With This Ring
The advert had seemed harmless enough.
Do you need an additional income? Ring us on..........
And an impossibly long number followed.
Jack noted down the number and turned disconsolately away from the newsagent's window. He found it hard to believe he'd reached his thirties now and things had come to this. It seemed no time since he'd been a child and had had no responsibilities at all, other than to be the good boy that every parent wants their son to be.
He was a young man of some talent and skill, but a young man in need of an income. Any income, never mind a second one. The market in homemade furniture that had kept him going had dried up, and there was no longer a living to be made out of it; not even online. He'd do anything really. Well, almost anything. So as soon as he'd got home and made himself a coffee he'd called the number from his ageing mobile, and talked to this bloke who ran a delivery firm, with the strapline "You ring, we bring." OK, it was cheesy, but the bloke sounded like a genuine guy and they'd hit it off on the phone and, in short, that's how he'd found himself, that particular Friday, charged with delivering this huge package to some address he'd had difficulty deciphering, and for substantially less than minimum wage.
He was, in fact, struggling to remember the details of the job, and exactly what the remuneration would be, and the more he thought about it the more the facts seemed to elude him. But then he'd had a hard night that Thursday. It was enough to make anybody feel a bit hazy about the task in hand.
He'd been meant to be meeting his mates at the pub, but fine mates they'd turned out to be, as not one of them had turned up! Well, one or two had, but they hadn't wanted to sit with him and they went off and drank at a different table, away from his. Not bloody one of them wanted to know him now he'd hit hard times!
Jack felt bitter.
Anyway, what he did know was that it was a bloody hot day, and this shapeless thing he'd picked up from the address he'd been given was weighing him down fit to kill him. He hadn't bargained for that. And he didn't know whether he was imagining it, but the damned thing seemed sometimes to writhe and squirm as if it would suddenly burst loose from its wrapping. And once he was convinced he'd heard it groaning.
But sometimes it was still, and at those times it felt to Jack as if it got lighter to carry.
"What the Hell's in it?" he wondered. "Well, as long as I get paid, it makes no difference to me."
And yet - here he paused and scratched his head in puzzlement - and yet he seemed to think some sort of deal had been involved other than just a monetary one. Jack felt shit scared.
"Oh,man! Think! What have you started here, mate? What have you let yourself in for?"
His heart sank further as he heard his mother's voice pipe up, "Whenever you engage with a stranger you shake a dice. Just saying........" Mothers,eh! So why had he felt so inclined to shake that dice? Well, his mother knew a thing or two about human nature, but he knew better. Or so he'd thought......then.
Jack decided he wanted out.
He delved in his pocket for his mobile, found the number that had been in the ad and dialled it again. He didn't need this job. Whatever he'd been promised, it wasn't worth it. If only he could remember what he HAD been promised. He'd just tell the bloke. He couldn't MAKE him do it.
The number wasn't recognized. He rang it a few more times and it was always the same. Then he lost connection. And then his battery packed up.
So Jack felt he had no choice but to press on. He was tired and he was thirsty. He wished for the umpteenth time that he'd never started the bloody job. And to make matters worse there was a horrible smell coming from the package now. It smelled of rotting flesh. It smelled like death, really. But it HAD to be got to where it was going and then everything would be OK. Jack thought he could remember being told that much.
"Well," he thought to himself, "God knows, I need the money! But I suppose there's a limit to what I'll do to get it." And he wondered whether there actually was. He didn't want to get mixed up with the police, though. He came from a decent family and he'd kept himself out of trouble so far.
Jack felt trapped, and as the day wore on it seemed to him like an eternity. He shifted his load from shoulder to shoulder, but he felt like his back was breaking. He put it down from time to time and took a breather. Then he thought he might poke a small hole in the wrapping and take a quick look at what was in it.
Plucking up his courage, he stuck a grubby finder where he thought he could make a way in. It felt disgustingly moist and putrid in there, and as he pulled his finger out he thought, "Something's gone off. Well, I'm not to blame for that. I should never have been given the thing to deliver on such a hot day if it was liable to go off!"
But still he felt the responsibility of it on his shoulders.
He picked the package up again and carried on his way, ever more exhausted and thirsty in the heat.
Once he bumped into this bloke and thought he would ask if he'd got anything to drink on him. But when he did the bloke just spat on him and carried on. "Well, I only bloody asked," he shouted after him. But the bloke never turned round. It was like Jack didn't exist.
So when, dripping in sweat, he finally saw a crowd of people up ahead, instead of thinking. "One of these might take pity and help me," he found himself thinking, "Screw them! I should've listened to my mum."
Now the crowd was pressing towards him, surrounding him and jeering at him, and Jack finally sank to his knees under the weight of his enormous burden. "I've really had it now," he thought. And he let go the package as he prepared to die.
