Fiction: The Best Things You Get in Life are Stolen
Paige Maguire is a native of Albany, New York and currently resides there.
The Best Things You Get in Life Are Stolen
The harsh snowfall doesn’t bother Jackson. The excitement of finally going out with Alison is enough to keep him warm. He stands out on the sidewalk anxiously anticipating her arrival.
“You should wait inside,” his roommate, Alex, calls from behind the front door of their downstairs apartment.
“It’s not that cold out,” Jackson lies through his chattering teeth. He is absolutely freezing.
“You look desperate.”
“I’m not desperate. She’s never been here before. I don’t want her passing the apartment.” He keeps telling himself that she will be here any minute.
“Whatever.” Alex slams the door with such strength that it causes snow from the roof to come crashing down.
He wishes he had a front porch to sit on. Jackson is determined to have a house with two Adirondack chairs that match the color of his future shutters. Of course, what he was cares about the most is who will occupy that second chair. He is hoping that after this weekend it will be Alison. The snow begins to accumulate on the shoulders of his parka. His pockets aren’t enough to keep his hands warm. The wind carries the snow right into his face as it begins to turn red.
Alex opens the door one more time. “Come inside. Your lips are turning purple!”
Jackson reluctantly agrees. He is grateful to be greeted with heat from the apartment. He takes off his boots and heads towards the kitchen. His hands are trembling from the cold and they struggle to fill up the tea pot with water. He places the tea pot on the stove, before moving away he holds his hand over the hot stove. He gets out two mugs and sets them at the table. He sits down as he’s waiting for the water to boil. He brings his left hand up to his mouth and begins to chew away at the ends of his nails. He works from left to right. It looks like he’s chewing corn on the cob.
“You’re biting your nails again,” Alex points out. He takes a seat on the opposite side of Jackson.
He pulls his fingers away from his mouth, but still says nothing. It’s a nervous habit, and one that he’s tried desperately to break. The steam from the tea pot is rising higher. He turns the stove off and pours the piping hot water into both the mugs. He takes out the hot cocoa mix and begins swirling the chocolate around.
Alex reaches for one of the mugs, but Jackson slaps his hand away. “It’s not for you,” Jackson says. He sits back down in his chair with his hot chocolate and sets the other mug next to him. He pulls up an extra chair next to him.
“Who’s it for then? Alison? She’s not coming.”
“Yes she is. She is just running a little late.” He glances at the clock above the stove.
“Give it up. You’ve been waiting for over an hour.” Alex reaches across the table and grabs the extra hot chocolate. As he goes to take a sip, he shrugs his shoulders and says, “No sense in letting it go to waste.”
Jackson slouches in chair, letting his arms fall to the side. “Maybe I should call her. What if she got lost?”
Alex shakes his curly blond hair from side to side, “She didn’t get lost.”
“How do you know?” Jackson’s big hazel eyes stare at Alex. His long eyelashes don’t blink as he waits for the answer.
“Because she didn’t want to go!” What person wants to go on a weekend trip to the country, visit a boring art museum, and stay at a bed and breakfast with someone on the first date?” Alex screams.
Jackson stands up and puts his coat back on and heads towards the front door. “I thought it would be romantic.”
The electronic, feminine sounding voice is his only companionship on his lonely four hour car ride. Even the woman on the GPS lies to him today. He got lost a few times on the way. The old white house with sleek black shutters makes for a beautiful museum. Jackson is grateful for the engraved wooden sign that says Remington Art Museum.
The trip had been planned for weeks. Though, when he first planned it, he didn’t think he would be alone. He thought he would be holding the delicate hands of a beautiful woman as they gaze at the paintings and having a stimulating conversation.
“Can I help you sir?” The woman behind the ticket counter says.
He hands her the nine dollar admission charge. “Uh, just one please.” Managing the budget was the first step when he planned the weekend getaway. Jackson feels his cheeks reddening. He knows he must look ridiculous going to a museum in the middle of nowhere by himself. Now he regrets making the non refundable deposit on the bed and breakfast not far from the museum.
“Here you go,” she says as she hands him the ticket stub that has a washed out cowboy riding a horse on it. Her fingers gently brush over Jackson’s hands for a brief second. This is the closest female contact Jackson will get all weekend.
