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On The Other Hand
By Wendy Lestina

Where is the respect? Here is this girl, I have no idea who she is, a Gillespie maybe, and she's working at the funeral home, wearing a blouse I could see through if I wanted to. She asks if I'm family, and when I say yes, she takes my arm as if she expects me to be the next one to go. I can walk by myself, and I tell her so. I also tell her I don't want to be escorted into a chapel by someone who has a tattoo on her neck even if she is Arleda Gillespie's granddaughter which I am beginning to be certain she is.

Six people are sprinkled among four pews. I know them all by the backs of their heads.

I see the tip of her nose. Miss Elegant is lying on white satin pillows with powder caked in the canyons of her wrinkles. She'd turn over in her grave if she were there yet.

A shuffling of house slippers; a hand squeezes my shoulder. The Gillespie girl appears from behind a Chinese screen. Do I want a few minutes alone with my aunt?

I do. I want a few minutes alone with her left hand.

She intends to wear it to her grave: the fragile engagement ring, a spider-web of silver supporting a spider-egg diamond, a tourniquet on the finger it had always been too small to encircle.

No man gave her that ring. Curt gave it to Florence at the train station when he left for France. He survived the war, survived the influenza, and they were married.

She stole the ring during the viewing. My grandmother said, "Just what do you think you're doing, young lady?"

She said, "Oh, Florrie wanted me to have this."

My grandmother said, "I find this all very hard to believe."

A person might say that's water under the bridge. I'm saying, she took the ring off her dead sister's finger and she put it on her own left hand and if you think she moved into my daddy's house to help with the baby, you've got another think coming.

He was twenty-three. Already a Captain. She was eighteen, bobbed her hair before she was out of school, and smelled of tobacco. Her beaded dresses, torn from dancing, were stained red in the front from sloe gin and red in the back from not wearing rags.

That's who she was and a tiger doesn't change her spots if she lives to be a hundred and loses her hair and goes from fat to crumpled bird -- crumpled bird with fat fingers, leaving the ring for someone else to steal, if it can be called stealing when a person takes something that should have been a person's all along. What's right is right, and eighty years of wrong is, as the Bible says, a mite in the eye of God.

Editor's Note:
Wendy Lestina won our 2002 Storycove Flash Fiction Competition with this wry look at petty theft and redemption.

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