and satin resting place all the way home.