“I’m ready for the zoo, Grandma!” Matt’s 4-year old face flushed with excitement. “Can we ask Mr. Leo to come with us?”
Rose looked out the window and saw Leo, her neighbor, weeding his garden. She sighed. He’d see them when they went to the car. It’d be another awkward encounter.
Why had he ever asked her out to dinner last month? On a Saturday evening! A date night! A heart attack had taken Rose’s husband four years ago. Saturday evenings had been their regular date nights for over 30 years.
“Leo,” Rose had said, lifting her hand to show the simple gold wedding band. “My heart still belongs to Ben. I’m sorry.”
“Sure, Rose, I understand.” But two red spots had flared in his cheeks.
And after that, their easy camaraderie ended. So she felt he didn’t truly understand. How could he? He was divorced. He and his ex still talked and visited their grandkids together.
“Sorry, Matt,” Rose said. “Mr. Leo’s busy today.” Matt was disappointed. Leo worked part-time driving the zoo’s tram, so the few times he’d accompanied them in the past, they’d enjoyed extra-long tram rides around the zoo.
At the zoo, Rose and Matt headed to the Children’s Farm. They stood in line awaiting their turn to feed Goggles the cow. When it was Rose’s turn, Irene, a zoo employee, handed her some hay.
“Good morning, Goggles,” Rose said as she held hay under the cow’s mouth. Goggles sucked the hay in, tickling Rose’s fingers in its warm, wet mouth. Rose laughed, but when she pulled her hand out, she stared in horror.
“Oh no!” she cried.
“Grandma, what’s wrong?”
Rose held out her hand. “Goggles sucked my ring off!”
“Are you sure?” Irene asked.
“It was on my finger! Now it’s not!”
“No worries,” Irene said. “A little ring won’t hurt Goggles. Cows have four strong stomachs. She’ll be just fine.”
“It’s my wedding ring!” Rose felt tears brim her eyes.
“Oh dear,” Irene said. “I’m sorry.”
“Grandma, don’t cry,” Matt said. “I bet Goggles will poop it out just like I pooped out that dime I swallowed when I was a baby.”
Rose looked hopefully at Irene.
“It’s possible,” Irene said. “We’ll be on the lookout when we sweep and hose the barn. But we have five cows, and we do let them out in the zoo’s pasture every day, so . . .”
Later, back home, Matt called out to Leo who was outside washing his car.
“Grandma’s ring got swallowed by a cow!” And Matt told Leo the whole story while Rose stood by, forcing her eyes to stay dry.
Five days later, just after lunch, Rose answered her doorbell to find Leo standing there. He held out his hand, palm up.
Rose looked, blinked, gasped.
Her hands shook. She lifted the ring from his palm. Her wedding ring! Shiny as ever. The inscription inside the band clear as ever.
“The zoo found it!” she exclaimed. “But why did they call you? I gave them my number!”
“Actually, I found it. It wasn’t a big deal. I just happened to be driving past the zoo, decided to stop in. Remembered about your ring. Asked if they’d let me have a quick look around where the cows hang out, and well, I found it.”
“Oh Leo. Thank you. I’m overwhelmed.” Her voice shook. Something squeezing her heart suddenly loosened, broke free.
Leo shrugged. “Really. No big deal. I’m just glad it’s back where it belongs.” He began walking away.
“Leo!” Rose called out. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” He nodded and waved.
But later that day, when Rose called the zoo, she learned that it hadbeen a big deal. She learned that Leo had volunteered at the zoo every day since Goggles swallowed her ring. He’d spent hours raking and shoveling through cow pies in the barn and pasture.
“I doubt our farm staff would have found it,” the zoo manager told her. “They just don’t have the time and manpower to do what Leo did.”
The next day, her heart pounding, Rose rang Leo’s front doorbell. When he opened the door, she looked steadily into his puzzled blue eyes. “Leo, if you’re free this Saturday evening, I’d love to treat you to dinner out.”
“Saturday? Evening?” He hesitated. “I thought . . .”
She held out her bare fingers.
“What? Is it lost again?”
“No. It’s in a special place. But it doesn’t belong on my finger anymore. So. This Saturday evening. Is it a date?”
Leo smiled. Such a nice smile, Rose thought. She liked how it crinkled his eyes and dimpled his cheeks.
She waited, her stomach nervous with butterflies.
At last he nodded. “Absolutely,” he said. “It’s a date.”
Marie Anderson is a Chicago area mother of three. After dropping out of The University of Chicago Law School (two miserable years!), she worked in schools and offices and has written over 100 short stories. To date, 48 of her stories have appeared (or are forthcoming) in 30 publications, including LampLight, Gathering Storm, Woman’s World, Brain Child, St. Anthony Messenger, Downstate Story, Who Knocks?, Liguorian, and Mental Paper Cuts.