tagRomanceMagic Lamp

Magic Lamp

byoggbashan©

Copyright Oggbashan January 2018

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.


+++

I was swinging my metal detector from side to side as I walked across the sandy beach on one of this winter's lowest tides. Last year on the same tide I had found a small Roman brooch. This year I hoped to be lucky again. So far all I had found were modern objects discarded as litter.

There was a strong signal in my ears. I dropped to my knees pulling out the wooden probe. As the damp penetrated my trousers I could almost hear my ex-wife Anne's voice in my ears.

"Peter! You've ruined another pair of trousers. What you see in metal detecting I'll never understand. You waste hours of time. You could be sorting out the garden, painting the house ... but oh no! You have to wave your silly wand around looking for other people's smelly rubbish ..."

Anne's tirade could go on for hours at a time. It was a symptom of the failure of our marriage. I knew Anne was fucking her boss when she said she was working overtime. I hadn't confronted her about it until I had proof from hiring a private detective. My metal detecting started after I knew the marriage was doomed. We had parted and divorced five years ago. Now I lived alone and apart from my boring job as an accountant dealing with probate, metal detecting was all I did. I still hadn't really adjusted to my changed life. At least our financial settlement had been final. I wasn't paying Anne maintenance.

The probe struck something. I scraped the sand away with my fingers very carefully. Whatever it was, it was not small, perhaps twelve inches long. As I pulled the wet sand away the water seeped into the hole. I had to reach through the opaque water to feel the object and pull it out.

My heart raced as I lifted the unseen object. I was afraid that what I had found might be explosive. Several times I had found live small arms ammunition and once a massive mine that had to be detonated on the beach by the Navy's mine clearance squad.

As the water drained from my fingers I recognised what I had. It was a bronze lamp, probably Roman. It was a common shape in pottery. Bronze ones were rarer but not very valuable. This one was larger than most. I might be able to sell it to an American tourist for a hundred dollars once I had cleaned it up. As it was, encrusted with sand and other deposits, it was practically worthless. I sighed and slid it into the finds bag. I picked up the metal detector and continued to sweep the sand. In a few minutes this area would be underwater again until the next Spring tide.

The rest of that sweep produced a few finds that joined the lamp in the bag. As the tide returned I retreated up the beach sweeping as I went. In the shingle near the high water mark my patience was rewarded. I had found a diamond engagement ring with an inscription inside. Possibly the owner would reward me for it. I started my rusty car and drove back to my near derelict bungalow. The bungalow was all I could afford to buy after I had shared half my property with Anne. But I owned it outright and the land around it. Years later I had the money to repair and improve it to make it a home but I hadn't changed. I still preferred the excitement of a potential treasure to a real improvement in my lifestyle.

I took off my salt-stained trainers, damp socks and wet trousers, dropping them in the hall. I walked through to the kitchen wearing nothing below my waist but Y-fronts. No one would see me. The kitchen window faced woodland. All the bungalow's windows visible from the road fifty yards away had grubby floor length net curtains. Unless I turned on a light before shutting the main curtains no one could look in to see the jumble of clutter in every room. Unless they walked down my long access drive they wouldn't see anyway.

I washed the bronze lamp, the ring and other finds in the stone Butler sink that I should have replaced years ago. I swore under my breath as the water began to rise. The U-bend was blocking with accumulated sand. I ought to clean it out -- again. I knew what I should really do. I should wash my finds in a plastic bowl and throw the sandy water outside, not down the plug hole.

I picked up a magnifying glass to examine the ring. It had a large diamond, if it was a diamond, in a claw setting. Inside there was an inscription 'Love from Mervyn' and a date of 14th February. That was simple. There was only one Mervyn locally. He was the landlord and owner of the local public house. I had been a regular there for decades. I could take the ring there tomorrow evening and ask Mervyn about it. I put the ring down on a piece of kitchen roll.

The bronze lamp had two faint inscriptions, one on each side around the edge. I switched the kitchen light on. The fluorescent tube hummed, fizzed, flickered and went out. I had known it was failing. I should have changed it weeks ago. I had a spare tube in the cupboard under the stairs but wouldn't exert the effort to get it until it failed completely. I sighed, put the bronze lamp down, and went to the cupboard. I collected the new tube and the step ladder. If I didn't change the tube now, as the short daylight was fading, I would have to find a torch or a table lamp.

The new tube was much brighter than the old one had been. The old one must have been getting weaker and weaker. The bright light showed all the imperfections of my kitchen -- the grubby corners, the stained surfaces and the dirty floor. Those didn't matter to me now because I had the inscriptions on the bronze lamp to read.

The inscriptions were in Latin. I copied them carefully into a notebook. I took the copy upstairs to the so-called study, started my computer and accessed the internet. Eventually I was able to get a rough translation:

"Let light bring peace. Know yourself."

What did that mean? I didn't know. What I did know was that I was hungry. I went back downstairs and put an instant meal in the food stained microwave. I ate that in front of the television watching a programme about metal detectors helping archaeologists. I made an effort to load and start the new washing machine. It was too shiny and clean to fit with the rest of the kitchen. I had only replaced it because the ancient machine had been beyond repair.

I left the bronze lamp on a kitchen work surface until tomorrow. I would use a hobbyist's engraving tool to remove the encrustations before cleaning it properly. But not tonight. I was too tired.