He wanders from room to room staring at the colorful canvases lined with cowboys and Indians. The rugged terrain in the paintings makes Jackson think he is in the Wild West instead of on the Canadian border. A saloon will make the American west theme complete. He could really use a drink right now.
It’s a quaint little museum. Old houses always have that sense of charm. Jackson tries to imagine what the house looked like before the museum. It’s a home Jackson would like to live in one day, but it’s all too big for just one person. Jackson’s nose is practically touching the oil painting. The elegance of the gold picture frames doesn’t match the roughness of the people in them he notices. The men he is staring at are brave, taking down buffalo and flying into battle. He stares at the sculpture of man struggling to balance on bucking bronco. Out of all of the paintings, drawings, and sculptures it is the glisten from the single diamond in gold band that captures Jackson’s attention. The engagement ring is placed in a plastic box that should be polished more often. Fingerprints and foggy patches of breath marks conceal the ring. Jackson tries to get a better view by using his sleeve to wipe off the plastic.
The note at the bottom simply reads the Tiffany and Co. engagement ring was given to fiancée, Eva, in 1884. Jackson reads that one line over and over again trying to grasp why the ring is in a plastic box and not with Eva. The ring does not belong here. Not in a dirty plastic box in the middle of a museum. It should be with Eva, wherever she is. It’s not even properly secured. There is no lock on the box. Only a few screws keep the ring separate from the people outside of the box. Jackson tries to move on, and walks past the ring. He stares at an Indian headdress hoping that the bright feathers will distract his attention. It’s not working. His thoughts keep wandering back to the ring and eventually so does his body. This isn’t the first time Jackson’s romantic vision has caused him distress. The ring is tiny. He pictures a fragile hand where the ring used to lay upon. He feels heartbroken for poor Eva. How long has she been separated from what has to be the most sentimental piece of jewelry? Jackson can’t take it anymore.
He looks around the museum. It’s practically empty. It’s quieter than a library. A few people walk in and out, but none ever stay for too long. The only eyes staring at him are the Cowboys’ on the wall. He can do this. He can be just as brave as the men in the paintings. He finds a dime from his pocket and starts to turn the screws. He knows stealing is wrong but this doesn’t feel wrong. It’s the right thing to do. It’s taking longer than he thinks it should. His heart is pounding not because he doesn’t want to get caught, but because each time he turns the screw, he is one step closer to getting the ring. He is going to get whiplash from the constant snapping his neck back and forth to make sure no one is approaching. His chest is beating to the sound of the drums coming from the kid’s playroom down the hall. Jackson’s sweaty fingers try to pull the screw out. He can’t hold onto it, instead it hits the floor. Quickly, he turns around to make sure no one heard the ting of the screw hit the hardwood floor. If he can just get one more screw he can probably pull the glass far enough out to reach his hand in.
Before he begins to work on the second screw, the security guard walks in. He is an old man, based on his lack of hair; Jackson believes he is in his sixties. From the small size of the town, they probably rarely experience crime. It’s obvious based on the little security they have on the ring. Jackson begins to bite his nails. He only took out one screw. He can leave now and forget about it. He turns his back to the ring and starts to walk out leaving the security guard behind him. Before he leaves the room, he looks at the picture of cowboy sitting valiantly on his majestic horse. Behind the cowboy sits a woman, a Native American, who clutches onto him. Jackson looks at her painted on smile, and decides that he isn’t done here. He walks around, trying to look nonchalant. He continues to bite away at his fingernails as he moves from painting to the next, waiting for the security to leave and make the rest of his rounds. As he is staring at a sculpture of a horse, he hears the old, wooden floorboards creak, signaling that the security guard has finally left.
He has to stop biting his nails so he can get back to work. The second screw is much easier. The first one was just a warm up he tells himself. He rolls up his sweater sleeve and carefully wedges his arm between the panes of plastic. Jackson is suddenly grateful for his scrawny arms. He feels the ring, he tries to get it. He can’t get a good hold on it. Finally, he manages to slide it on his pinky finger and flicks it off into his palm. He has never squeezed his hand tighter. He pulls his trembling arm out and rolls down his sleeve. He slides his fist that holds the ring into his pocket, and doesn’t let go. He heads towards the front of the museum, past the woman at the ticket window, and waves good bye with his free hand.