Walking into my mother and father’s bedroom, I go straight to her chest of drawers. She keeps her jewelry in a little compartment next to her undergarments. The ring is there, just like I expected it to be. I pick up the ring and look at it. It’s made of silver gold and studded with diamonds. Up until then I had just been stealing little things: necklaces, earrings, and things that didn’t get noticed. A little bit at a time. Then I’d go down to the husband and wife jewelers on Steinway Street and sell them for what I could get. They’d weigh the gold and give me money, maybe twenty, or thirty dollars. Knowing it was stolen, and that I was a dumb kid, they gave me less than market value.
I hear the apartment door opening, so I grab the ring and shove it into my pants pocket. Taking big steps, I rush out to the living room, out of breath.
My father drops his keys on the table, looking at me suspiciously.
“Home from school already?” he asks.
“Yeah, we got out early.” I say
“Are you doing laps in the house?” he asks.
“Push-ups,” I say quickly.
“Oh, ok. Do you want to go for a slice of pizza?” he asks.
“No.” I’m brimming with guilt right now; I don’t want to be around my father. The ring is burning a hole in my pocket. I’m imagining the guitar I could buy with this ring. It’s got to be worth many hundreds of dollars. I could buy a white Fender Stratocaster like Jimi Hendrix plays. I’ll probably have enough left over to play video games at the smoke shop. For a few weeks, I’m going to live it up.
And I’ll get away with it. Right now, my mother is furious at my father. Night after night, she yells at him at the dining room table.
“How can you just sit there?” she asks.
He doesn’t say anything.
She takes another sip of red wine. Her words begin to slur.
“Get another job. You-have-to-do-something,” she shouts each word one at a time, as if not speaking in sentences.
He doesn’t look up. He keeps looking down at the crossword puzzle on the table, smoking his cigarette, tapping ashes in the ashtray. Unlike my mother, my father doesn’t drink. Gambling has destroyed him enough. He remains sober, all too aware of the pain he’s caused his wife, his children.
“We don’t have anything. You keep lying, you keep gambling and we don’t have anything. We can’t pay the rent this month. We-can’t-pay-the-rent.”
My mother’s not going to think I stole her ring; she’s going to think my father did. He’s the one who needs the money.
I leave the apartment and go up to the 6th floor where my best friend Lan lives.
“I got the ring,” I say.
“You took the ring?” he asks, wincing. We’d talked about it, but he can’t believe that I would so something so bold, so evil. Lan is like a brother to me. Being half Puerto Rican and half black, he’s slightly darker than I am.
“Yes,” I say, smiling but worried. This was my mother’s favorite ring.
“What are you going to do?” he asks.
“I’m going to sell it at the jewelry store,” I say. “Let’s go now. I can’t keep this thing in my pocket.”
We walk to the jewelry store on Steinway Street. He can’t get over how gutsy this move is.
We get to the store. The owner is reading a newspaper.
“What do you have today?” he asks. He puts the newspaper down and reaches for his magnifying glass.
I hand him the ring.
He looks at the ring and then looks at me. He applies a liquid to the ring to determine the amount of gold alloy.
He calls his wife over.
I can tell he’s trying to hide his excitement. He wife gazes at the ring and silently gasps. She then looks at me. This is an antique ring, with delicate designs and settings. The diamonds are subtle, but they shimmer.
“How much do you want?” he asks.
“How much do you think it’s worth?” I ask.
“I don’t know, maybe three hundred,” he says, waving his hand, like he’s not that interested.
“Three hundred and fifty?”
He looks at his wife; she bites her lip, slightly nodding in agreement.
“So three hundred and fifty?” he says.
“Yes,” I say, my voice trailing away, now realizing I could have gotten more. But three hundred and fifty should be enough to buy a guitar.
His wife goes to the register to get the money and hands it to the husband.
He counts out six fifties, two twenties, and one ten in my hand.
“Three-hundred and fifty.”
I look down at the money.
“So, ok?” the man says.
I’m hesitant to walk away from the deal.
“Ok?” he repeats. He can’t believe his luck.
I fold the money up and put it in my pocket. The man then hands the ring to his wife. It’s a gift from him to her and for a great price.
“I can’t find my ring,” my mother says, storming out of the room. She looks at my father.
“Have you seen my ring?”
“Me?” he says.
“Yes, you. I’m talking to you,” she shouts at my dad.
I knew it would go this way.
“Did you see the ring?” she now points at me and asks.
“Uh, no,” I say, shocked.
My mother is rabid. She tries to light a cigarette but can’t because her nerves are shaken. She throws the matches across the table.
“Maybe it was the maintenance man,” my father says. He lights a cigarette too.
My brother Frank and sisters, Camille and Lynn are now in the living room. It’s a witch hunt. My father is the one with blood on his hands. My hands are alabaster white.
“Frank, if you did this,” my mother says, now crying, “I’ll never talk to you again, you fucking bastard. You know how much that ring meant to me.”
“I would never do that to you,” he says, nervously smoking. He can’t but help be guilty. He’s always guilty. He’s the one who lies, borrows and steals. He’s the one who could steal the ring, who would steal the ring to get more money to gamble or to pay off an urgent debt. Except he would have gotten eight hundred to a thousand for the ring. With that thousand dollars he could have placed a few bets at horse track, he could have been a sport for a few days, taking us out to a Chinese restaurant, buying comics for me and my brother. That’s what he loved most about money. He loved to spend money on other people, show them that he could.
But not me. I’m greedy. I think about how smart I am. I’ve outsmarted them all. Only twelve years old and I’ve tricked them all. While I ran away with the golden egg, my father is nailed to the cross. He deserves to be the one nailed at the cross. He’s the one who fucked up, not me.
As my mother rants, I’m thinking about the guitar I’m going to buy. It’s going to be beautiful, just like the guitar Hendrix plays at Woodstock. Beaming in brilliant white, with a whammy bar. When I play it, I’ll sound just like Hendrix, roaring, on fire, thrusting my body back and forth, as I pull the stings, the notes shooting out like flaming bullets.