Each week, my writers’ group issues a prompt for a piece of writing. This short tale is prompted by the song ‘Tonight, Tonight’ from West Side Story. If you wish, you can listen to an audio clip of my men’s choral group singing the song as you read the story—
The ring burned a hole in Tony’s pocket all day, from the time he picked it up just before noon until he found his way to the roof of Maria’s apartment building shortly after dark.
She knew he was coming, of course, just as he had for several nights over the past few months. It wasn’t easy because her brother and his friends—all members of the gang that fought Tony’s crew almost daily on the mean streets of the city—would make short work of him if they found out.
Tony’s Jets, unaware of his repeated visits to enemy territory, would avenge him if her brother’s Sharks harmed him, but they would never approve of, nor understand, his love for Maria. The star-crossed lovers were on their own.
The ring itself wasn’t much, not on the salary Tony earned as a car-jockey at Smitty’s Garage, but it had sparkled and gleamed under the light in the pawn shop where he’d discovered it. He hoped it would do the same under the full moon tonight.
The fact that it was probably stolen property being fenced through the pawnbroker bothered Tony not at all. He’d had to shell out a good chunk of his hard-earned dollars for it, and that was all that mattered. He didn’t think Maria would care, either, although he had no intention of telling her.
All he wished for as he made his way stealthily up the fire-escape ladder to the roof was that the ring-stone would reflect brightly in Maria’s eyes when he slipped it on her finger.
At the top, he slithered over the concrete abutment to crouch on the gravel rooftop, almost invisible in the dark, glancing furtively this way and that, hoping to see nothing amiss. And then, after a few seconds, he spied the miss he had come for, practically indistinguishable in the moon-shadows by the stairwell door beside the elevator shaft.
Maria saw him at the same moment, and even in the darkness he saw her face light up. He thought she must surely hear his heart pounding, despite the distance between them. A few heartbeats later, they were entwined in each other’s arms, Tony’s face buried in her hair, its smell like sweet caramel and spice. Their eager bodies radiated heat as they pressed against one another, softly proclaiming their love in English and Spanish.
O mi amor! Maria whispered. La luz de mi vida!
I have something for you! Tony said, reaching into his pocket.
As he had hoped, the small stone atop the ring caught the moon’s light, seeming to release a small, silvery fire. He knew he would never forget the small gasp that escaped Maria’s lips when she saw it, a heartfelt response to last a lifetime.
Marry me, Maria. I love you more than life itself.
Maria’s eyes shone wetly as she looked deeply into his. Si mi amor, me casaré contigo! Te amo más que la vida misma!
They moved out of the shadows, closer to the parapet, and Maria leaned against the abutment as Tony plucked the ring from the box. Carefully, lovingly, he took her hand in his, lifted her finger, and…
Oh shit! Shit!
The ring, rather than slipping onto her finger, slipped from his hand, bounced once on the concrete ledge, and disappeared into the blackness twelve storeys below. Tony made a wild stab for it, balancing precariously over the edge, realizing too late he was going to fall. Maria grabbed his arm, his shirt, but he was too heavy and she was pulled backwards with him into the void.
No one was in the dark, garbage-strewn alley when they landed. They were discovered the next morning—two lifeless rag-dolls embracing each other, arms still intertwined.
A small, cheap rhinestone ring was lying on the pavement between them. It was quickly purloined.