I am standing in my kitchen and I don’t know a miracle is about to happen. It’s spring time, air cool, flowers swelling, but I don’t even believe in miracles. Even in nature. I am sorting through the plastic shoppers and reusable bags which engulf the corner of our kitchen. Trying to fold them neatly, the way Marie Kondo would, to give me a sense of purpose and control.
I’m doing this, resorting to a mind-numbing chore, because I’m hoping it will distract me from the news of a pandemic which has been creeping up on all of us for months.
My government has started to swing into action but I can’t tell if the timing’s right – or whether anyone has a good enough plan. I don’t know whether to run around screaming, sit down and cry, or keep ‘calm and carry on’ as I am repeatedly told my grandparents and great grandparents would have done.
I am lost, though I am in my kitchen, at sea, though I am standing still. I feel a sense of hopelessness inside me and fear for the whole wide world. I can hear my children bicker on the landing, and the still frosty air of March blowing in from the open backdoor. I have no idea what will be okay today or tomorrow, or what ‘okay’ will even look like.
Maybe I should just chuck the bags away, I think, staring at the rustling pile as the plastic shifts and cracks in the breeze. There’s a relentlessness about the upbeat logos and mass produced messaging, food and slogans from the shops we went to so carelessly, so easily, with no restrictions apart from our own finances, up until this week. Maybe I should recycle the lot (I’m not a monster), or throw them into the car boot and hope for a day when we can pile in and moan all the way to IKEA and Tesco. Drop into Sainsbury’s twice in an afternoon because we forgot a vital ingredient. It’s too much, being nostalgic for last week though. Too much.
I’m not normally given to gloom, but the news has turned into a cycle of dread and madness which doesn’t fit with the ordinary, normalness of my newly domestic life.
I have taken some time out of work to focus on the next steps of my career and the kids but then been locked down into my own kitchen as the world has stopped, time has stopped, we have all been put in the waiting place.
The uncertainty is deathly quiet. I decide to work the plastic bags and fold them more neatly, make more space for our new lock down life, feel a sense of achievement if that corner of the kitchen, that drawer, is at least ordered. In the bottom of one of the bags is a receipt and as I take it out the bag tears. A little rip in a reusable bag is nothing bad, but it adds to the uselessness of the moment until I see it. The ring. It flashes first, caught in the light, and looks like a tiny coin, a little silver bit, sunk to the bottom of the shopping bag pile.
It’s you, I say out loud as I find the culprit and realise it is an old and battered engagement ring. Yellow gold, silver setting, three stones, with varying size and clarity.
When my grandmother died my mother got all her rings together, had them valued and then let me and my sisters and my cousin pick the ones we wanted. She never told us what they were worth, who had chosen a cracker ring, who was wearing gemstones. The value was in the object and the thought. The connection, not the price. They were ours to remind us of Grandma.
This ring was my Grandma’s mothers. Her engagement piece. I like it because I can’t wear my own. I’m young, but I have a lot of arthritis, rings get stuck and fall off depending on the state of my joints on any given day. On whether I have elegant fingers or pink fulsome sausages, on whether my knuckles and wrists have swollen or stiffened that day. It can be even more precise and damning, depending on my disease progression, a ring can be too tight to get off at lunchtime, and lost by late evening or after a walk in the cold.
I haven’t seen this ring for weeks, months actually. I’ve been in denial that it is lost, and momentarily sad many times when it has caught me off guard, remembering an absence, a flash of grief. I’d almost come to peace with knowing it had given me pleasure, as it gave others pleasure too, and slipped through the net on a good pain day when my finger shrunk too small.
Oh my, I add, as it slips on just right, gliding up to the crease of my fingers, and the diamonds or glass tinkle in the kitchen light, and it’s the perfect fit. This never happens. You never find diamonds lost in the trash. And then something bigger hits too.
It was lost and now it is found, for sure, but more … this ring is a survivor.
I run the numbers in my head. If this ring belongs to my great grandmother and my grandmother was born in 1920, then the ring is likely over 100 years old. And it has survived more than the trash, it has survived pandemics too, like its former owners. I don’t know what my Grandma thought about SARS but her mother was alive in 1918 during a pandemic with mythical ferocity, tearing across the globe killing a third of the people on earth. And it made me linger a little on the ring’s former owners. A woman I’d met and one I hadn’t.
Women who’ve worked in kitchens and offices, who’ve worried about their kids, mended broken shopping bags. Women who’ve lost important things, left their jewellery on the window sill while they did the washing up, women who’ve been loved up and heartbroken, sick and well, and whose fingers have sought solace in simple tasks.
I have no idea if I will be able to wear the ring tomorrow, if my fingers will swell, or how I will feel about tarnishing the metal with alcohol based antibac gel. Or if this is a miracle of hope, carelessness, or just a coincidence. I don’t know if me or anyone I know will get ill in this pandemic, if thousands or millions of people will die in the end, how the frail will fare. Not knowing is the (even more stringent, and nowadays alcoholic) rub. But today the ring is found, and slips on in a perfect fit. And that’s enough for me.