By Jo Dearden
A bottle of Merlot
The beach was crowded. The sun sparkled on the water as children splashed each other laughing and shouting. A group of teenagers were playing beach volleyball and a couple of families were playing cricket on the wet sand along the shoreline. Occasionally, a stray ball landed where Barbara was sitting on a large picnic rug reading a magazine. Her two children, Tom and Lucy were clambering over the rocks with their crabbing nets. Their father, Mark was fiddling with the outboard engine of their small dinghy. It was working perfectly and had brought the family to the beach with no difficulty, but Mark always needed something to do, thought Barbara. He didn’t really enjoy sitting on the beach for long.
Barbara looked up from her magazine. She saw her friend Susie walking towards her carrying a straw bag and a blue and white striped beach towel. She and her husband, John were staying in the apartment next to theirs overlooking the estuary.
‘Hi Barbara. My goodness it’s hot,’ she said as she laid out her towel on the sand and plonked herself down.
‘It’s almost too hot. I’m normally sitting here in a couple of sweaters.’
‘Yes, much more like an English summer,’ Susie laughed as she started to smother herself in sun cream. ‘I don’t suppose you ever found your engagement ring.’
‘No, sadly not. I can’t believe it’s four years since it happened. Having to tell Mark’s grandmother was awful. I felt so terrible, as when we got engaged she gave it to Mark to give to me. It had been passed down to her from her mother. Mark was her favourite grandson, perhaps as he was the first.’
‘What was it like?’
‘It was a beautiful emerald surrounded by diamonds. We stupidly didn’t insure it and so had to replace it with this one, Barbara said stretching out her left hand towards Susie. ‘We couldn’t afford to buy another emerald, so I chose an aquamarine instead.’
‘it’s very pretty though,’ Susie said.
‘I’ve had a look every summer when we’ve been back here, but of course it’s hopeless. A needle in a haystack would be easier to find.’
‘I suppose some lucky person might have found it,’ Susie said.
‘It’s possible, but then it would be nice to think that it would get handed in. We told the local police at the time, but they didn’t seem that interested.’
Barbara gazed at the bobbing boats near the shore. She had tried to forget. She remembered packing up all the beach gear after a long day. The children were fractious as they were tired. One had lost a shoe and a bucket of collected shells was tipped over in the melee. It wasn’t until they were chugging back across the estuary that she looked down and realised the ring was no longer on her wedding finger. Mark was so angry. His rage had frightened the children. It made her shudder thinking about it. She had never seen him like that.
It wasn’t entirely her fault. The ring had always been slightly too big for her but when they had taken it to a jeweller to be altered, he had advised that the delicate gold band might not withstand any adjustment as it was over 100 years old. She knew she shouldn’t have worn it all the time. In fact, it was not ideal as an engagement ring. It would have been better if she had kept it to wear for special occasions.
She looked at her left hand. The aquamarine glistened in the sunlight. She actually preferred this ring as she had chosen it. She loved its pale blue translucence. It also fitted her perfectly. Barbara sighed. Mark’s grandmother had died suddenly at the end of last year. She had a fall and then got pneumonia. She had seemed more understanding than Mark, who had never quite forgiven her. At least that was the impression he gave. Thankfully, they hadn’t spoken about it for some time as they always ended up arguing.
Susie got up and walked down the beach towards John who was talking to Mark. Her blonde ponytail swished down her suntanned back as she walked. ‘Don’t mention that we've been talking about the ring,’ Barbara called after her. She didn’t want another argument after the children had gone to bed and they had drunk one too many glasses of wine. Susie always looks so perfect thought Barbara as she watched Mark laughing at something Susie must have said. She couldn’t remember the last time that he had looked at her like that.
Barbara started idly running the sand through her fingers. It felt soft and soothing as she began to form a small pile beside her. Her fingers touched something hard and cold. It was a stone. Yet, there seemed to be something else underneath. She scrabbled at the sand. Surely, not? It couldn’t possibly be after all this time. Yet, this was roughly where she could have lost the ring all those years ago. She grabbed a spoon from the picnic basket they had brought with them. She started to scoop the sand. She could barely believe what she was seeing. There was her ring, dirty and tarnished, but unmistakeably hers.
A shadow flitted across her. She looked up, squinting in the sunlight. She thought she could see a faint outline of an elderly lady standing behind Mark. She jumped up and ran down the beach clutching the precious ring. She was out of breath when she reached her husband. She then realised that the old woman was nowhere to be seen.
Later that evening when the children were in bed Barbara handed the ring to Mark. ‘I think you had better keep this now. I’m not sure that I want to have any more to do with it. Perhaps you would like to give it to someone else?’
About the author
Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times. She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently attending a creative writing class, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.