�I can�t hear you, but I love you.� Jonas hung up the phone and for the next ten minutes � the equivalent of an eternity when concentrating on the fact � stared without end at the picture of his wife shuffled amongst the many papers on his desk.
Thoughtfully setting the picture aside, he continued to arrange all of the bills and eviction notices into neat piles on his desk, relegating the bills to one corner and the notices to another. The letters from his wife he kept in a separate drawer. Inside the battered briefcase next to his chair was contained a veritable arsenal of precious gems, geodes, diamonds, necklaces, bracelets, and pendants. Jonas reached into his briefcase and, apparently at random �though in reality this would have been impossible in light of the innate relationship he had formed with each piece � pulled out two modestly-sized geodes which he used as paperweights to cover the separate piles on his desk. He always kept the window open so he could hear the music coming from the venue across the street. The free sound was worth the trouble which the wind often caused. �What to do, what do you,� Jonas mumbled to himself as he feverishly punched figures into his calculator, hoping that some chance occurrence may prove him right. A feuding couple lived next door. The endless sound of sirens echoed in the street.
At first Jonas didn�t hear the doorbell ring because of all the music and the sirens and the people in the street, but even after he heard it he refused to get up and answer the door anyway: a discipline which he had recently perfected. An envelope slid under the door, followed by a final ringing of the bell.
�You up there?� someone shouted up from the street.
�How are you?� Jonas shouted back down, realizing that the voice came from his friend Raymond. �Did you just ring my bell?�
�No, I was just passing by and thought I�d stop to see if you�d already left for work. Want to get a cup?�
�I really should be leaving in a minute to open up the store.�
�No offense, but do you think a half-hour�s going to make much of a difference at this point?�
�I�ll be right down.� Jonas sat back at his desk as though he planned to continue his work. He placed the picture of his wife in between the two stacks of papers on his desk, then put the two geodes back into his bag. After checking his watch and adjusting his tie, Jonas casually brushed aside the envelope with his shoe on his way out the door.
The caf� teemed with the usual early morning crowd. All of the tables and counter space were occupied, as was the comfortable sitting room against the far wall. Raymond and Jonas took their coffee and croissants and sat on a bench just outside of the caf�s front window. A small yellow bird with blue wings and a black head alighted on the branch of a tree right in front of them. Before Jonas could scatter croissant crumbs on the sidewalk, the bird flew away.
�You see they blocked off the roads again?�
�That�s right.� The pleased, mischievous smile on Raymond�s face could have led someone to think that he had set the fire himself. �Didn�t you hear the sirens this morning?�
�I hear them every morning.�
�I don�t know why you haven�t moved.�
�I can barely afford to stay where I�m at.�
�I�ve told you before,� Raymond paused to drink his coffee, but found that it was still too hot. �I�ve told you that if you moved your shop downtown you would have a lot more business. People around here don�t know the value of your stuff.�
�I would never make it there.�
�Not with an attitude like that.�
Jonas tore up the rest of his croissant and scattered it across the sidewalk for the family of pigeons that had been fluttering around.
�What about you?�
�What about me? I�m getting by alright, maybe not enough to afford one of your diamonds, but I�ll survive just the same.�
�I could sure use the business.�
�Why don�t you just sell those things and move on?�
�What do you think I�ve been trying to do here?�
�I mean find someone who knows someone, that sort of thing. Isn�t that how everything is supposed to work out these days?�
�Who do you think I could go to?�
�Where do you think those thieves in the movies take their jewels after they score a big heist?� Raymond took a long drink of his coffee after it had cooled down. �I�ll bet that they don�t open up their own store and mark down the merchandise until it sells.�
�You�re probably right,� Jonas said, slightly smiling at his friend�s sudden enthusiasm. �But then who do you think they take it to?�
�How should I know, I�m just a mechanic. But if someone pulls in with a Rolls Royce I�ll be sure to send them your way.�
�I could sure use it.� Jonas smiled as he watched the pigeons pick up the crumbs. �If credit bills were currency, I�d be rich.�
�You and the rest of the country.�
Jonas checked his watch before bringing his suitcase onto his lap, at which point he hastened to look inside and make sure everything was still there.
�I should probably get going,� he said, closing the suitcase with it still on his lap. �It was good to see you.�
�I wasn't kidding,� Raymond said, dumping the rest of his cold coffee into a bush behind the bench. �If someone comes in, I�ll be sure and tell them about your store.� Raymond�s sincerity caught Jonas off guard, though everything seemed to make sense as soon as he saw him empty his cup into the hedge.
The men shook hands and took off in opposite directions down the street, incorporating themselves into the early morning crowd.
