All her life, her family has had a joke about Maggie’s habit of losing things. Her belongings, they would say, have all been teleported to the Planet of Lost Things.
Sometimes she visualises the surface of that planet, covered in a film of space dust and all of her missing and misplaced stuff – keys, a wireless earbud, doctors’ referrals, odd socks, safety pins, receipts, her long-dead mobile phone, a snow of passwords, phone numbers, messages, favourite books, prescription sunglasses – scattered haphazardly there.
She’s very careful with her new rings when she gets married. She has a plain gold one and one with a single blue-green opal instead of a diamond. Three months in, scrubbing her hands with a nailbrush in the kitchen sink, she remembers belatedly that soap and hot water is bad for opals. Inspecting the stone, she thinks it looks duller. A film of soap, maybe.
Her left hand feels conspicuous now, ornamental. She looks with new respect at women who sport rings that must demand constant awareness – jagged jewels that rise from fingers like sharp, sawing hillocks. Don’t they catch on things, wonders Maggie, and get scratched? Don’t they get caught in your hair as you sleep? She runs her thumb over the opal absently, recognising the gesture from her own grandmother, who wore the back of her wedding ring thin as a wire over 65 years, rubbing away molecule by molecule, thumbing away the gold. Maggie wishes she had that ring now – something already proven to stand the test of time – because her own ring seems precarious. She is constantly favouring her left hand.
One day she knocks it against a brick wall while putting up a picture and hears a tiny crunching impact as the opal ring connects with mortar. Investigating in better light, she sees there is a tiny chip missing from the stone’s surface.
The jeweller studies it for some time through his magnifying glass and tells her the soft alloy claws holding the stone in place are becoming scratched and worn.
By this time Maggie has a little baby, and she jiggles her gently at the counter as she points out to the jeweller that she thinks she can see, in the opal, a microscopic line of crazing going through it, radiating from the chip.
“Every colour in opals,” he answers, “is like a layer, like fissures in stone, and they’re brittle. And when you put them under stress, this is what will happen. They can shatter.”
Maggie thinks of a hairline crack splitting from a chip in a windscreen, branching like a tributary. She thinks about opal in rock, created under huge molten pressure inside the earth, layered crystals blossoming. And then that opal fracturing, loosening from the soft claws holding it, dropping somewhere mid-gesture, falling into the talcum dust covering the silent surface of the Planet of Lost Things.
Each claw, the jeweller tells her, would cost $20 to repair, and her ring has 20 of them. Or, she could stop wearing the ring every day and keep it for special occasions. Maggie pauses, racking her brain for the last time she had a special occasion.
“The question is,” says the jeweller, “what’s it worth to you?”
Maggie takes the ring back and puts it on, rubs her thumb over the stones. She has to smile at the suggestion that $400 could hold everything together.
When it’s clear the marriage is finally over, Maggie goes in numbly to look on her sleeping daughter, now five, and finds herself staring at all the things she has somehow accumulated that she will now have to move – the toys and picture books, the pillows and clothes. It’s exhausting, thinking about the inventories she will have to write, the new house she will have to make into a home. She climbs into her daughter’s bed and dreams she is not here, in this bed, but in fact walking on the surface of the Planet of Lost Things. It is all lint and grit, a world suspended in neglect, with things lined up under drop sheets – half forgotten, unnamed, mourned for. She trudges across the surface of that landscape, breathing dead air and dust, the only thing that moves.
The day her daughter runs home from school to the garden at their new house holding tight to her first lost tooth, Maggie assures her they will leave it in a glass for the tooth fairy. She sets her alarm and creeps in at dawn to take the tooth and leave a coin and a note written in tiny writing, then she goes out into the sleeping garden.
The moon is the same pale pearlescent colour as her daughter’s tiny tooth, and while she has long ago put her gold wedding band in a drawer, Maggie still wears the opal ring, also pearlescent and moon-round. She raises it to her face in the early light. The branching hairline crack in it is fine as a thread, a black line of dirt running along it under the fissures; the stone a meniscus, crystalline as the iris of an eye. Soon enough, she knows, that stone will be dislodged, to drop into grass or a crack somewhere. She hopes it will be into rock, ground into glittering dust, or into this garden bed, rolling with the coriander seeds and fragments of quartz and mica crystals she can feel grating against her fingertips as she digs.
She’ll be left with just the setting, an empty, sharp-edged cavity. Like the hole in her daughter’s tender mouth.
She is in her own garden, breathing in oxygen, tranquil. Everything dropped and put down and jarred free of clamps and clasps stays gone, she thinks. A crisscrossing trail behind every person she meets. Soon her girl will be up, marvelling at a note left by a fairy. Maggie drops the tooth into the hole, pats dirt over it.
As she turns her hand the opal gleams – a tiny planet viewed from an unsettling orbit – the flaw in it flashing like the blaze of some brilliant, blue-green distant river.
Not the moon, she thinks. Earth.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 13, 2024 as "The Planet of Lost Things ".
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