I'm wearing it now. My mother's aquamarine engagement ring. She gave it to me when my daughter was born, just as she gave me, on my son's birth, the amethyst ring my father presented her with on the occasion of my own. But you see, it's not really her engagement ring. It's the replacement. And what she doesn't know is the story behind that. How could she? I've never told her. And I never will. She doesn't use the internet now--at 84 she finds that speaking to people is more fun than emailing, and who could blame her for that. So she won't see it here. But for the first time, here on Red Room, I'm going to tell you what happened--go through the catharsis of confession and repentance.
I am five years old. The jewelbox stands open on the dressing table after last night's party. Shiny, exciting-looking, pretty baubles lie scattered and reflected in the Wellington mirror. I know that story already--how my cousin had become a duchess, long ago, and how this mirror had been hers. Its triple frame is topped by a pair of gilt carved eagles--some sign of a battle plunder history I do not yet understand. The ring catches my eye, and I stretch out a hand for it and put it on. It hangs on my small fat finger, the large stone heavy, unbalanced--slipping round to the palm side, where I clutch it firmly. It feels solid and grownup there, as if it belongs.
The day is full of sunny promise. Outside waits the new blue birthday swing, with the trapeze bar fitted above the swingseat, ready for acrobatic adventures. I have been to the circus the week before, and been entranced by the glittering costumes flying through the air. Today I too will be an acrobat, and now I even have my own glittering jewel to catch the light as I practise. It is hard to wriggle my little legs over the bar. Hard to find the courage to let go and hang there upside down. I can feel the blood rushing to my head, and down my arms to the tips of my fingers--little fat fingers which don't notice their shining cargo slipping off and falling into the grass. The magpie is chackering in its nest in the yew tree, calling to its mate. 'Treasure! Treasure!'
I never confessed. Never. Not then, in the face of all the eventual panicked grown-up searching (although I did creep furtively back to the swing and look for what I had stolen). Not when my father (who could ill afford it), bought a new ring, as near to the old one as he could find. Not when my father died and my mother and I were talking about anything and everything. Not even when the ring arrived in the maternity ward, in a pretty box with a loving message.
I just couldn't and just can't tell her. I was a child then, and I repent my careless child's action. But telling my mother now, after all these years, would cause more hurt to her than unburdening myself of the truth would to me. So I shall keep silent and see the burden of that silence as the price I must pay for my childhood 'crime'.
But the worst thing of all is this. I had the replacement ring valued for insurance purposes a little while ago. It's not an aquamarine at all. It's just pretty coloured glass. My father REALLY couldn't afford to replace the original. So, I'm sorry, Dad. I guess you had a burden of silence to bear too. At least, for both of us, it's a silence of love and protection. And I don't repent about that at all.