by Dawn Rose
He stares at the ring.
It sparkles and taunts him, this last piece of who he was once.
He wiggles his finger. He knows how much he could use the money. It’s not enough. Not by far. All the same… His dilemma is whether he can bring himself to part with the one, the only thing, that has more than material value to him. Without it, he would be setting himself completely adrift, with no anchor, paddle or sail to guide him.
Yet it is the only thing he possesses which can buy him time.
To get clean.
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before,’ says The Voice.
‘What?’ he says indignantly. ‘You’ve heard what before?’
The Broker rolls his eyes and makes no answer. He looks at The Man muttering away to God knows who or what and wonders whether anything he has said has sunk in.
He is not inclined to repeat himself. He’d like to get his hands on that stone, but the bloody drunken fool is dithering. However, he knows it won’t be long before The Man will have no choice. If not today, soon. All The Broker really wants at the moment, is that The Man get his stinking hulk out of his shop so he can shut up for half an hour for a fag.
The Man is staring up at him, expectantly.
The Broker, staring back without expression, challenges, not too nicely with ‘What?’
The Man hesitates, seems to start to speak, then falters to look down again down at the ring.
His father’s ring.
He twirls it round, feeling the thickness of the band, round and round, the diamond glinting as it arcs. He half eases it over his knuckle, reckoning on the money The Broker has offered, and what he could do with it. In reality it is far less than the ring’s real worth and wouldn’t stretch to covering the immediate problem of rent arrears, but it would go some way to getting The Landlord off his back, and the threat of living on the street again in this festive-season weather.
The Voice reminds him how many Carlsberg Extra or plastic bottles of Vodka the money would buy. The Man’s gut contracts with the need for a quick fix. With supreme effort, the feeling of disgust with himself wins and he shoves the ring back onto his finger, making sure he keeps the setting towards his palm. Keeping it safe. His mind made up.
‘You’ll see. I’ll prove it,’ he mutters as he starts to leave. He heaves at the heavy door with its many locks, and half way through, he turns back and defiantly repeats the promise, ‘I’ll prove it.’
Stumbling slightly, and fumbling in his pocket for his gloves, he doesn’t see the gleam of ice on the lip of the step and twists badly. His left hand scrabbles for some purchase. He manages to catch the jamb as his feet slip and slide and he feels the ring catch on the metal lip at exactly the same time as a cold blast of wind slams the door shut. He lands hard on his arse on the sharp edge of concrete and feels nothing for a split second.
But he hears the scream.
He finds himself confused by the meeting of two points of pain. His backside is throbbing but it’s nothing compared to the hand he’s hugging instinctively to himself. Half lying on the frozen ground, he struggles to sit up. Without thinking he pushes his whole body weight through his knuckles. The pain is blinding. Immediately he buckles backwards as he lifts his left hand clear, feeling relief from the bitter cold of the winter air as it wafts across the startling red rawness. Bright red drops splodge and stain the snow. His cuff is sticky and wet.
He is aware of The Broker rushing in slow motion from behind his counter. The reinforced glass of the door makes him appear distorted. Then two and two add up. Another wave of pain crashes into The Man’s reality and bursts out of him in a spume of clear liquid vomit. The fumes of his beer breakfast are unmistakable and momentarily satisfying. He barely notices the taste of bile.
The Voice is laughing his worst rasping little laugh.
The Man squirms to escape the pool of steaming regurgitation.
The Broker is ashen. He looks back and forth, first at the crumpled Man on the pavement, then at the thing on the ground. He is at the moment of indecision when all possible actions become apparent but where to start?
Should he pick up the finger?
Should he pick up the drunk?
Should he call an ambulance?
He chooses to cover the digit with his dirty hanky, probably because weirdly it is pointing directly up at him. Grasping the crinkled, stiffened grey linen at its centre between his thumb and forefinger, he makes a tent which he drops over the offending object. As does, he sees the glint of gold and diamond a little off to its right, furthest away from The Man. He checks The Man isn’t watching and pockets the ring. Then he goes in to call for an ambulance.
Meanwhile, The Man shuffles himself to slump against the wall, looking, but trying no to, at his bloody stump. His body convulses and The Voice says, ’You need a drink.’ Before he realises what he is doing, he is reaching into his inside pocket with his damaged hand. The fabric of his coarse coat rubs against the raw cut.
‘You bastard,’ he cries out to The Voice, and he hugs his poor hand close again.
The Broker hears and bristles, indignant, and yells through the glass ‘You’re the stupid bastard Mate.’ Yet, as soon as he’s said it he feels ashamed. He needs a fag and lights up. All The Man sees is The Broker’s mouth moving, then the flare of a match. He understands the malice in the expression, but he doesn’t hear the words through the roaring in his head. It drowns him and as he drifts under its weight, he thinks he hears a siren singing ‘The Ring, The Ring, The Ring’, over and over and over.
The Broker watches the screaming ambulance skid to a halt. Two men emerge in their green overalls. They lean over the huddled reeking trench coat, look at each other, raise their eyebrows and turn up their noses. Both pull vivid blue, thin, disposable gloves from their pockets before they touch the grubby creature.
‘Alright chum, let’s have a look see.’
The Paramedic crouches and gently eases the damaged hand from the safety of a sweaty armpit and sucks in his cheeks. First in response to the stench of everything dirty a human body can smell of, and second because he knows this must hurt The Man, and not just a little.
