THE CATALYST • by Deirdre Coles

What I am hoping is that he will hit her, just once, because honestly I think that’s what it would take for her to call it off. But now I have the problem of what to do with the ring.

It’s a pretty ring, a square-cut diamond. When I reached under the bank of lockers and closed my hand around it, the stone bit into my palm with a hot spark.

But I didn’t say anything. Because when I looked at Lisa, she wasn’t just upset about losing the ring. She was scared, so visibly scared that it was apparent to every woman in that locker room that something was badly wrong between her and the man she planned to marry. So I kept my mouth shut.

I realize this wasn’t the best decision.

I could, for example, have talked to her about some of my concerns. I could have mentioned that it worried me how at our group happy hours Mark habitually picked up her phone and started reading her texts, looking at her calendar. “I’m just checking up on you,” he said, the first time she protested. And somebody at the table laughed. He was so blatant it became a sort of joke.

Or I could have told her some of my own stories. The night when he ordered for me in a restaurant, and I interrupted with my own order, and he spent the rest of the meal in a silent fury. Another night, when we argued and he shoved me out into the hallway at 2 a.m. on a winter night, without my coat or my purse, and wouldn’t open the door.

But I didn’t do any of that. I figured that she’d see the danger signs. When she dropped by my place a couple of months ago, her eyes looking tender and sad, I was sure she was coming to me for consolation about a break-up. But then she told me her news in a trembling voice and said that she hoped I would be happy for her. He must have planted the seed of an idea about me being jealous and bitter, just to make sure she wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say.

The truth was, I was afraid of him. So much so that I didn’t dare break up with him. I let him do it.

I know Lisa has seen at least some of the warning signs. I’ve seen the bewildered way she looks sometimes when she’s with him.

Her problem is the same as my problem, when I was with him. It wasn’t entirely clear whether that undercurrent of danger I felt was ever going to break through to the surface — the too-tight grip on my wrist, the joking-but-not-really-joking comments like, “Who says I’m going to let you leave?”

I thought back to my hazy memories of high-school chemistry. How you have a beaker of clear fluid, and you add one drop and then another, and suddenly the whole thing changes, and silvery black stuff starts snowing down.

That’s what I hope will happen now. He’ll be so furious he’ll do something drastic, something she can’t ignore. And then she’ll be free of him. And I’ll be free of him too. I won’t have to think about how I practically led him to Lisa’s door.

So I’m sitting in my apartment, waiting to hear from her. And I’m starting to realize the scope of what I’ve done. And for some reason, while I’m thinking about all this, I’m wearing the ring myself. Turning it back and forth under the lamp light, watching it spray tiny sparks of light all through my apartment. Watching it shine.

Deirdre Coles lives in Seattle, where she likes to come up with story ideas while running unnecessarily long distances. Her stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Free Flash Fiction, MicroHorror, Infective Ink and Kazka Press Fantasy Flash Fiction.

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