The Lost Diamond
A Short Story by Nicole Bianchi
Laura did not notice the diamond was missing until the subway reached 42nd street. She had been playing with the engagement ring, twirling it back and forth around her finger, while she tried not to stare at the other passengers. When the subway stopped at the station platform, she jumped to her feet and bent down to collect her two shopping bags. It was then that she saw the ring’s empty prongs.
She whirled around and searched her place on the row of seats. Then she stooped down to see if the diamond had fallen onto the floor. A tall, middle aged man with a bulky backpack attempted to navigate around her. “I’m sitting here — I’m sorry,” she said, claiming the seat again.
The man glared at her and cursed under his breath before moving away towards the back of the car. Laura’s throat tightened. She unravelled her red tartan scarf and hunted with her fingers to see if the diamond had somehow gotten caught in the delicate threads.
Finding nothing, she inspected her wool pea coat, peered once again at the dirty floor, opened her purse and rifled through it, examined both her shopping bags, searched and searched and searched until angry sobs shook her throat.
“It isn’t gone,” she reassured herself in a frantic whisper. Maybe she had lost it back in the apartment. But, no, she remembered admiring it while making breakfast that morning. She could have lost it while shopping in Union Square. And that meant she must get off at the next stop, take the subway back, and retrace all of her steps. Yes, it was crazy, but what else could she do?
Despite the coolness of the subway car, an unbearable warmth washed over her. She stuffed her scarf into the pocket of her coat and tried to avoid looking down at the now simple white gold band around her finger. The two baguette diamonds still flanked the empty prongs, but they looked so small and insignificant without the center diamond.
From somewhere far away the gentle voice of her grandmother came to her and embraced her thoughts. “It will be all right, my little Laura, but really you should have been more careful. I wore that ring for nearly seventy years and never, ever lost a diamond.”
She could see her grandmother like a vague reflection in a mirror: the watery blue of her eyes, the tight curls of her hair dyed golden brown, the elegant silk scarf around her neck. But that was an image from before the sickness, before the hospital. Her grandmother had died last year in the spring, and the ring was her last gift to her little Laura.
The subway slowed to a stop, and the doors snapped open again. Laura rushed out to find the train that would take her back to Union Square.
After many panicked minutes, she was once again on a subway. This time it was crowded, and she had to stand up and hold onto one of the poles despite the sickness in her stomach and the throbbing in her head.
Should she call her mom? Or should she call her fiancé, Mark? No, there wasn’t any point calling either of them yet, telling them that she might have a nervous breakdown before the wedding. Besides, Mark would just go on and on about how she should have listened to him, how she should have let him buy her a ring that wasn’t engulfed in so many memories.
Laura’s body tensed as she tried to will the subway to go faster. Would it be too dark by the time she reached Union Square? And did she really think that she’d be able to find a diamond somewhere along the twists and turns of the outdoor Christmas market? Oh, shut up, shut up, shut up. Just let the diamond be there, somehow.
“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” The voice was soft and fragile, and at first Laura didn’t realize it was addressing her. But then a hand clutched the sleeve of her coat, and Laura looked down into the eyes of a small, elderly woman who was sitting in front of her.
“What?” Laura asked. She didn’t realize how rude she sounded until the word was already out of her mouth.
“The train, do you know? It goes to Grand Central?” The woman’s voice was thick with an accent. Spanish, Laura thought at once.
“No, it doesn’t go to Grand Central. You’re going the wrong way.”
The woman shrunk back in her seat and stared wide-eyed at Laura. “No es posible,” she murmured.
“You can just get off at the next stop, and then you’ll have to find the station with the trains heading uptown.” Laura remembered a fragment of her high school Spanish, and she added, “No hay problema.”
As soon as she said it, she knew she shouldn’t have. She didn’t want to have a conversation with this woman. She wanted to get off the subway as quickly as she could.
“¿Hablas español?” the woman asked eagerly and clutched Laura’s sleeve again.
“No, I’m sorry, solo un poquito.”
“But you can help me? ¿Puedes ayudarme?”
Laura felt the rough prongs with her thumb. She looked into the woman’s eyes — they were warm and brown, dark enough to be almost black. And just as helpless as the eyes that had stared up at her from her grandmother’s face in a cold hospital room.
The words “I can’t” began to form on her lips. She thought of the diamond, now lost somewhere out there in a grimy crack of the city.
“Please? ¿Por favor?” the woman pleaded. Her hand tightened — the skin was translucent and wrinkled like Laura’s grandmother’s had been. “I am so mixed up, as you say. I should have taken the taxi.”
Laura swallowed hard. She felt lightheaded, as if she were in a dream, and her lips moved before she could think through what she was doing. “Yes, I can show you,” she said. “We’ll get off here.”
The tide of passengers pushed them towards the exit, and the woman kept her grasp on Laura’s arm as if afraid that Laura might run off and leave her all alone.
“¿Cómo te llamas?” Laura asked.
“Dolores. Dolores Peña. ¿Y tú?”
“Laura. Is this your first time in the city?”
They were off the subway now, and Dolores stumbled, falling against Laura’s shoulder. The small red suitcase Dolores was dragging behind her tipped on its wheels.
“Sorry, I’m so used to walking fast,” Laura said, slowing her step. They passed a crowd of people that had gathered to listen to a group of musicians playing a rowdy rendition of Jingle Bells on an electric keyboard and guitars. The musicians had just revealed themselves to be celebrities in disguise, and the crowd broke out into wild cheering. Dolores was trying to tell Laura something, but Laura couldn’t hear her.
