The story you are about to read is true. Only the name of the retailer has been changed to protect my ass from getting fired.
At seven minutes after nine p.m. the couple strutted up to the S-Mart jewelry counter. He was middle-aged, as white as they come, getting a little shiny on top, and didn't really strut very well. It was more like he was being dragged in her wake. But she had the strut, no doubt. A walk that said, "I may not own this place, but that's only because I don't want it." She was black and thin, with long, teased-out hair and matching fire-engine red nails and lipstick. His slightly worn sports coat clearly announced, "I'm with The University," as did his patient, diplomatic speaking style. Her baggy sweatshirt, tiny short-shorts and scruffy tennis shoes made a different announcement: "I'm on break right now, honey, but I'll be with you in 10 minutes. As long as you ain't no police officer. You ain't, right? Cause if you is, you gotta tell the truth you know."
"What can I do for you?" offered the jewelry associate, ignoring the announcements made by the clothing of the customers in front of him. Obviously he had taken well to the training he had received at the feet of an ancient, venerable computer in the back room.
"We's gettin' married next week!" she announced with a childlike glee that momentarily overpowered the deep lines on her face.
"And we're looking for wedding rings," he added.
"Thas right," she chirped, clinging to his arm like a decaying vine and pushing her hair back with her free hand. Her focus suddenly jumped to the rings in the display case, dragging the gentleman and the jewelry associate along for the ride. "Lemme see that one," she demanded, her fingertip nailed to the counter as her hand did a shaky little dance around it. When the jewelry associate finally homed in on the correct ring, she pounced on it, and somehow squeezed it over her callused, parched, prodigious knuckle.
"I don' like this one. The diamond's too small." Apparently the fun was over. "Here. Take it off." She held her hand out to the jewelry associate, who reluctantly tried to remove the ring. "Don' worry about hurtin' me, jess pull on it," she instructed him. The associate, who was rarely eager to pull on anyone's finger, even in the best of circumstances, looked at the customer's scrawny hand as she continued talking. "I done give bigger diamonds to my kids." No, scrawny was too generous. This hand could have been used as a prop in a zombie movie. "If I give a ring like this to my kids they cuss me out." Scars, scabs and calluses were the landmarks on this desert map, and the knuckle a rough, rocky outcrop. The light rain of spittle as she talked brought no relief to this land. "You ain't givin' me this ring." The associate considered going to get a set of latex gloves, but couldn't think of a tactful way to do so, and was reluctant to turn his back on a flighty customer with a $150 ring on her finger. "I need a diamond I can see." So he swallowed, held his breath, and grabbed hold of the ring. "Go on now, don' be shy. You ain't gonna hurt me none." He pulled, twisted and wriggled the ring, wondering if there were some trick to removing a ring without touching the hand it was on.
Eventually the ring obtained freedom. The jewelry associate shuddered, and breathed a small sigh of relief as he replaced the ring in the display case.
Her fiance then pointed out another ring in the case and suggested that it might be suitable.
"Don't try it on, don't try it on, don't try it on," was the silent mantra of the jewelry associate.
"Uh-uh. That one small, too," was her criticism. The jewelry associate breathed another sigh of relief, this one perhaps a bit more noticeable.
The man was prepared for her remark: "It only looks small because it's in the case. It will look much bigger on your finger."
She glared at him as though he had just made a puddle on the floor. "It ain't gonna get bigger." She continued, "You cain't water it like no plant." She elucidated, "Diamonds don't grow." And just in case he hadn't quite understood, she added, "It ain't no damn plant you water an it get bigger." She added two or three more variations on this theme, rolling her eyes as though she were dealing with a slow, uncooperative child. In the brief silences between her attacks, he attempted to explain that it was a matter of distance, perspective, and the glass in between, but all he managed to do was supply a fantastic little illustration for the word 'henpecked.' When he finally figured out that the best reply was to stand quietly, she phasered him one last time with her eyes and moved on.
She looked at and handed half a dozen choices from the bridal sets without putting any of them on past her ring-trap knuckle. The jewelry associate silently lifted a prayer of thanksgiving to Jehovah, Shiva, Allah, the blue genie from "Alladin" and any other deity who happened to be listening in. The customer moved on to the "Right Hand Rings." Apparently, "Right Hand" is S-Mart shorthand for "big and tacky," and these rings called to her like a kegger flagging a passing frat boy. Unfortunately, the jewelry associate had to explain to her, they were single rings, not sets. She had her heart set on a set, though her reasoning was never made clear. Perhaps something to do with two rings being more than one ring.
At this point, the professor makes another suggestion: "I could get you one of those single rings and a simple gold band to go with it. Then it would be a set. Look, there's a gold band here for $20."
This time she turned on him as though he had thrown his own feces at her.
"You ain't buyin' me no $20 ring."
"Well not by itself, no..."
"You ain't tellin' me you buyin' me no $20 ring."
"It would go with the..."
"I ain't hearin' this. Ain't no way you buyin' me no $20 ring."
"Listen, if we get..."
"If you mention some damn $20 ring again I am gonna embarrass you right here in S-Mart."
He could tell that she meant it, or perhaps love overcame reason. Either way, he stopped advocating for the $20 ring.
The jewelry associate, being a fan of irony, thought to himself, "If the avoidance of embarrassment were truly a priority, none of us would be here right now."
They moved back to the bridal set case, but clearly the romance had been liposuction right out of the evening. And she was getting pretty jittery, as though perhaps she needed something. Suddenly, without warning, she turned around and left. He stayed long enough to say that they would be back Monday, and was gone before the jewelry associate could suggest that they come before three o'clock if possible, three o'clock being his starting time the following Monday.
As the jewelry associate was getting paper towels and the glass cleaner, both of which were sorely needed by the glass counter top and his hands at this point, the undercover security agent came over and asked what the couple wanted. "They're getting married next week, and they were shopping for rings."
"That's interesting," he smirked. "Just a couple of weeks ago she was arrested in the parking lot outside for prostitution."
"Well well well. How about that? I guess she has turned over a new leaf, just like Julia Roberts in that 'Pretty Woman' movie."
"Yeah. Whatever." The security guard was clearly unconvinced, but the jewelry associate knew that he had seen something pretty special that night. And even if it turned out to be not all that special, at the very least it would make a good story.