One Sunday morning a few months ago I woke up with this story buzzing around in my head. On most mornings I wake up, take a shower, make a cup of coffee or grab breakfast, and spend some time just relaxing before I do anything remotely productive. Not on this Sunday, though. On this Sunday I rolled over, grabbed my computer off the ground, and wrote this piece in about ten minutes.
I found it again some months later. It was only after I spent a bit of time editing and tweaking it that I realized where the inspiration had probably come from.
So here is my (unconscious) take on this flash fiction story, which is usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway (even though nobody really knows where it came from):
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
“Okay, sir, we’re all set. I’m sorry, but the refund is only for the materials. The setting fee isn’t refundable.”
“Sure,” I said absently. “Makes sense.”
“The only thing I need now is the actual item.”
In a daze, I looked up from the glass counter and into the soft brown eyes of the young woman in front of me.
“Right,” I said, glancing down at my hand. “Of course.”
I tried to give it to her, but for some reason I couldn’t get my arm to move. I attempted to lift it, to do as the woman had asked, but my entire body seemed unresponsive. It was the strangest thing.
All I could think was that I wasn’t supposed to be here. Through my entire childhood, all of my relationships, the ups and downs, the joy, sadness, and everything in between, I’d never once imagined myself in this situation.
I felt a strange numbness inside, as if it wasn’t really me standing in the jewelry store at that moment. I didn’t know if I should be crying, shouting, complaining, or anything else.
I wondered what it meant that I wasn’t any of those things. That I just…was.
The woman in front of me put the hand she had extended across the counter back down by her side and smiled. Her smile was delicate, as if she was afraid that showing too many of her pearly white teeth would break me like a pane of glass, or that showing too few would seem unsympathetic.
I wondered how many of these transactions she’d done before.
“I’ll give you a minute,” she said.
I watched as she walked a short distance away to a computer and began moving the mouse around, pretending to click things on the screen. I figured she likely wasn’t doing anything important – she was just giving me space.
I felt a small flicker in my chest, possibly the sign of an emotion when I never thought I’d feel anything again. That feeling was appreciation. Like the tiniest flame in a desert at midnight, trying vainly to warm the cold sand around it.
I looked back down at the engagement ring clutched between my thumb and index finger. It glittered there, like a promise for tomorrow, even though I knew that all the promises for tomorrow had been broken. The stone wasn’t large, but it was what I’d been able to afford, and when I had finally put it on her finger she’d told me that it was perfect.
“I… Yes. Here.”
I passed the ring across the counter and a minute later she handed me a receipt.
“You’re welcome. I hope I see you back in here soon. For a happier occasion.” She paused, as if weighing whether or not to continue. Eventually, she did. “The day will come, I promise.”
“I hope so.”
I thanked her one last time and walked out of the store, thinking the entire way that returning the ring had been hard, but not nearly as hard as returning the unused crib.
Not nearly as hard as parting with the unworn pink clothes.