This story is published in the anthology “Scraping the Red Sky: Fresh Colorado Authors,” available now on Amazon.
Diggory cast out the word in such a pleasant way that his fellow clerks at the Department of Lost and Found turned their heads in surprise. Most of them thought of Diggory as an angry cringe in human form, and he normally presented a shield of distaste to every person who approached his counter. But today, Diggory was in a shining fine mood.
“How can I help you, Madam?” he asked, bouncing a pencil on its baby-pink eraser on the counter. The tall woman’s suit was tightly tailored, and she stood her briefcase on the linoleum.
“I don’t know for sure if I’ve lost it,” she said, “but I’m looking for my marriage.”
“I see. Can you describe the physical manifestation of the marriage, please?”
“A fused engagement and wedding ring. White gold.”
“Any distinguishing marks?”
“I don’t think – Oh, yes,” she said. “An engraving on the interior: J.B. plus B.H.”
Diggory’s fingers played across his keyboard, flashing though database screens. “Are you Mrs. Bordeaux, then?”
The woman’s face perked with hope. “That’s me.”
“The decision has been irrevocably made, I’m afraid. Mr. Bordeaux filed to declare the ring and the marriage it represents officially lost,” said Diggory. “Under no-fault law, either party can withdraw the legality of the marriage manifestation.”
“I,” stammered the woman. “I understand. Thank you.”
As she stooped to grab her briefcase, Diggory added, “I’m truly sorry for your loss.” He twiddled the sunny yellow pencil between his fingers.
This was notable. Diggory had never been sorry for a permanent loss. Not once. In fact, he’d been known to gleefully cackle when it was his turn to pitch unclaimed lost items into the incinerator in the basement.
Yet today, here was Diggory, smiling as he handed over a pair of boxer shorts sealed in a plastic bag, the manifestation of a young man who’d lost his dignity. The bloke’s eyes were bloodshot and his sneakers squished as he walked, still wet with who knows what. To an older man who’d lost his path, he not only gave the standard tri-fold map but also explained it, pointing him toward north.
“I’m afraid you’ve waited in the wrong line. We handle only physical manifestations here.” The woman seeking her lost sense of self sadly nodded her head. Her hair was tangled, her glasses cloudy and in need of cleaning.
“You’re looking for the pool of lost intangibles, second floor,” Diggory continued with the air of a kindly professor, the pencil now tucked behind his ear. “That department can get messy. Might want to bring a change of clothes. Good luck, dearie.”
“Dearie?” The director of Lost and Found, tangibles department, appeared at Diggory’s shoulder. “Dear, dear Diggory, could I have a moment?” She flicked an “after you” gesture with her hands and herded him into her office.
“I’ve had an interesting phone call.” The director’s chair creaked and rolled slightly backward as she sat.
Diggory stood front and center to her desk, reporting for duty. “Mm?”
“Yes, a writer. She’s called many times looking for her inspiration,” said the director. “Maybe you’ve seen it? A yellow pencil, sharp, pink eraser?”
Diggory pressed his lips together so hard he could have swallowed them.
“Mm?” he said.
“Mm,” she affirmed. “A valuable thing, inspiration. Can even make one a little giddy, no?”
“Yes,” said Diggory. He paused for a moment of ill-fated hope that she did not meant what she meant, then negatively deflated with a positive confession. “Yes…” He slid the pencil from behind his ear and reached it forward. When the director removed its happy weight, his hand looked unmoored.
“Ah,” she said, with faux surprise. “Look what we have found.”
“Indeed,” said Diggory.
“Remind me,” said the director. “Why can’t one come to our department to find a lost job?”
Diggory fingered his employment manifestation: the security badge clipped to his belt which represented a paycheck, a pension, health insurance and a daily grind that could make anyone feel like coffee beans.
He recited, “Article 4, section 1. Termination of at-will employment reverts possession of lost job manifestation directly to employer.”
“Ah, yes. That’s right,” she warned. “Now off to work with you.”
Diggory cringed back to his window. His face was pinched with distaste as he called out, “Next!”