Cara was bad at receiving gifts, which was perfect because Rufus was bad at giving them. In fairness, it wasn’t that he was bad at giving, but that his actual gift choices were a lot less than perfect: for her past two birthdays, he’d given her a Chia Pet and a novelty ice cube tray. Upon unwrapping her third birthday present to discover a singularly ugly ring, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that Carol responded with the question “Is this it?”
Even still, Rufus felt hurt. Rather than wait until the last minute to find something like he so often did with birthdays, he’d decided well in advance to go hunting for a gift that would be unimpeachable this time. After wandering the streets and peering through shop windows on his lunch break, his eyes had eventually fallen upon the answer to his prayers resting on an old velvet pillow behind a dusty pane of glass.
The ring was remarkably unimpressive in seemingly every respect: the metal was cloudy, its black stone was all but devoid of facets, and it seemed as though it had been fashioned to fit someone with an octagonal finger. Still, the ring seemed to pulse with good intentions. Above it hung a sign which said “DEAL” in large, honest letters, which was enough to make Rufus bite.
The man behind the counter watched with hawk’s eyes as Rufus entered the store and set the little bell by the door to tinkling. “Good afternoon my good man, welcome to CUTTER’S CURIOSITIES.” He pronounced the name with golden syllables, matching the sparkling paint with which it was printed on the sign above the counter.
“Hi… about that ring…” Rufus found the words pouring from his mouth before he’d even finished with his greeting, but thought nothing of it.
“Ah yes, you were admiring the Ring of Arunuu? A wise choice.” The man flitted out from behind the counter and up to the window display, whisking the ring off its pillow and holding it aloft between his thumb and forefinger for Rufus to see. “To look at it, not the flashiest or prettiest of jewelry, but then again it’s not meant to be is it?” He asked as if expecting an answer, but did not wait for one. “This ring is special, you see. It exists to be wanted, to be desired and longed for.”
Rufus licked his lips and thought for a moment. “How is it that this Ring of… Abubu or whoever… how come it’s so desirable? Looking at it I know it can’t be worth much.”
The clerk laughed. “Ah, and yet you cannot help its allure can you? The ring is desirable, not for any of its physical characteristics, but because it wants to be wanted. A piece of jewelry like any other, to be sure, and yet within it there flows a certain, what is the word? A certain energy.”
“So it’s magic then,” Rufus said.
The other man shrugged, placing the ring back on its velvety pillow. “Not magic, nothing so coarse as magic. Just an energy, is all. The ring senses desire, fosters longing in those who do not possess it.” Rufus looked at it; even in the sunlight the black stone failed to produce a glimmer, and yet he knew in his heart that this was the perfect gift. A ring that inspired such desire as to overcome its mediocrity would surely be the ideal present for his dear Cara.
“How much for it?”
The shopkeeps’ ear twitched, and he turned to face Rufus with a smile. “For you, fifty.”
Rufus had walked away from the store feeling up on the whole thing, and the ring sat in his drawer waiting to be given. And yet, when Cara’s birthday came at last, her face did not beam with excitement upon the opening of her present.
“Of course that’s it, look at that thing will you?” Rufus waited for the ring to work its charm, to hook Cara in its tendrils and reel her in, but the moment wouldn’t come. She looked at the ring, sitting there in the little green and yellow wrapped box, and then up at her lover, the man with whom she’d decided to spend her life. He smiled; her countenance reminded him of a cat’s upon being presented with a dog toy.
Cara grasped for something positive to say, but came up disastrously short. “Thank you. It’s… it’s not great.”
Rufus was crestfallen. What had gone wrong? The following day, on his lunch break, he revisited the store where he’d purchased the ring. The bell beside the door tinkled as he entered, but this time the clerk was not behind the counter. “Hello” he asked, “anybody here?” There was a rustling from the back of the shop, and the shopkeep appeared from behind a swinging bead curtain.
“Hello again my friend, how may I be of assistance?” The man could see that Rufus was agitated, even before he reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny gift box, slapping it on the counter.
“Well, you can start by explaining what kind of game you’re playing with this Abubu ring.” He pointed at the box, saying “I thought it was supposed to ‘foster desire in the heart’ or somesuch. Damn thing did the opposite!”
The shopkeep smiled earnestly. “I believe there has been some confusion. I said that the Ring of Arunuu wants to be wanted, to be possessed. I made no claims on the disposition of an individual once it came into their possession. Whether or not you inferred it is another matter entirely.”
Rufus felt in his gut that he’d been bamboozled. “I think you let me infer that, I think you knew that I’d do it and you let me do it anyway. You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”
“Sir, please do not think that I intentionally deceived you; if I have done so, it was purely by chance. Please, allow me to refund your money. Keep the ring as well, if you wish.” The clerk pulled a $50 bill from the register, the same $50 bill that Rufus had paid for the ring in the first place. “No hard feelings.
Rufus took the money, but hesitated upon picking up the gift box with the ring in it. A crushing feeling of ownership washed over him; looking at it, he felt none of the gravitic attraction from before. “Yeah, you can keep it. Thanks for the refund though.”
Stuffing the cash into his pocket, Rufus turned and exited the shop through the door, setting the bell beside it to tinkling. The shopkeep returned the ring to its seat on the velvet pillow in the window display where it sat, blithely unsparkling beneath a sign that said “DEAL” in large, honest letters.