‘Ouch, you didn’t do this by halves then,’ he says. ‘I hope you are right handed’.
The Man’s eyes roll upward. He feels sick, and swallows hard. One Paramedic notices and moves to the side, but his colleague is concentrating on the damaged limb and is splattered by a second wave of beery broth.
Both uniforms swear.
The Man feels his body shudder and the pain in his left arm gets worse and worse, crushing him, forcing him into the hard of the concrete paving. He hears a feeble little voice, his voice, plead with the Paramedic to not press on him so tightly, but he takes no notice. Instead, the man in green is yelling something, something so far away, and hitting him, hard, thumping him hard, again and again and again.
The Man feels his body lighten as he is pulled up by his good hand. A pleasant coolness is spreading through his broken hand, and sends little shivers of cold up his arm. He allows himself to be carried, sack-like, with the hurt hand dangling freely. He can’t summon enough energy to open his eyes, but he senses the one carrying him can be trusted and he gives himself over to his care. He is laid down gently and then The Voice, very close to the Man’s ear says, ‘How are you feeling?’ The Man isn’t sure. He can’t quite remember where he is or how long he’s been here. It’s a hot sunny day. That he is sure of as he feels the sweat running down his sides, making his shirt stick all over, and his old suit trousers uncomfortable around his crotch. He can’t seem to sit upright so he can’t reach down to scratch the sweaty itch. Worn out with trying, he gives in to simply savour the pleasant sensation of the sun on his eyelids, and the rosy colour he can see behind them. He can’t fathom why he is wearing his winter coat on such a lovely day, which gradually makes him far too hot and releases the familiar scent harboured in the filthy fabric. He wants to take off his coat. His feet are hot too and he wants to unlace his shoes. For what seems like forever, he struggles to do anything at all until finally he manages to open his gluey eyes. He becomes aware of his ever present companion hovering just out of reach and out of focus before he hears It say, ‘Come on old chum, let’s give you a hand.’ The Voice titters at its own joke. The Man feels light-headed and struggles to recall anything at all thinking only that this is one hell of a bender. Just then a robin appears on his nose. It asks him if his hand is feeling better. The Man thinks, ‘My hand? Ah yes, my hand.’ He holds it in front of his face and sees a claw made of a thumb and three tightly clenched fingers. There’s a strange sensation where another finger should be but where instead there is a bloodied little stump. Something else is missing too but he can’t quite grasp what. The stump is the brightest of red and dried to a scab. It reminds him of a miniature ice cream cone. The robin hops onto the stump and pecks at it. Flakes of dried blood float on the air before finding their way to the robin’s breast, inflaming its colour. The Man cries out, and shakes off the redbreast, crying out again with the sudden sharp pain. The robin cocks it head as only a robin can, then hops back to continue its task. The Voice flickers back into The Man’s awareness and he imagines he can see it confined within a doorway and he thinks, ‘Ah, yes, the door.’ The fleeting memory makes The Man feel calmer. He allows the robin to do its business and little by little the blood is chipped away. He blinks and the bird is nowhere to be seen, but the stump is clean and where there had been a raw wound, is now healed skin. The Man thinks that somehow this is strange, somehow wrong, but doesn’t quite know why and sucks at it, half expecting a fountain of blood. Nothing happens. He gnaws at it with his teeth. It remains intact. His action makes his tummy rumble and he feels a pang of hunger. He reaches for the bottle in his inside pocket. ‘It’s gone. We have none of that here,’ says The Voice. Befuddled, The Man accepts this statement. He feels the coolness of The Voice’s breath on his cheek as it recites over and over and over, ‘It’s gone, It’s gone, It’s gone’. The words weigh heavily on The Man. The Voice is bearing down on him, robbing him of breath and his chest contracts with alarming force. The Voice seems to be sitting on him and forcing him down with all its weight until The Man’s lungs are empty.
‘Hello. So you’re back. How are you feeling Mr Armstrong?’
It had been a long time since he’s been addressed so politely. He forces his eyelids open and squints into the glare of a dim overhead light. He finds his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, peels it off, and swallows dryness a couple of times before he manages to croak, ‘I need a drink.’
The effort and the movement hurt his chest, and he feels each breath painfully.
‘Oh, I think the time might have come that you gave up that nonsense,’ the Nurse says, and continues kindly but firmly, ‘If you’d had your wits about you, this might not have happened.’
He focuses and sees the sticky tape criss-crossing his chest, the crisp white of the sheet and the bandage making a stump of his left arm.
He holds up his arm and examines his tightly bandaged hand, reaches it further toward The Nurse and catches her eye, an unspoken question posed by his frowning eyebrows.
‘It’s healing nicely and you won’t really miss it after a while. It won’t ever be quite the same will it? No, I meant the coronary.’ She pauses, ‘You haven’t been looking after yourself have you? You’ve been here on critical for a week now. Heart attack.’
It takes a while for him to realise what she is telling him. Then the beeping, and the wires and the tubes make sense. A week. He is desperately thirsty, and he realises it is only thirst, not a hunger.
‘Water,’ he says.
She helps him to take a few sips from a straw and as he sucks weakly, she assures him that before he knows it he’ll forget he ever had it.
He wonders if she means his ring.
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