Christmas, huh. Illegal to do ‘bah, humbug’ when you have kids (and I am actually rather a sucker for the Sinatra/carols/smell of cinnamon school of festivities). But something about our contemporary struggle with ancient ritual made me think again about my first published story, written ten years or so ago.
I re-read it and rather enjoyed the experience. So, sparkly as the Christmas Fairy and sour as cranberries, I give you:
She’s wearing the biggest diamond ring a girl could dream of.
Fat, sharp and sparkling.
Blue and yellow. Wide, smooth facets.
A real mouthful of a gemstone.
Scooping sapphires, celestial gravel, into my wet mouth. Saliva slips over each, trying to create a whole from the shoal.
A ruby, the size of a child’s furious fist, pounds its way into my navel. It fills a gap and creates a chasm.
You never wanted children.
And you never bought me a ring. You didn’t believe in marriage. So when I watched you walk down the aisle with Sophie, I wondered where you were when you changed your mind. And if it was the time I woke at three in the morning next to a rigid shadow.
I wasn’t going to go to your wedding. Churches in May make me sneeze. But then I thought what the hell, if you’re stupid enough to invite me. What better time to start drinking again than on your free champagne. I dressed carefully, low front, hair up. Remember how you fell in love with the back of my neck? Several pairs of eyes told me I’d upstaged the bride. It was a cheaply satisfying feeling.
It’s hardly my fault traditional doesn’t work for everyone. White satin made her pale skin look green. She wore her veil as though she’d run into it in the dark. Does she call you Rob or Robbie?
In the front row your mother in law, funny words, panted like an overweight jockey in emerald riding silks, low-slung jowls basting turkey roll breasts. Does she call you son?
I found a drinking partner, a miserable-looking boy whose girlfriend wouldn’t speak to him. He said he’d proposed and she’d turned him down. We kept each other topped up and laughed a lot. Loudly.
Don’t they make a lovely pair? You sank a bread knife into baby pink sponge as great aunt June laid a spaghetti-veined hand on my arm. She’d forgotten she met me at your parents’ thirtieth anniversary. I looked down. Her third finger was pale blue, lightly throttled by a ring that had shackled her to a memory since 1944. The daisy of tiny diamonds was dull, filmed with grime and time. For a moment the champagne made it look pretty.
Though not, of course, in the same league as your charming wife’s.
I’m amazed she could lift her wrist to pull those baby doll curls out of her eyes.
Diamonds are just bits of carbon.
Prices inflated by bastard big business with a nifty line in advertising.
A month’s salary to last a lifetime. What fat fuck invented that?
Great bread queues of sad blokes in bad suits shuffling miserably into the house of a god they don’t believe in, because they’ve all bought the same idea.
Makes me want to puke.
I loved the violence of your beliefs.
You used to see through all this. You knew it didn’t matter. That it’s arbitrary. That someone made it up.
Maybe you’re tired of thinking.
I hate you for that more than anything.
The Monday after the wedding I went to the bank. Withdrew all my savings. I’d heard about this place in Hatton Garden. An antidote for the rockless. I’d been told it said ‘engagement rings’ in the window. Most of them say ‘engagement rings’ in the window. But this sign was red neon, like bloodstains on cake icing. I was to ask to see the diamonds. The big ones.
The guy behind the desk was dark and handsome. His teeth sparkled. He stared at me hard, then said I think we can help you madam. Won’t you wait just a moment. I crossed my legs so that my skirt rode up a little. I could feel the hem hitching itself on my stocking tops. The sidekick standing at the back of the shop winked at the dark guy and came over. You know how much it costs? Yes, I said. A lifetime’s salary to last forever. He smiled and took the envelope from my hands.
The dark guy slipped a keycard across the door at the back between two display cases of rings. The glass still carried the fingerprints of Saturday’s eager fiancées. He beckoned to me. I stood up. I walked between the display cases and left the outside world behind.
The door led into a red-carpeted room. In the centre was a chair upholstered in jade green. To either side, shelf after shelf carried jars of gemstones like a storybook sweet shop. All un-set. Most cut, some simply polished. All different sizes. The dark guy smiled at me. I can leave you alone now. I promise not to come back and disturb you. Is that what you want?
He pushed me gently back into the velvet chair with one hand. With the other, he reached for a jar on the top right-hand shelf. He pulled it down. It shimmered with the dull ache of rubies. He unscrewed the jar, pressing it against his body. He took out a handful of blood red and rained it down on my throat. Some slid inside my shirt. He pulled my collar aside to let them fall further. Then turned and left. I heard the lock click, and smiled.
For the past I don’t know, it’s dark in here, three days? I have gorged myself. There are sapphires in my mouth and pearls between my toes. Diamonds sit in my eye sockets and in my armpits rest two fabulous rocks of amber. So many gems are pressed against the back of my throat that I can’t swallow. The saliva has long since stopped trickling down my face.
I hope you’re happy with your lot. Your terminal bit of flesh and bone, with a diamond attached. You’ll have to chip it off, when she dies. Or bury her with it, circling a finger that grows greener by the day.
And me? Don’t worry about me. I’m planning on glittering forever.