As Jonas neared the corner of his store, he couldn�t help feeling disappointed by the fact that a fire truck wasn�t parked in front of it. He unlocked the steel gate and then instinctively knelt down to inspect a crack in the front display window which seemed to have been spreading further and further across the fragile pane every day. �Have to patch that soon,� he thought, wetting his finger and running it along the crack as though that were a potential remedy. No matter how much trouble and worry existed for Jonas out in the world � a continual host of anxieties and tribulations concerning everything from the distance of his wife, to the accumulation of bills and credit, to rent, to the riots and fires that were constantly erupting around the city � all of this vanished as soon as Jonas stepped inside of his store and saw how perfectly each of the display cases were arranged, and how every jewel and gem was ready to shine. During the final months of the previous year, Jonas used the remainder of his savings to install a series of strategically-placed windows all around the store so that the greatest amount of sunlight would be able to filter through across the cases. At the time, he wasn�t thinking about the obvious effect this may have had on the customers, but was more concerned about the personal satisfaction something as simple as sunlight could bring.
On the desk in his office was yet another stack of envelopes and invoices. He immediately brushed these onto the floor � where there already existed a formless pile � and anxiously began to arrange the new collection of merchandise from his briefcase. Dividing his desk into precise sections, he set the diamonds to one side, the precious stones and gems to another, the geodes in the center, with the pendants, bracelets, and necklaces filling in the space between. He sat back in his chair and proudly admired the natural treasure strewn across his desk, recounting in his mind the genesis of each piece: where they had first been discovered; the look on his wife�s face when she came across an exceptional stone; his own feeling when he saw the true glitter of a diamond in her eye or the perfect shape of an emerald in her hand; the individual atmosphere of every exotic country; and in some cases � particularly with the geodes, which for some reason played the host to so many distinctive memories � even the direction of the wind. Habitually biting the tips of his thumbs and stuttering his breath, Jonas began strategizing in his mind where each of the pieces would be displayed. The geodes would definitely go in the window as an attraction piece, right where the most sunlight came in, so the brilliant interior of each globe would sparkle and shine; the new pendant he would set in the far-back case, almost as if to hide it from view so that when a customer came in � which was becoming a rare occurrence � and saw the brilliant pendant amid a group of comparatively inferior product, they would feel as though they had discovered it for themselves; the sterling silver chains would obviously be tossed into the bowl that sat on the counter; the various gems and precious stones would be arranged by instinct when he saw how the light was coming through the windows that day; the diamonds didn�t really matter. As far as the pricing he had a standard rate for each piece, but as of late was forced to append to the tag the acronym O.B.O.
The first customer came in well after Jonas had already eaten his lunch. She was an old woman with a hunched back who was dressed as though she had just come from church. Her thin fingers and wrists were regaled with an amount of ostentatious jewelry of such size and weight that she physically struggled to remove her hands from where they remained braced on each case. This woman came in about the same time every day, and for the better part of an hour would wander from case to case, oftentimes asking Jonas to remove one of the items so she could observe it closer. After Jonas had appropriately arranged the item on a velvet cushion, the woman would take from her bag an eye-glass and closely inspect the piece, be it a finely-cut diamond, a lavish pendant, or one of his many brilliant stones. Jonas had become accustomed to spending late afternoons with this woman, escorting her from case to case, taking out a bracelet here and a necklace there, though she never deigned to buy anything and always seemed somewhat disappointed by the merchandise after her close inspection. Feeling confident of her brief summation, the woman moved promptly to the next case where she would politely repeat her ritual of observation. The only time Jonas recalled this woman ever having purchased anything was when she came in with her husband five years before, and he had bought for her an elegant pendant which forever after adorned her neck. Though they rarely ever spoke, Jonas felt confident that he knew this woman as well as his own wife. He genuinely enjoyed this woman�s company because he knew and trusted that she appreciated the order and arrangement of each case, and, though she never purchased anything, he could also sense that she understood the true value of his stones. So familiar had she become with the order of the store, that, upon approaching a case, she was able to tell when he had added even the most insignificant piece, which she would then politely ask to examine. Jonas was always happy and willing to oblige, if only for the assuring comfort and companionship this woman continued to provide. When she came to the case where the new pendant was kept � after having unenthusiastically inspected each of the other new pieces � Jonas surprised himself with how anxiously he awaited her approval of its placement. Not only did the woman ask to see the pendant, but for the first time that Jonas could remember she inquired of the price. When he pointed to the tag, Jonas could have sworn a shadow swept over her face even though a warm wave of sunlight continued to flood over her shoulder across the case.
�I�m afraid I don�t have that,� the woman said, distantly staring down at the pendant as though it were a friend she was hoping to bail out of jail.
Attempting to maintain his dignity while referring the woman back to the tag, Jonas pointed out the O.B.O.
�Well I trust that the price you have set is already reasonable enough,� she said, using her eye-glass to address the tag.