As it hit the ground the wrapping burst open and, as the crowd stepped back in shock and horror, it spilled its contents for all to see.
The creatures were nameless and faceless. There seemed to be millions of the buggers and they all ran and hid their shame in any corner, under any stone, they could find. The smell was rank and they were hideously formed, beyond imagining. Jack closed his eyes fact, but he could still smell them. And see them.
And then suddenly it happened. And he couldn't.
Jack never saw it coming, the ring of thorns they forced onto his head, It was agony. The blood ran freely down his face and blinded him, and he cursed his employer for the lousy liar he was.
"Why have you done this to me?" he cried out. "I only ever asked to be like every other bloke and earn an honest living."
And then the Heavens opened and Jack looked up through his bleeding wounds and saw every human soul. And he heard the answer come back,"With this ring we crown you King. You are dying for us, so that we who were dead can have eternal life."
Then Jack bent his head and remembered. Ordinary, ten a penny bloke that he was, he had been carrying the burden of the sins of Mankind through time and space, forever. Had it been worth it? You bet your life it had! And he would do it again. And again.
And down all eternity he heard the voice of Man cry out to him in its torment and loneliness, "Help us Lord." And He heard Himself reply, "I will be with you always, to the end of the age." Then everything went black. And it was OK.
In fact, it was all just as the bloke had promised.
snuck in to your hard, white zone
I shrunk to fit within
a different name, a shadow on myself
imprisoned by this ring.
My fingers will never bloom again
as your boxes are all ticked,
I’m red-ink stained.
What of you who wear it too?
I know now you are not gold
You stayed outside our rings
flashing circles of cheaper metals
at strangers when you choose.
You seem alien, external
in this arrangement. Sharp-angled,
the more I’m flat-floored,
I clean, you dirty, you smear, I lie.
My sanctuary now scares me.
Marriage was meant to lift me
to security, not suffocate
my vocal chords squeeze
I scream my longing
for something real, comforting
out of that old marshmallow
pink and white dream.
It was a joke. At the time it was a joke. "With this ring..." Amazingly, it fitted perfectly. Patrick had beautiful hands. Agile fingers, always warm, alive. Well, they were his livelihood. Those hands were what had attracted her to him. Cupped round a cigarette as he lit it for her in the flapping wind. Lightly holding the stem of the glass as he poured the wine, twirling it as he held it out for her to take. Stroking her. And of course on the piano.
She made him close his eyes. She loved him then. "With this ring..." His eyes, laughing, then suddenly solemn, brimming. He kissed her. They stood for a long time. "It's a magic ring... when you twist it, I'll be with you - even when you're on the other side of the world." He twisted it, and Helen tickled the back of his neck, bringing up goosebumps.
Turning round, he wound his hands in her hair. "What else can it do?"
"Oh... it'll keep watch over you. Punish you if you hurt me!" He kissed her hard, scraping her with his bristles.
After the separation she kept the candelabra and he kept the ring. But moved it to the other hand. She'd become weepy and vindictive. they both should have seen it coming. With the amount of travelling he had to do and his career had really taken off even more than they'd anticipated. Only, she had wailed that he shouldn't have lied to her. He hated to cause pain. Of course he had to lie. What else could he do? But she couldn't forgive him. Sometimes she phoned him. Sometimes they still slept together.
Back in town tonight, he was looking at her through a long beer. She asked "How is it with - Simona?" and smiled her pained smile. Heavy with misery. "Let's not talk about her tonight" said Patrick, raising his glass.
Being with Helen made him feel lighter by contrast. Still young, still agile, buoyant and carefree. The glow from the golden beer bubbles seemed to light up the black slippery streets as they left the pub. "Not that way... this way... there it is." A radiant yellow skip floating on the dark tide of the November night. "Oh Patrick" she said, a little wearily... "are you still into this?" But Patrick was already in. A muffled exclamation, rummaging.
Patrick appeared at the lip crouching, turning, hooked his fingers under and swung with one easy motion up and over. Hung suddenly suspended by his right hand for a frozen moment. Till something softly gave. "Ack!" he had said, and landed roughly on knees and elbows mooing like a cow. "MMMmmmmmnnnnggg.... NNnnnngggg."
In the hospital they'd sedated him. Simona was going to come, but Helen would stay till then. Patrick shouldn't be alone. While she was waiting, the finger arrived. They'd sent one of the ambulance guys to look for it. It seemed as if she was expected to identify it. She had to bite the inside of her cheek not to smile. They couldn't fix it back on, they explained. It was too messy.
The finger was on a piece of cotton wool. The ring was there too. "Must of got caught on the metal rim" said the ambulance man, grimy from the skip. "Dead unlucky. He'll be OK though."