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Three-Minute Fiction: 'Ten Ring Fingers' And 'Ghost Words'

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NPR's Bob Mondello and Susan Stamberg read excerpts of two of the best submissions for Round 11 of our short story contest. They read Ten Ring Fingers by Tamara Breuer of Washington, D.C., and Ghost Words by Matheus Macedo of Winthrop, Mass. You can read their full stories below and find other stories on our Three-Minute Fiction page or on Facebook.

Ten Ring Fingers

For Round 11 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send a story in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story for this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn of Richmond, Calif. Stories are published in their original form.

wedding bands i
wedding bands

She found the first ring on a night that smelled of body odor and beer. The bar's last customers had finally given up hope of taking her to bed and staggered away, leaving her to clean the stains of their desperation. She mopped the floor as quickly as possible to escape the place that made her feel uncomfortable in her own skin.

A glimmer of gold caught her eye. She bent down and pulled the thin metal band from a pile of grime. It was the first time she saw a wedding ring devoid of a ring finger; she wondered where the naked finger was now, and whether it felt exposed or liberated.

The next day, a frazzled middle-aged man scurried into the bar and asked her if she had found his wedding ring. She remembered seeing him with a brunette woman the night before, a woman who wore no rings.

She smiled apologetically and promised to let him know if it turned up. As soon as he left the bar, she slipped the ring onto her finger. That night, no men lingered around and she closed the bar a half hour earlier than the night before.

She found the second and third rings later that week. One was wedged between the wall and bar counter and the other lay near the main entrance. This time, two women entered to claim them, wearing the same clothes as the night before. She gave them the same answer she had given the first man. They glanced down at the three rings piled on her finger and left without saying anything.

She had spent little time in her life thinking about marriage, but now it invaded her mind. Every time she found a stray ring, she cleaned it and pretended like it was brand new, made especially for her. She entertained fantasies of the handsome men who had given her these rings, and although they always had different nationalities and personalities, they shared their mutual adoration for her.

In a few months time, every inch of her fingers was adorned with wedding rings.

Serving beer with metallic hands proved to be an arduous task, as the glasses kept slipping from her grasp. She no longer bothered to peek inside the tip jar in between serving customers: she knew that it would be empty. Her manager politely asked her if she could remove her rings during work hours, but she could not bare the thought of losing Adam, Julian, Pablo, Manuel, Conrad, Griffin, Nadim and Alex.

She made the mistake of coming to work five minutes late on a Friday night and found her manager waiting for her with his arms crossed. It was the first time she had ever been fired and all she could think about was how happy she was to have the rest of the night alone with her dreams.

As images of blue eyes and well-defined cheekbones swirled about in her mind, she sunk into her bed and allowed her body to leave an imprint on the mattress. She felt as if her body was the same, and yet the outline of her hands had changed. The indentations of each ring left a pronounced mark on the bed, making the shape of her finger resemble a caterpillar or centipede. They wormed their way around her mattress and became their own separate entities, shedding the rest of her body completely.

Ghost Words

For Round 11 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send a story in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story for this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn of Richmond, Calif. Stories are published in their original form.

pink envelope i
pink envelope

The letter smelled of lavender and vanilla, like she couldn't decide which perfume to use so she used both. Her hand-writing had been drawn with the careful precision only seventh-grade girls in love have patience for. Hidden behind the words were indents and scratches, ghosts of words that weren't quite right, rewrites on top of rewrites.

The envelope lay flat and perfectly sealed in the middle of the hallway. If it had not been in front of her locker I may have left it there. I thought of all possibilities before tearing open the smooth flap of pink paper.

Sliding it back into her locker in secret would have been the gentleman thing to do, the honorable thing. But she would never have known what a gentleman I was if I did that.

I could have given it back to her, she would definitely have noticed me then. Though soon after she would have given him the letter and that would have been the end of me. No. I wasn't going to return it, I couldn't bare to rid of it. Lunch that day consisted of me sitting hungry in a locked stall on top a stained toilet seat reading and re-reading those words, the words she wrote for him.

Every day and night since the third grade I had thought of her. Holding hands in the halls, going to restaurants with her family, watching television in the living room. I knew now that as I had thought of her, she had thought of him. She had experienced the same longing, the same doubt, the same tug of the heart when she saw him each morning and the same dread after school, of knowing she would not see him again until the next day.

One may think that a boy in love would be distressed to learn of the girl's passion for another, upset, jealous ... but that would be wrong. Sara and I were united in our love for the unattainable. We shared something personal. Separate, but intimate. Countless hours staring out our windows toward dying stars in a faraway sky, thinking of one out of reach. Smiling through the sadness of their absence.

Smiling every night.

I saw her the day I found the letter. Her nails bit down to shredded stumps, her leg bouncing restless as she looked this way and that for the one who may expose her secret. I only wished I could tell her not to worry, her heart was safe in my hands. But I couldn't. I wasn't strong enough to part with the only piece of her I would ever own.

She told Jeremy about her feelings for him soon after that. They dated for a few weeks, but as they do, things feel apart during the summer. Years later I still caught glimpses of her glossing over the crowd, the slight curve of a tiny smile at the edge of her lips, who found my letter? She asked herself in silence.

She would never know it was me. She didn't have to. All she knew was that someone had found it, read it, and kept her secret. The words weren't thought with me in mind, I knew that, they were never meant for me. But they were mine.



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