“What did you say?” Laura asked when they were finally on the correct station platform. The digital screen announced that the train would arrive in a few minutes.
“I said thank you. Muchas gracias. You are a very kind girl. I knew when I saw your face.”
“Do you have family in the city?” Laura had to repeat the question before Dolores understood.
“No, I have to take the train. I am a surprise.” Dolores was smiling now. “How is my English? I am trying to practice.”
“It’s very good,” said Laura, and Dolores’s smile grew wider. She had let go of Laura’s arm and placed both hands on the handle of her suitcase. Laura had always considered herself short, but this woman, all bundled up in a long blue coat and white scarf, was so small that her head came just to Laura’s shoulder.
“You have to go now?” Dolores asked, turning back to Laura. “I am afraid.”
Laura twirled the ring around her finger again. It really would be stupid to try to retrace all of her steps, wouldn’t it? She might as well just head back home and hope that the diamond had fallen from the ring somewhere in the apartment directly after breakfast.
“Yes, I can come with you,” Laura said at last. Dolores looked relieved and patted Laura’s arm.
On the next subway, Laura found them two empty seats, and Dolores chatted away in a mix of Spanish and English about a country where a summer sun was now shining. She showed Laura photos of all of her family members, though Laura lost track of the exact relationships. In one, there was a little girl, who looked no more than six years old, wearing a green velvet dress and smiling shyly at the camera.
“I go to see her in Westchester,” Dolores said, stroking the photo with her hand. “It is far?” And she pointed to the address on the envelope that she had taken the photos from.
“No, not very far,” Laura assured her.
Dolores smiled at Laura mischievously. “You have children?”
Laura shook her head no.
“A husband? A boyfriend?”
“I’m getting married at the end of December.”
“¿En serio?” Dolores said. She drew out the word in happy disbelief. “I want to go. I love bodas — how do you say?”
“Yes, you will be a beautiful bride. ¡Que linda! Felicidades.”
She leaned closer and kissed Laura’s cheek. Laura nearly drew back, but she smelled the fragrance of lavender, the same scent her grandmother had always worn. “Dios te bendiga, mi hija,” Dolores said and gently grasped Laura’s hand. “God bless you.”
Laura felt tears in her throat, though this time she wasn’t sure if it was because of the lost diamond. She had wished to have her own grandmother at her wedding. Yes, she had prayed for it so hard that she had thought her heart would break. She had prayed that her last memories of her grandmother could have been of a woman like this, full of warmth and laughter.
But the very last memories were of the dull light coming through a hospital window, of that strong, unpleasant smell of disinfectant that smothered the room, and of her grandmother’s labored breathing. Her grandmother’s hair had become so thin and gray. She was shrunken and gaunt as if she had shed the husk of the person she once was. And she did not speak. She did not recognize anyone.
A voice over the loudspeaker announced that they had just reached Grand Central. Dolores was now inviting Laura to come visit her in South America, and Laura felt compelled to stay with her a little while longer.
She showed Dolores through the subway station and up the escalator. At last, they stepped into the vast concourse where the green ceiling stretched out over them scattered with constellations. Holiday wreaths hung on the walls, and an ocean of travellers eddied around the circular information booth where the four-faced brass clock rose like a beacon.
“I know this, sí,” said Dolores excitedly. “I was here before.”
“Do you have a ticket?” Laura asked. Dolores shook her head no, and Laura took her to one of the ticket counters. Yes, Dolores must have been in Grand Central before, perhaps several years ago with her family. She knew exactly which ticket to buy, and once she had it in her hand, she thanked Laura profusely.
“You’ll be all right now?” Laura asked.
Dolores nodded. “I take a taxi to the house when the train gets to that station,” and she pointed to her ticket.
The train was already waiting on the tracks for the passengers to board. Dolores hugged Laura tightly one last time. Laura remembered her grandmother holding her when Laura was a child. It had been a holiday, perhaps Christmas, and her grandmother was showing her all of the pies cooling on the counter…
Dolores’s voice pulled Laura from her thoughts. “Me gustaría ser tan joven como tú con toda mi vida por delante.”
“What did you say?” Laura asked to make sure she had understood. “That you want to be young again like me with all of your life ahead?”
“Sí, because now, sé cómo ser feliz.”
“You know how to be happy? And how is that?”
Dolores smiled. “Pero ya sabes. You know. Be kind to everyone, and God takes care of you. ”
Laura did not know what to say in response, but then Dolores let out a little cry, “¡Un diamante!” and she pointed at Laura’s coat. Laura looked down and saw where the first three buttons of her coat were open and her black sweater peeked through.
And there was the diamond, caught in the sweater’s ribbing.
She snatched it away with her fingers. How had it stayed there all this time? And how had it gotten there? Oh, but she didn’t care. What did it matter now? All that mattered was that she hadn’t lost it after all, that her wedding wouldn’t be tinged by sadness, that her grandmother would be with her still.
“It’s from my ring,” Laura explained. The station seemed to have grown brighter, and she wanted to hug Dolores again. But the train was about to leave, and the last passengers were hurrying past them.
“Goodbye, Dolores,” Laura called as the little woman walked briskly away to board the train. Laura knew that Dolores would not get lost now, and yet she almost wished she could have continued the journey with her. She had been so distracted before that she hadn’t listened to half the things that Dolores had told her.
She stood there, waiting, though she did not know why, until the train pulled out of the station. And then she realized that she was still holding the diamond between her fingers. She put it carefully into one of the pockets of her purse, and a strange, sweet calmness enfolded her that she had not felt in many months.
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