�I�d like to think that�s true,� Jonas said. �But I�m always open to suggestions.�
�Let me see then.� The woman reached into her purse � digging through a swarm of bright jewelry � and laid on the case a thin fold of bills.
Back at the counter, Jonas took one of the sterling silver chains from the bowl � imagining at that moment he had grabbed the most recently acquired � and deftly slid the eye of the pendant through.
�You�re very kind,� the woman said, standing very patient and still while Jonas struggled to fasten the clasp around her neck. �The way my hands are these days I would never be able to get it on,� she smiled, peeking over her shoulder to check his progress. �I�ve been wearing this same one for the last five years, to the very day in fact.�
�I remember,� Jonas said, slipping the thin fold of bills in his back pocket after he was finally able to fasten the clasp. He then helped escort the woman to the door, shuffling slowly through aisles of warm sunlight, past all the cases that couldn�t help but to glitter and shine.
Not only did that prove to be the last time Jonas saw the old woman, but it was also the last piece of jewelry he sold before having to permanently close the store. With the help of his friend Raymond, Jonas carefully transported all of the merchandise to his apartment down the street. The work would not have taken so long if the main road wasn�t blocked because of another fire. Smoke seemed to be escaping out of every window. The sound of sirens revolved like an unnatural alarm. The stale smell of smoldering ash consumed the passing air. Firemen rushed frantically from one building to the next. And so it took Jonas a long time to finish moving everything back into his home.
�I think that�s everything,� he said, carefully stacking the last box in one corner of his room.
Every conceivable space was covered with jewels.
�You better get another lock.� Raymond flicked the rusty hinge hanging to the doorframe, while with his other hand he thoughtlessly juggled a bright red stone.
�Be careful with that.� Jonas nervously followed his friend�s hand as he recklessly tossed the stone, handling the gem as if it were an apple he was waiting to eat.
Raymond smiled and, after flicking the latch one last time, placed the gem on top of Jonas�s desk. �How is Tess?� he asked earnestly, kneeling down to inspect the picture on Jonas�s desk.
�She�s fine, fine,� Jonas said, subject to the same anxiety as when his friend had been juggling the gem. �We talk almost every day. I wish I was with her right now.�
�What does she have to say about the business going under?� Raymond seemed to derive a certain perverse pleasure and satisfaction in the recent misfortune of his friend, the intrinsic reasons for which were evinced by his sudden inquiry into the opinion of Jonas� wife.
�We both knew this was coming for a long time,� Jonas said, unaware of his friend�s strange attitude in light of the personal � and literal�concerns that surrounded him. �I don�t think either of us expected this business to stay open forever, though I can�t say that we didn�t hope it would. Up until the very last day she hoped that things would change, but really I think she knew it wasn�t meant to last. I can�t even remember why we decided to give it a shot in the first place.� His sudden reverie was so honest and whimsical that Raymond could only cross his hands and sigh. �It seemed like fun at the time, and it was for the first few years, though we never saw each other too much.� Jonas gently drew the picture into his hands and seemed to be doing all he could not to press his lips against the dusty glass. �I suppose the blessing is that we will get to see a lot more of each other, though there�s still a little while until that can happen yet.�
�When is she coming back?�
�I�m not too sure,� Jonas said, and with a sharp blink of his eyes reluctantly returned to the present tense. �It will be at least a few months before her boat will be heading back this way, and then another month or so until it drifts back into the port.� Realizing the reality of their separation, a shadow seemed to draw over the brief light which previously illuminated his mood. �It never gets easier, that�s for sure.�
�You�d think after all these years we would have figured it out.� Raymond looked down at his hands and smiled when he realized they were still crossed. He stood in front of the window for awhile while Jonas started going through each of the boxes, already arranging in his mind where everything was going to go. �I suppose I should head out,� Raymond said, pulling his focus away from the picture on Jonas�s desk. �Call me if you need help with anything else.�
�Thanks for your help.� Jonas very casually slipped a small stone inside of Raymond�s hand when he shook it.
�And don�t forget to get that lock fixed,� Raymond said, flicking the loose hinge on his way out the door.
For the remainder of the week, Jonas indulged himself with the methodical task of organizing all of the merchandise around his room. The innumerable bills and notices on his desk were promptly replaced with gems, rubies, pendants, palm-sized geodes, and finely cut diamonds. He had since moved the picture of his wife onto a small table beside his bed. Every item on his desk became brilliant when the sunlight shined just right, and with the subtle accent of evening the stones seemed to resume their appearance in the natural environments from which they had been found. �The way things happen all at once,� Jonas sighed as he precariously seated himself on the edge of an upturned box.
Editor's Note: Part II will be published on October 18th, and Part III will be published on October 25th.
BIO: Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport was born in Kalamazoo, MI on May 11, 1986. His first novel, Myth of Melody, is in search of wide-spread publication.