“Are you okay?” a bearded man asked, farther down the row of vegetables. Tall, glasses, holding a baby bok choy.
“Oh shit, I just lost my wedding ring.”
“Oh shit,” the man said, looking over at the bin. Maybe sixty cremini mushrooms—but, of course, it could have gone anywhere! It could be in the buttons! In the shiitakes! It could have flown into the chili peppers! How could you paw through chili peppers? The bearded man came over. “Okay, buddy. Let’s just do this,” he said, as if they were setting a broken arm. “One by one.”
Slowly, methodically, they put each mushroom into Less’s bag.
“I lost mine one,” the man offered as he held the bag. “My wife was furious. I lost it twice, actually.”
“She’s going to be pissed,” Arther said. Why had he made Robert into a woman? Why was he so willing to go along? “I can’t lose it. She got it in a Paris flea market.”
Another man chimed in: “Use beeswax. To keep it tight until you get it fitted.” The kind of guy who wore his bicycle helmet while shopping.
The bearded man asked, “Where do you get it fitted?”
“Jeweler,” the bike guy said. “Anywhere.”
“Oh, thanks,” Arthur said. “If I find it.”
At the grim prospect of loss, the bike guy started to pick through the mushrooms along with them. A male voice from behind him: “Lose your ring?”
“Yep,” said the bearded guy.
“When you find it, use chewing gum till you get it fixed.”
“I said beeswax.”
“Beeswax is good.”
Was this how men felt? Straight men? Alone so often, but if they faltered—if they lost a wedding ring!—then the whole band of brothers would descend to fix the problem? Life was not hard; you shouldered it bravely, knowing all the time that if you sent the signal, hep would arrive. How wonderful to be part of such a club. Half a dozen men gathered around, engaged in the task. To save his marriage and his pride. So they did have hearts, after all. They were not cold, cruel dominators; they were not high school bullies to be avoided in the halls. They were good; they were kind; they came to the rescue. And today Less was one of them.
They reached the bottom of the bin. Nothing.
“Ooh, sorry, buddy,” the bike guy said, and grimaced. The bearded man: “Tell her you lost it swimming.” One by one they shook his hand and shook their heads and left.
Less wanted to cry.
What a ridiculous person he was. What a terrible writer, to get caught up in a metaphor like this. As if it would reveal anything to Robert, signify anything about their love. It was just a ring lost in a bin. But he could not help himself; he was too attracted to the bad poetry of it all, of his one good thing, his life with Robert, undone by his carelessness. There was no way to explain it that would not sound like betrayal. Everything would show in his voice. And Robert, the poet, would look up from his chair and see it. That their time had come to an end.
Less leaned against the Vidalia onions and sighed. He took the bag, now empty of mushrooms, to crumple it up and toss it in the trash bin. A glint of gold.
And there it was. In the bag all along. Oh, wonderful life.
He laughed, he showed it to the shop owner. He bought all five pounds of mushrooms the men had handled and went home and made a soup with pork ribs and mustard greens and all the mushrooms and told Robert everything that had happened, from the ring, to the men, to the discovery, the great comedy of it all.
And in the telling, laughing at himself, he watched as Robert looked up from his chair and saw everything.
That’s what it was like to live with genius.