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by James R. Gapinski

There is a restaurant a few blocks off Hawthorne. This restaurant only serves food with rings in it. Plastic rings for those on a budget — gold and diamonds for fine dining.

Customers sign waivers before eating, because roughly twenty percent of all patrons accidentally swallow their rings.

The restaurant’s food is mediocre, but that’s not the point, now is it?

The restaurant markets itself to anybody who ever wanted to have a special engagement. It speaks to those who feel they will never find love. Or those who had it and lost it. Or those who want to try out an engagement or two before they experience the real thing.

The restaurant sells the momentary fantasy that somebody put that ring in your pasta or cake or champagne flute. It lets you think that somebody wants to hold you until death do you part. Every table has tissues and selfie sticks. Every customer shrieks with delight at the surprise of a faux engagement, even as they sit across from nobody. The restaurant staff applaud, and the customers congratulate each other.

The customers form a communal bond over this shared experience. They feel loved, and they love one another. The diners put on their new rings and they cry and laugh. They take photos with their selfie sticks and know they will never be alone again.

James R. Gapinski is the author of the novella Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press). He was named in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2018 and was a finalist for the Montaigne Medal. He is also the author of the flash collection Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks). His short fiction has appeared in Hobart, Juked, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and other publications. Find more online at jamesrgapinski.com or on Twitter @jamesrgapinski.