A few weeks ago my parents replaced their stair carpet. When they lifted up the old threadbare one they found a child’s silver ring underneath which they identified as belonging to my sister. “How did you know it was Barbara’s?” I asked. “Were her initials on it?”
“Trust me,” my dad said. “We both remembered it being Barbara’s.”
I had been hoping it was my ring, not so that I could claim it back from my sister but because if it did belong to her then there was only one explanation for how it had slipped underneath the stair carpet: I must have poked it under there myself. Indeed my dad confirmed this: “You know, it wasn’t just under the carpet but wedged right underneath the rubber underlay as well.”
I do remember now crouching on the stairs, curling my fingers under the frayed edge of the carpet, tucking the ring out of sight. I was only six or seven at the time and I had lost my own gold ring and been punished for it. It’s hard to say if I wanted my sister to suffer the same loss as I had or if I wanted her to be punished too. I suspect it was the latter. My gold ring did eventually turn up: a girl in my class had it. We had been playing weddings and we needed a ring for the ceremony. She had kept it after the game and it was under her bed for weeks before her mum found it and made her give it back to me. By that time I had probably forgotten about Barbara’s ring. I don’t think I intended it to stay hidden under the stair carpet for twenty years.
I feel so desperately sad at the idea that my sister was missing her ring all that time. I remember how devastating it is to be a child and to lose something precious. I feel guilty too, and it’s no consolation knowing that she has been reunited with her ring at last because what good is it to her now? She could wear it as a toe ring I suppose.
I guess it’s the writer in me but my first reaction to any strong emotion like that is to want to put it into a story. I recently read Sally Zigmond’s post on turning real life situations into short stories. It made me realise that I’m going to have to consider very carefully how much truth goes into my short story and how much fiction. I have a tendency when I write short stories to leave the ending open. That seems more honest to me than tying everything up neatly, because in real life there are no neat conclusions. However, as Zigmond points out, real life is not fiction. When people read short stories they have certain expectations that need to be satisfied, among them a beginning, a middle and an end. The real life ending of my ring story is not very satisfying so I need to create a new, fictional one. Writer Nicola Morgan says on her blog that you don’t need a neat ending, but you do need the reader to feel that at least some good degree of resolution and partial closure has been reached. So how do I do this?
I was watching an episode of Frasier the other night, the one where Frasier and Niles take up the floor boards of their childhood home searching for a memory box they hid there as children. They do find the memory box, but also a human skull. Before calling the police, they decide to try to solve what they believe to be a murder case themselves. The starting point of that story is the same as mine: something hidden in childhood being found decades later. It might well have been based on an experience of the screenwriter. However, from that starting point the story moves in surprising directions, encompassing a police investigation, some hilarious theories and inevitably, a catastrophic misunderstanding. There is a definite sense of resolution at the end of the episode and I am reasonably sure that this latter part of the story is entirely fictional. Something for me to think about when it comes to writing my short story based on the reappearance of my sister’s ring.