Mystery of the missing engagement ring
Mystery of the missing engagement ring
This is the story of an engagement ring that was lost. Nothing so odd about that, one might think. Rings go missing all the time, prey to the sink trap or the Hoover bag. A moment’s inattention is all it takes. Sometimes disappearing rings even come back.
At the bleakest moments when my wife, Pru, and I thought we had lost her engagement ring for ever, I was reminded of the story from Herodotus’s Histories in which Polycrates, the king of Samos, is encouraged to throw away a precious emerald ring in order to experience what loss and hardship feels like, only to rediscover it in the belly of a fish brought to him as tribute. What we didn’t know was that our moment of rediscovery would be almost as strange. Days after we have still been unable to come up with a rational explanation.
Pru knew it was the right ring the first time she saw it in the window of a slightly-beyond-my-pay-bracket London jewellers. The lozenge of black diamonds, set on a rose gold band, has an understated bling. It is contemporary but it looks old, with a hint of 20s glamour. My daughter calls it the “sweet” ring because of its resemblance to a fruit pastille. (I almost wrote “called it”, so sure was I that it was lost for ever).
Its behaviour was not so “sweet”. It had form on the disappearing act. One morning, not long after we were married in 2010, the ring made its first bid for freedom. One minute it was there, in a little bowl next to the bed, an hour later it wasn’t on Pru’s finger. We began searching calmly, less so as dread rose that it had really gone. Internet appeals were issued, drawers were emptied, furniture moved; restaurants and Transport for London were rung, all with no result.
We each spent a lonely summer afternoon retracing routes to the shops and the nursery. Every can top and piece of mica in the gutter sparked momentary hope. It was weeks before I could walk down the road without casting my eyes downward.
We tried to be philosophical. I’ve always loved the Elizabeth Bishop poem One Art, which begins: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master / so many things seem filled with the intent/ to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” Yet this did feel like a disaster and I am ashamed to write that the feelings of loss– partly financial but mainly for what it signified – were accompanied by flashes of anger at my wife. How could she be so careless, so thoughtless even? It was a petty way to behave, but that’s how it felt. And if a ring is meant to be a symbolic, then perhaps it’s not so odd that there is confusion between the symbol and what is symbolised? At least that’s my excuse.
Then, one morning, about a month later and at the same time after this first disappearance, the ring reappeared with no notice, twinkling enigmatically in the middle of the bedroom carpet about a foot from where it had last been seen. We whooped and hollered and danced round the house. Pru put it back on and waved her hand around manically to show the impossibility of it having come off of its own accord.
Yet, for all our surprise, we weren’t amazed. My daughter called it a “naughty ring”, instinctively endowing this most mysterious of inanimate objects with a life of its own. Yet we knew there must be a reasonable explanation, it was just that we had missed something. The laws of physics had not been broken. We speculated about it being caught in bedding, while a colleague suggested that our pre-school children might have played a part. None of it mattered: we would never be so careless again.
Pru’s engagement ring, safely back on her finger.
It was a thought that would come back to haunt us in January this year. The morning after a night at the movies came the sudden realisation that the ring wasn’t there. But how long had it not been there? Second time round, the recriminations and the sadness were worse because the ring’s absence pointed accusingly to our own foolishness.
Depressingly, it wasn’t just in losing the ring that we had failed to learn from experience. We (or more accurately, I) had also learned nothing about how to deal with the loss. Amid a largely ritual emptying of bins and shaking of sheets, even harsher words were exchanged than the first time. How could anyone make the same mistake twice? I asked furiously. Why the hell wasn’t it insured?
When we cleared the room for decorating a couple of months later and it still hadn’t turned up, we concluded that our luck had finally run out.
We rang the jewellers, in the slightly pathetic hope that they might take pity on us and give a huge discount on a new one, which would at least be some consolation. But the cost of a replacement was prohibitive. It seemed particularly bitter – and another sign of our lack of attention – that we didn’t even have a decent picture of the thing. It hadn’t just been lost but eradicated from our shared history, the ring that never was.
Or so it seemed. One Sunday evening in April, Pru was taking out empty coat-hangers from our bedroom wardrobe. She placed them on the bed, turned round and there it was: the unfamiliar but oh-so-familiar ring, threaded inexplicably on to the question mark of a metal hook. It was like the conclusion to a conjuring trick to which we never knew we’d been party.
This time we were too shocked to scream and shout. It made no sense. The cupboard was on the other side of the room, too high for small hands to reach. The duvet was clear and uncluttered. The idea that the ring could have fallen on to a hanger and then been unknowingly stowed three months before seemed preposterous.
Pru is a practical sort. She was delighted to get the ring back. The mystery was secondary. I am not the kind of person to believe in the supernatural. But the mischievousness of the ring’s dematerialisations and rematerialisations make it hard not flirt with the idea of a poltergeist or at least to ascribe some kind of agency to the “naughty ring” itself.
Seeing the unfamiliar but oh-so-familiar piece of jewellery on its coathanger hook, I thought again of Polycrates and his ring saved by a fishing hook. The moral of his story, a fable about wealth and experience, is plain to see. But what exactly was our ring, sitting insolently on its stainless steel question mark, trying to tell us? It feels like a tale of second chances and lost causes. Next time round we really must pay attention.