Side A Fiction: “Before All That” by Lauren Woods

Before All That

In the end, she sells me for only a hundred dollars. “Women in this market usually go for larger karats,” the woman at the pawn shop with the nails filed down to pink nubs tells her without blinking. She doesn’t stop to think it over, doesn’t caress my head a last time with her thumb. She plinks me onto the glass countertop and takes the bill.

Before that, the woman’s husband lost Gold Band in a parking lot after another fight. He’d wanted to see how Gold Band felt in his jacket pocket. They were both waiting to see if they would need another after Gold Band. Gold Band was simple and hammered smooth and reflected light in every direction. I could tell he was falling for me too, even if he didn’t say it. Once, when they were reaching across the table, we even clinked together. Gold Band said it was the sound of angels.

For a solid year before that, I lived in her top dresser drawer and only caught glimpses of Gold Band, like the time the man went rummaging through her things before packing a suitcase to go somewhere without us. In that time, she said she hated how I felt against her skin. She stopped eating meals, lost weight, and her fingers shrank. When she did wear me, she spun me around endlessly with her thumb, making me dizzy. I didn’t see much of Gold Band during that time, but I thought of him constantly.

Years, before that, she almost lost me. She went out without him, got drunk, and waved her hands around, telling stories. I slipped off and clinked onto a sticky bar floor next to crumbs of fried batter. We spent a lot of time in that bar, never any of it with Gold Band. I had always assumed if one of us would be lost, it would be me.

Before that, I met Gold Band on a satin pillow together in a small church. It wasn’t love at first sight. There’d been another before Gold Band I couldn’t forget. It took Gold Band and me years to get used to each other. We were never on the two hands that held each other—but Gold Band reflected the light perfectly and had an etching down his middle that made the most delicious scratching sound against the man’s thumbnail.

Before that, the man pulled me out of a small black box at a restaurant by the ocean. The waves rose and fell endlessly next to our table, and I longed to touch the water but didn’t because just then, he got down on one knee. She looked at me with wild delight—me—and said yes. Before that, he checked and rattled the bulge in his jacket pocket a dozen times.

Before that, his mother gave me to him. I’d thought she would keep me, because before that, she too had said I do. There was Yellow Gold before Gold Band, with milgrain beading around his edges. Yellow Gold had been to war and back and had a few nicks from the experience, but I told him, and I meant it, that shopkeepers knew nothing of true value.

Before that, a jeweler mounted me onto a slender gold setting, with small claws above a gold circle that wrapped around and then became part of me. There’s something divine in being joined together like that. I sat that way for a long time in a glass case under a hot fluorescent bulb waiting for someone to notice the way I let the light shine through me.

Before that, the jeweler explained to her apprentice that the light shining through me meant love, that gold had meant power and immortality in ancient cultures, and diamonds were chosen because we seem to resist any tarnish or chips, although I didn’t choose to be who I am, and if truly pressed, I’d say if love is forever, where is Yellow Gold, and if second love is possible, why not Gold Band, and what these impossibly tender humans could never understand is that their strength is in their soft forgetfulness, and being made of a hard and unforgiving substance is to carry many lives of memories on our surfaces.

Before that, a boy with feet caked in clay found me in a wooden sieve, gulped, and gazed at me. That was after many years of lying under the earth, deep within a fiery mantle. I still think of his puffy cheeks, his tiny fingers. I think too about Gold Band out there on the pavement, and what fleshy human fingers may lift him up again, and hope.

Mini-interview with Lauren Woods

HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?

LW: When I first started writing short stories, I used to write in a very linear way, like first this happened and then this did, but I often found myself stuck and joyless and trying to think of what comes next. I think my most important evolution as a writer was that moment it clicked that I didn’t have to follow those rules. As long as I wrote from a place of interest or emotion, I could write forward or backward, or start in the middle and do the beginning last, or whichever way I wanted. That freed me. This one happens to go backward.

HFR: What are you reading?

LW: Right now, I’m reading Jane Goodall’s and Douglas Abrams’ The Book of Hope. Goodall and Abrams write about how to find hope within the current climate crisis. I’ve read a lot that discourages and depresses me, and as a writer, I think it’s important also to think about where I draw my hope from as I engage with the world beyond myself. I have kids. I read as much as I can, but never as much as I’d prefer.

HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Before All That”?

LW: I actually wrote this a few years ago while I was writing more about relationships ending, and it was probably a little after my own divorce. And I was interested in the idea that if you take any relationship that ended, there was a time, if you trace it backward, that it began with hope. So I first started writing a story about a relationship in reverse, but then I got bored with that, and changed the point of view to the ring, and then started thinking about the values we place on ourselves and how others see us, and the feeling of wanting to be seen and chosen, and that’s when it clicked. 

HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?

LW: I recently completed a young adult novel I’m starting to query, and while that’s happening, I’m distracting myself by working on a short fiction collection I’m hoping to complete too.

HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?

LW: In my day job at a progressive foreign policy organization, I track data on where the U.S. sends weapons around the world. It’s billions of dollars every year, and people don’t seem to care about following the issue, in part because it happens so routinely that it rarely makes headlines. The risks of all these arms sales are huge—other security forces abusing populations with U.S. weapons, U.S. weapons getting lost, and so on. This is how the Taliban ended up with U.S. weapons when the U.S. left. I would love to see more grassroots interest and action on arms sales and the tracking of weapons that move around the world.

Lauren Woods is a Washington, DC-based writer, with work in The Antioch Review, The Normal School, Hippocampus Magazine Fiction Southeast, The Forge, and other journals. She tweets @Ladiwoods1.

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