Gary Tippings: I was born in London in 1966 into a predominantly Irish family, my mother being from Oranmore Co. Galway, and my father’s family being from Bantry Bay, Co. Cork. I worked at the B.B.C. and as a senior production assistant at Channel 4 Television before leaving to work as an actor and travel as much as I possibly could. I returned to London and began to write a novel based on Irish /English identity that I shelved after two years work to return to working full-time as a carpenter. I now live in Lincolnshire with my wife and two daughters and have recently begun work on the Irish/English themed novel again, writing when the demands of work and family will allow.
By Gary Tippings
As he’d passed the pawnbroker’s window Joe had only stopped to look at the watches on display. He didn’t notice the ring until he began to step away from the shop front. The ring lay on its side on the shelf below the watches, a white cotton thread tied to it looking like a mouse’s tail. A small white tag at the end of the thread bore the crossed-out scars of previous prices. Now selling at seventy pounds, reduced by fives from a first price of ninety.
Joe stepped inside the shop.
“We’ll be closing in five minutes,” said the shopkeeper, stood alone at the far end of the shop-floor.
“The ring in the window,” said Joe, slowly shutting the door behind him, “with the black insert, is it white gold?”
“With the square jet face?” said the shopkeeper as he walked over to the window display.
“Yes,” said Joe, following the shopkeeper, “priced at seventy pounds. Can I have a look at it please?”
The shopkeeper reached into the window, picked up the ring, and placed it on a glass counter to his side.
“It’s white gold, yes, was ninety pounds at one time that one,” said the shopkeeper as Joe picked up the ring, “I’ve had it before, maybe four or five times before, but the old boy who pawned it usually came back for it soon after. Haven’t seen him for a quite a while though, thought I’d drop the price to get shot of it. Not really fashionable nowadays jet, is it?”
Joe looked at the ring closely, holding it up to his right eye whilst closing his left to inspect the back of the jet insert.
“Can I leave a deposit for it?” he said handing it back to the shopkeeper, “twenty pounds be alright?”
“Sure,” said the shopkeeper, “I’ll keep it behind the counter for you.”
Joe took out his wallet, opened it and pulled out the only note that was in there, “the name’s Carney,” he said, “I’ll be back Saturday morning if that’s alright.”
“Sure Mr Carney,” said the shopkeeper, writing Joe’s name on the back of the envelope he had dropped the ring into, “fifty owing and it’s yours.”
“I’ll be back Saturday.”
“Fine,” said the shopkeeper, “I’ll see you then.”
Joe smiled to himself as stepped out onto the Archway Road. The shopkeeper began the process of locking the door, keys jangling and bolts sliding, as Joe headed off in the direction of Highbury, shivering slightly and pushing his hands deeper into his jacket pockets as he walked.
Joe took seventy pounds out of his wage packet after work that Friday and set it aside when he got home, ensuring it didn’t get spent in the pub that night. On Saturday morning, his ears still ringing from the band that had played in the pub the night before, he walked back to the pawnbroker’s shop and settled the balance remaining on the ring.
“Shall I put it in a presentation box for you?” said the shopkeeper. Joe assumed he meant for free and agreed, only to hear the shopkeeper say “just an extra five pounds” as he snapped the red vinyl box shut.
From near outside the shop Joe boarded a bus headed to Finchley. As the bus whined its way up through the gearbox Joe took a seat, removed the box from his pocket, and opened it. The ring sat up like a square black pearl in the small red oyster of a box. Joe thought about trying it on but resisted, he didn’t want to be tempted into keeping it for himself. He thought of his mother, thought of how happy she’d be to know that he’d found the ring she’d bought for her husband so many years earlier, when Joe was still a boy.
Joe could still remember his father’s pride as he showed it off to him for the first time, “look at that son,” he’d said with delight, pushing the ring towards Joe’s face in a clenched fist, as if about to punch him, “the finest Jet black, just like a pint of Guinness! Looks great on me doesn’t it?”
Out of the bus window Joe watched the pulsing flow of cars on the other side of the road as they queued towards the traffic lights at Fortis Green Road, at the people walking by at differing speeds, hurrying as the traffic lights changed colour mid-crossing, looking behind them for reasons why cars had sounded their horns at them.
Joe got off the bus at Finchley cemetery and walked through the grounds to his parents’ grave. His father had been buried there only four months earlier, alongside Joe’s mother who’d died some six years ago now. Joe hadn’t spoken to his father during the last three years that he was alive. Since his wife had died his father had made it clear that he wanted nothing else but to join her, he’d lived alone since she’d passed away, told Joe that he wished for nothing and wanted nobody. Joe had tried to reason with him but it was useless. His father couldn’t be persuaded to eat properly and only left his flat to spend all day in the pub, usually alone. Joe went along with his father’s wishes and kept his distance from him. In reality he had no choice but to. His father could not be told.
Joe squatted down beside the mound of loose, light brown soil that marked his father’s side of the grave. His father’s name hadn’t yet been added to the headstone, Joe was still trying to save the money to pay for it to be done. Reaching over to where he guessed his father’s right hand might be deep below the ground Joe began to pick away the larger lumps of soil, and then used his fingers to burrow as far as he could to create a small void. He placed the box containing his father’s ring into the ground and brushed the loose soil back over it, then stood and tamped the soil flat with the sole of his shoe. Then he tidied some ragged looking flowers that stood in a clear glass jar at the head of the grave, wiped the palms of his wet hands on his jeans, and began to walk back towards the Finchley Road to catch the bus home, lighting a cigarette in cupped hands as he walked.