"No, no, don't open that box."
"But your ring could be in there," I said. "I remember I looped it around your watchband and stored it with your stuff."
"I'm warning you," he said. "It's not there."
I ignored my deceased husband's advice because for one, he was not actually present: he was a figment of my imagination that occasionally pops up. And, secondly, I was certain I had packed the ring with his ashes.
I was on a search for Tommy's wedding band because after writing an essay about how I had removed it from my ring finger to prevent its loss while swimming, I lost it.
"You shouldn't have used that magnetic clasp," Tommy said. "It was bound to open and send your ring sliding off."
"You weren't around to hook the chain," I said, as I dragged over a stepstool to reach a closet shelf. "I added the magnetic clasp so I could do it myself."
As I placed the USPS box on the island counter, Tommy stretched out on the Ikea daybed that doubles as a couch. He put his arms behind his head and hummed, "When The Saints Go Marching In."
"Very funny," I said, pulling apart the shipping tape that had reattached itself after the box was first opened.
"You know what you're going to find," he said, taking a break from his song. "Did you think it would miraculously get cleaned up?
In the middle of the shipping carton stood a dark brown box decorated with autumn leaves; it held my second husband's ashes. Well, it was supposed to hold onto them on its ride from Los Angeles to Chicago. But, in the bounces from truck to plane, from one delivery guy to another, the container unfastened and grey ash covered everything.
When I first saw this more than a year ago, I closed the carton unfazed. In my heart, I knew the ashes were merely an earthly reminder of Tommy, and that the majority of his ashes were spread in beloved places: the park near our home on Dakin St., outside the Lakeview YMCA he frequented for 40 years, and near the spot in Jackson Park where he got a hole-in-one.
The few ounces that were left were now coating his wallet, an old framed photo of his softball team; but not the watch with his ring looped through.
When I lost my ring, I searched everywhere: pool, elevator, hallway, apartment; but it was nowhere to be found. I have an uneasy suspicion that in the bathroom, after I had peeled off my bathing suit, and heard a mysterious clink, it was the ring travelling from its opened chain, down my chlorine-coated body to our city's sewer system.
Rather than lamenting my loss, and its likely solo swim, I opted to find Tommy's band and use that on the 18-inch chain. This time, I would use its original clasp, forgoing the magnetic one that led to my ring's dismal departure.
"It's in the top drawer," Tommy said, pausing his song and adding a told-you-so grin.
He was right; in the back of the drawer, in a plastic baggy, was the watch and ring.
"Apologies," I said, as I lifted his wedding band and slipped it through the chain. Miraculously, I now could reach behind my head, find the tiny circles with my pinched fingers, and securely seal the chain.
"Much better," Tommy said. "You should've been wearing mine instead of yours in the first place."
"You're right," I said. "But I'm glad I did it the other way around, otherwise it would be your wedding ring that had disappeared."
Tommy started to laugh. "You know I read in your blog that another reason for taking off your ring was to lure a guy to your life. You little flirt," he said.
I quickly stopped what I was doing, rushed to the daybed, and jumped on his lap. "Hubber," I said, "that was all for comic effect. You know I'd never try to find your replacement. Impossible."
Tommy became serious. "It has been four years," he said, "and I'm not surprised you'd get lonely. But, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit it stung a bit; I hoped I'd be your last love."
"No worries," I said. "I've already dropped that idea. When I thought further, I realized it would be more nuisance than I was willing to accept."
With that, Tommy touched the 18" gold-over-sterling silver chain that I now wore around my neck. He patted his own wedding band. "Looks good," he said. Then, he was gone.