The river carried the ring for a while, puzzling it against rocks, the muddy bank, a rotting wooden quay. Then the river gave the ring to a fish; the fish was swimming along with its mouth open, and it swallowed the ring absent-mindedly. The gold gleam was lost in a deeper darkness.
The ring gave the fish a stomach ache. It saw a hook, a worm, near the cloudy surface of the water, and forgot it knew better, bit down hard. The fisherman sliced the fish open, found the ring, tested the gold between his crooked teeth, and tied it in a knot in his handkerchief.
The next day the fisherman gave the ring to his love. Her hair was red gold; she had a freckled nose; had just that moment nicked her thumb peeling potatoes. (She was making chips to go with the fish.) She was surprised how glad she was (felt her heart would explode with joy) when the fisherman pressed the ring into her hand.
"It's nothing," he said. "The river gave it to me."
She tossed the chips into the deep fat fryer, and the oil hissed like a flock of angry geese. When she slid the ring onto her finger it fitted perfectly, lying snug in a shallow groove just above the second knuckle.
The chips were just right: crisp, golden, and perfectly seasoned. But to punish the fisherman she overcooked the fish. Later she tossed the skin and the potato peel into the river.
That night a fish swam back and forth in the silty water beneath the woman's house. It sang to her in a voice that was crisp and golden; she had never heard anything so beautiful. The song filled her head, flooded her room, the house, poured through the deserted streets and out into the surrounding fields and water meadows.
At last, in the darkest hour, just before daybreak, the woman left her bed and walked down to the river bank. The tide was flooding in, the river as high as she had ever seen it. There was the thumbprint of a ghostly moon above the rooftops. Hitching up her skirt, the ring glinting on her finger, the woman waded into the cool, silty water; let the river hold her; and let it sweep her away.