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Creative Non-Fiction: 'The Ring'

Written by Rosanna McGlone

When you are young, you don’t understand that ‘Till death do us part’ is a hope, not a promise.

 

I am sitting in a National Trust Cafe at Quarry Bank Mill submerged in a sea of Joules and Boden and White Stuff. We have seen how poor children were exploited every day of their tawdry little lives, crawling under the machinery to untangle the woollen fibres amid the clattering cacophony of the looms, and now we need flat whites.

 

It 

Is

Our

Second

Date. 

 

I watch you, standing at the counter, pushing your tongue deep into your cheek the way you do in moments of indecision. You nod and a pair of silver tongues moves seamlessly over the chocolate fudge cake and the lemon drizzle. You return with coffee and a piece of flapjack shelled with dried cranberries; a tiny superfluous fork curled beside it. 

 

"What a coincidence. I love flapjack!" I beam at the unexpected pleasure. 

 

"I know," you smile, "you did the first time too." 

 

My mind flashes back to 1984, another life fresh out of university and fresh into love. I lifted my eyes from Halsbury’s Laws of England and there you were. Me with my big hair and big dreams, you with your green leather jacket and mud splattered Yamaha 750. (Is there any greater love than selling a throbbing bike, for a clapped-out Simca in order to teach your girlfriend to drive?)

 

We moved in together, that is to say I moved my two, battered suitcases and three cardboard boxes into the £4,000 end terrace you had bought in Stoke. Stoke, let that sink in. Now, that’s love. 

 

We lived in sin opposite The Church of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin, the irony of which didn’t escape me. Like all Catholics I had received an infusion of guilt into my veins at birth, and spent the rest of my life performing lifesaving transfusions on myself in dark corners.

 

We lasted three years; years which spun by with The Eagles and Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac; years where we sat in miners’ darkness, singing along in the flickering candlelight neither of us on key, yet totally in tune; years where a chippy tea from The Plaice Above was enough. 

 

At 

First. 

 

As the months somersaulted by, my heart grew still. I had longed for your proposal, but now it was too late. Something had changed, not in you, but in me. I had sutured my gaping heart and tightened the thread. 

 

"No one will ever love you like I love you," you said. 

 

Afterwards.

 

I left you for another country. The other man was incidental. Unexpected cargo. "Can passengers for flight QA874 to Sydney, please make their way to the boarding gate?" I didn't turn or I would have seen you behind the shiny glass, an arm half raised, like an act of surrender.

 

As I wove my way unsteadily from the Jumbo, I already knew that the jet lag was a small price to pay for the sunlit uplands. The Sydney sun and the snags and the overwhelming scent of the jacaranda filled my senses. I was captivated by the sheer blue openness. The Manly ferry transported me beyond Sydney, beyond life as I had ever known it.

 

The first missive arrived a fortnight after my arrival. “I didn’t think you’d mind,” my mother said defensively, and I could see her lips pouting, down the wire. One by one the pale blue aerogrammes tongued through my letterbox, as regularly as my monthly period, but remained cruelly unread. Stuffed into a draw I never opened, like dormant rattlesnakes, waiting to be prodded. Gradually they declined, eventually they stopped. 

 

Boyfriends came and went, figures in a Swiss weather house where every day was summer. My twenties hurtled into my thirties. You were pushed to a tiny synapse of my brain, amongst The Battle of Hastings and photosynthesis and amo, amas, amat.

 

Heard

Of

Your

Wedding

Through

A

Mutual

Friend. 

 

We both married other people, had other people's kids, led parallel lives. You don’t know the journeys you have to make until you’ve made them. Some people will never leave, and never know. Perhaps you are one of these, shrouded in the blanket of suburbia, not daring to look out because what is outside has the dangerous pungency of the unfamiliar. Or maybe you were just waiting for me to bring it in?

 

An embarrassment of divorces followed with an accompaniment of tears, guilt, regret and, yes, relief. And then, like shipwrecked mariners, clinging to driftwood, we found each other on the other side. 

 

They say there's one who kisses, and one who turns the cheek, but they are just two parts of the same whole. 

 

All those years ago, I wanted you to propose, but now I've realised it doesn't matter. We can marry, but it doesn't mean anything. Once I thought it was a sign that nothing could part us: Excalibur in the stone. But now I understand that all of the nuptial niceties and fancy finery won't matter in the end. The duplicity of the vows renders them unrepeatable, their sacredness scattered through the winds of time like blown confetti. 

 

The flapjack sits between us as I look up at you, 

 

And 

Outside

The

Sun

Is

Shining. 

About the Author

Rosanna McGlone is a writer, journalist and playwright currently based in the UK. Her work has appeared in The GuardianThe Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald, amongst others. Her latest book, The Process of Poetry, shares conversations with leading UK poets exploring the development of early drafts of poems into their final iterations. She is now working on an Australian sequel to be published in spring 2025. She tweets haphazardly @RosannaMcGlone

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