Thursday, December 22

The Ring I Bought

My father’s wedding ring was simple; a gold band with no distinguishable features. It seemed to me, my young mind at least, that somewhere, in the workshop of a meticulous jeweller, there was a gold pipe the exact diameter of my father’s finger which had been passed through a chop saw to the required width, its edges smoothed, and, there: the final article! Then the gold pipe would rest until someone else ordered a wedding ring the exact diameter of my father’s finger. How strange to think that my father might have encountered this other person in the streets of London, perhaps walked past them without even knowing, or either one glancing the other’s hand. He was buried with the ring.
My new job, as well as providing me with a substantial pay increase, would also offer me the chance to start anew. I had occupied a post at my previous employer’s for fourteen years, from thirty-one to forty-five. The new office was west London, opposite a tailor’s. During the tour, after my appointment, I observed that all my new colleagues looked fresher, a great deal healthier than my former, and I wanted to impress them, to discard my existing reputation and adopt a new one. It is one’s desire from time to time to reinvent him- or herself. A teacher in college had long hair that went down to the arch of her back and it reflected all of the light in the room. One January she came back from the holiday with it all cut off into the most delightful bob. With it she became more jovial and exciting in her teachings. She quit in the summer and none of us ever saw her again, but there was a remarkable difference with the bob, and I remember at the time being very happy for her haircut. This was my bob.
A month’s notice, minus any annual leave I had accrued but not taken. The directors did not really care for my resignation, but they insisted I thoroughly brief my colleagues – superior & inferior – so that all of my projects were not left to wither. I spent my lunchbreaks for that month – minus annual leave I had accrued but not taken – shopping for a wedding ring just like my father’s. I wondered, of course I did, whether my finger was the same diameter as his, but I very much doubted that it was; my father had thicker fingers with larger knuckles. My own hands are much daintier, thinner fingers, which in his company I found a source of shame, but examining them alone in the bath or while waiting for the kettle to boil, I thought they were elegant and even graceful, not unlike a woman’s. So I shopped for a suitable wedding ring. If you were to draw a circle around my office with the radius of a mile, I visited every jewellery shop within that circle. There were a number of them and I came to recognise all of the sales assistants and their managers; I knew which stocked high-end and which specialised in more affordable jewellery. I daresay I became an expert. The window of a jeweller’s is a sight to behold, its display stretching up like the tongue of a glacier and on every surface sparkles the beacon of a ring or necklace or earring or watch; metal and stone glistening under the white of strategic shop light; all of it tragically shrapnelled by small black price tags. It’s true that in all of my visits I could never educate myself, from sight only, as to what was an expensive ring and what was not. In meetings I would surreptitiously steal a glance at the rings of my colleagues and try to guess, just from looking, the price of the ring. I could not determine at all which was worth more than another.
Do not accuse me of lying! By wearing the ring I was not bearing any false witness, no, but I understand how it looks. If a new colleague were to ask me—‘Are you married?’ then I would be forced to answer—‘No.’ However I was willing to let them assume. If they were to laugh at me and say—‘Your poor wife!’ then I would smile and agree; my poor wife! If any company engagement arose where partner or spouses were invited, I would say nothing more than—‘My wife is unable to make it, I’m afraid.’ It’s not lying! Truthfully, I was very close to getting married upon a time, if that is of any consequence.
Her name was Miriam.
She was a woman and she was in love with me, albeit for a brief period; all in all, probably not much more than eleven months. Yes, eleven months, if one disregards the period it takes to fall into love and fall out of it. There were, I surmise, eleven months where Miriam was in love with me. I have no shame in admitting I was in love with her for much longer; although it took me less time to fall in love with her than it did to fall out of it. It is always strange how things work out. After we broke up we met for coffee. She told me—‘I would have married you if you’d asked.’ I told her not to say such things; I reached for her hand; she withdrew—‘But then I just,’ her face when she was seeking the right words—‘Fell out of love with you.’
I decided on the ring. It was just like my father’s and it was more like my father’s than any other I had seen. It would set me back two-hundred and seventy-four pounds, but that was money I had to spare. It was exactly like my father’s. I tried it on, requested they tighten it slightly, then I picked it up a week later. The jeweller’s was on the edge of the circle I drew around my office. It was run by a woman who drank nothing but chai tea; all day long her breath smelled of stale chai tea, those spices and so forth. She was always very friendly, especially when I pointed out the ring I wanted. ‘It looks marvellous,’ she told me. It did. When I stepped out of the shop, I put the ring and its accompany box into my pocket. That evening the box went on top of my bureau, open, with the ring sparkling slightly under my bedroom light, although not as brilliantly as it had done in the window. In fact the ring never sparkled quite as it did in that shop window, but I supposed that was to be expected.
Before the first day of my new job, I shined my shoes and ensured my suit was properly dry-cleaned, and my shirt was ironed to perfection. I was dressed immaculately. I styled my hair and not a strand was out of place. I applied eau de toilette, but not too much, around the weight of my freshly shaved jaw. At last, and enveloped in the ceremony of it, I put the ring on my wedding finger and admired it. I went to start my new job, feeling entirely new myself. The ring on my finger, just like my father’s.

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