The mailman delivers the package on Tuesday. I rip open the small white Fed-ex envelope and a clear zip-lock sandwich bag falls out from between two pieces of cardboard. Inside is the necklace—a large metal cutout of two fists side by side with pinkies extended. “Too much rock for one hand.” It hangs from a cheap metal chain.
Doyle used to make the gesture when he mocked my taste in music, much heavier and grittier than his. He liked more complex stuff—“musicians’ bands” he’d call them, unable to resist an opportunity to play the pedant. I just liked rock. White Stripes. Old Guns N’ Roses even. Fourteen year old boy music. Why not?
Doyle always laughed when he made the two-fist gesture, but it stopped being funny after the first time.
Still, the necklace is the first attention I’ve had from him in years. When I pick it up and feel its cool weight in my hand, I feel a prickly sensation, like I’m being stalked. How does Doyle even know where I live? Silly. It takes two seconds to track someone down on the internet, at least someone normal, like me.
I don’t tell Mark about the necklace. But what I do do is pull up the band Acme on YouTube as though I’m just looking around, and then I casually tell Mark, hey, wow, I used to date the new bass player. I can smell Mark as he pauses behind me at the computer. He’s a fireman. His job makes him stink, of sweat, diesel fuel and, when he’s lucky, of smoke. He’s never heard of Doyle before. I wait for a reaction.
We watch the band play a smooth, bland alt-country song, the lead singer earnest with a regular-guy voice. Doyle is off to the side playing bass, head low. His body jerks a little as he keeps time, and his overly-styled shag haircut flutters. It’s bizarre to see him, older now, but right there on stage. Acme is a longtime college radio darling, famous, and it’s a big deal to be in the band.
“Those guys?” Mark says finally. “Yeah, I’ve heard them before. Pretty dickless.”
Mark and I hate bands like Acme, with their easy, jangly melodies and smooth-guy blazers over untucked button-down shirts over black jeans. The hip dad look. “Subaru Outback easy listening,” Marks says.
But still. I dated the bass player.
Mark wanders away, unfazed. He’s hungry and wonders when we’re having dinner.
I’m not going to actually wear the necklace, even though it’s tempting. It would be an ironic addition to my usual yoga pants cardigan sweater patterned scarves. But I’m sure there’s nickel in the metal and it would raise angry red welts around my neck.
And I can’t wear it if I don’t know what it means. I’m not sure whether it’s flattering or insulting. One the one hand, he’s thinking of me. So it could say hey you, I know I’m a big rock star now but I still remember how much fun it was.
Or it could say there you are. Still. I’m a big rock star now and I’ll bet you still listen to crap.
I am happy for Doyle, I am. Seventeen years playing small bands all over the country, and he’s finally hit the big-time. He’s been recognized for his musicianly mastery. It’s good.
There is no note in the package, no mention of Doyle on the invoice. The stealth thing is him all over. I put the necklace back in the zip-lock baggie and stuff it in the back of the junk drawer in the kitchen where it glows like psychic kryptonite. Mark has no idea. He goes in the drawer to get a scissors. He goes in the drawer to put the scissors back. There’s a message in there to me from Doyle and Mark is just oblivious.
The next day our marriage has a fragile feel. After all, it’s been invaded. That night I dream that Mark leaves me. “I’ve figured out the length of you,” his dream self says. We are played out. Isn’t it obvious?
In real life I don’t think Mark takes me for granted, and I know that dreams are often the opposite of reality. He hasn’t figured me out at all. I have a rich, complicated past and Doyle still thinks of me.
But on Thursday when I take the necklace out of the drawer, I know it’s meant to menace. If Doyle just wanted to check in, he could have sent a card or drawn a little cartoon like he used to do, like the ones on Acme’s website. The ugly, cheap necklace is pointed and harsh. It says you are the same. You are all you’ll ever be. I know I should just throw it out, but I put it back in the drawer. Maybe I need the reproach. Maybe I need to think about things.
On Friday I get the email. Subject: Whoa, hey. Wrong order. The email goes on to tell me that the ebay sender mixed up the vintage Beastie Boys t-shirt I’d ordered for Mark’s birthday with the “too much rock for one hand” necklace. If I’ll just pack it up and send it back, the sender will set it straight.
Julie Odell has published short fiction in the Berkeley Fiction Review, the Crab Creek Review, Philadelphia Stories, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 MacDowell Colony fellow and has recorded personal commentary for NPR. She is at work on a novel.