BETWEEN BELLS AND RINGS • by Rory Crane Arnold

“A class ring is a great reminder of all the memories you made in school,” the man in the too-small suit said to me, holding out the gold ring. On it was the school crest: a shield and two striking swords. “Strength. Integrity. Courage.” The emblem and the quote felt archaic. My school had opened in 1971, long after the need for sword fighting, and I’d never felt strong, full of integrity, nor courageous, keeping my head down most days, silently moving between class bells. The salesman asked for my size.

“I don’t know.” I kept my hands in my pockets. “Never worn a ring before.”

“Well, this is a great opportunity for you!” He pulled out a thin strand of paper, asking to see my ring finger. I gave him my left hand. “Ha! Oh, no. That’s your wedding finger. Sacred to the bond of your future wife. I’ll need to see your other hand.”

We measured up; I was exactly the size he thought I might be. And before any other words were said, he slipped a gold ring with a blue diamond onto my finger — the correct finger.

“Mhmm, yes. Very nice. It looks great on you.” He said. I held my hand close to my face, the off-blue diamond sparkling under the bright foyer lights. “So, what do you say?”

I stood silent. The ring’s weight, shape, and color felt good, felt right. But even before talking to this man, I already knew the price tag was far too high for a foster kid to be trying on. He smiled, then, once more: “It’s a perfect fit for you.” The fourth period bell rang. Time for lunch.

I wanted to walk away from the table, dart into the hungry crowd with my new ring. Shake every hand, high five every passerby, finally look people in the eyes when I spoke. I could find my way into places I’d never gone before, stand in circles of conversation and prove I had something to say — maybe even something interesting to say. I wanted to let the diamond glimmer under a ballroom chandelier, sharing the evening with people who wore matching gold bands. When it was on my finger, I hoped the ring could be me, be mine.

“I gotta go.” Sliding it off, I placed the ring on the table.

“Wait!” he replied. “Could I get your information?”

As I filled out a fake name and number on his clipboard of maybes, he offered a final statement:

“We do have payment plans if you can’t buy it right now,” he said. “I think the ring is perfect for you, and I’d hate for you to regret not getting one.”

I stopped writing.

If I gave him fake credentials, then I could forget about the ring, walk away from the table, and follow the bells from classroom to classroom, unconcerned with the possibility of a glimmering diamond under ballroom chandeliers.

But I crossed out the fake name and number, writing my real information instead. The salesman smiled and thanked me, saying we’d be in touch. I followed the lunch crowd to my usual table, far in the corner of the cafeteria. No windows, only flickering lights. I ate in the dimness, awaiting the next bell to ring. And the next one. And the next after that. The cycling of a day spent alone, uncertain of when the bells would stop, and I’d no longer have a place to go.

Rory Crane Arnold spends too much time with Pabst Blue Ribbon, Italo Calvino, and his hound mutt Seamus. He’s a 2019 graduate of Millikin University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing. Rory has since escaped the cold of the Midwest for North Carolina. His work has appeared in Collage Literary Magazine and Burst Magazine.

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