+++

I had a weird complex dream that night. It started with light, bright light shining throughout my house. I followed the Roman lamp throughout my bungalow. It was as bright as the new fluorescent tube in the kitchen. The lamp showed the dirt, the neglect, the shabbiness of everything. The dream changed to make me think about my boring and useless existence. The light was not just showing me the neglect of my surroundings but the lack of purpose in my life. Why was I working at a mundane job for more hours that I needed to, earning money I didn't spend and accumulating capital?

Anne's complaints in my head during the day returned but had altered. They were still criticising my lifestyle but seemed to show concern and perhaps even love. Her tone was more like encouraging me to change because I could do better for myself. She said I was just existing now. Anne's voice was like it had been when we first married, slightly exasperated with me but sympathetic.

The dream reminded me of how much we had loved each other for the first decade of our marriage. The anger at her betrayal had long gone. I still had feelings for Anne. If she were to be unhappy or in trouble I would help her as best I could. Anne was part of my past, someone I had loved. Her voice in my head was encouraging me.

I needed someone to care for, someone I cared about. Anne couldn't be that person but...

The dream changed again. Apart from at work where all the women were much younger than me, too young for me, I only had contact with two single women. Whenever I found anything old I had to register it with the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the county museum. Penelope was the local administrator. I took things to her several times a year. I enjoyed talking to her and researching details of what I had found. Was there anything else between us? I didn't think so. She became excited by historical objects. I don't think she saw me as anything other than a source of objects. My dream started to see Penelope as a possible girlfriend. After a few seconds the dream changed to a furious Penelope upbraiding me for inappropriate behaviour. I knew Penelope had a temper. Her views on her ex-husband were unprintable. On the last time I took something for her to look at I had heard her on the telephone to her teenage son who had annoyed her about something. In my dream Penelope was even angrier with me.

The angry Penelope was banished by Margaret laughing at her and me. Margaret is the landlord's sister in law. She is a widow a few years younger than me. She helps out in the pub from time to time but her main job is working as a cleaner for a domestic cleaning company.

Cleaning? The light had shown the state inside my house. The dream changed to show Margaret following the bright magic lamp while banishing the dirt with a magic vacuum cleaner. She was laughing at me as I scuttled out of her way. The dream ended with Margaret pushing me on to a kitchen stool, hugging me from behind, and making a cup of tea for both of us.

I woke up in the morning with the dream still vivid in my memory.

+++

After breakfast I noticed, through the dirty kitchen window, that the rain was lashing down. I sat at the kitchen table to remove the encrustation from the Roman lamp. I had put Mervyn's ring in a cup of cleaning solution. After an hour or so the ring should be sparkling.

I had an adjustable table lamp shining as I worked. I was wearing magnifying spectacles that protected my eyes from any debris flying as I worked. Three hours later I had removed the worst accumulations and I stopped for a cup of tea and a sandwich. I was slightly puzzled by the inscriptions and markings on the lamp. There seemed to be a crest engraved near the handle. Romans didn't use heraldic crests. Perhaps it had been added later?

I worked for most of the afternoon. By five o'clock I had a gleaming bronze lamp in my hands. It was perfect with no dents or scratches. The inscriptions were clearly readable. The crest was faint but obvious. The left half of it seemed to be the three fleurs de lys of the French monarchy with the other half quartered with a complex design. I didn't recognise it. Perhaps Penelope would when I took it to her?

Taking it? I would go to the museum during my lunch break on Monday. I would take Mervyn's ring, if it was his, to the pub this evening. Mervyn's wife Diane would be off duty. She was the chef for the Sunday lunches, working hard until three o'clock. On Sunday evenings Mervyn ran the pub with help from Margaret and two young women barmaids. The pub would be quieter than any other night of the week. If I went early enough I should be able to show the ring to Mervyn and talk to Margaret.

I ate a light meal about six o'clock. Carefully I put the Roman lamp, wrapped in tissue paper, into a large cardboard box. I would put it in my car on Monday morning. I found a small box suitable for a ring and put the cleaned ring in it.

I picked up the dirty clothes I had left in the hall and on my bedroom floor. I put them in a laundry basket on a work surface. I looked around the kitchen at the stained surfaces cruelly exposed by the new overhead fluorescent tube.

I shaved and showered before dressing myself in clean casual clothes. I had been living in grubby clothes since Saturday morning.

+++

As I expected the pub was nearly deserted. I was able to speak to Mervyn.

"Mervyn, I found a ring on the beach yesterday..."

"You did, Peter?" He seemed uninterested as if he was just making polite conversation with a regular customer.

"I think it might have been yours," I continued.

"Mine? I don't wear rings. Never have." Mervyn waved his bare hands in front of me.

"But you might have bought a ring for someone else?"

That made him blink. I could almost see the wheels whirring.

"You found it on the beach?"

I opened the box and showed him the ring.

"Good God!" Mervyn exclaimed. "It is! It must have been thirty years ago. Margaret!"

He beckoned Margaret to join him.

"Peter's found the ring I bought for Diane. Remember? She accused me of chasing you just before Valentine's Day."

Margaret looked at the ring.

"I never saw it," she said slowly. "I remember Diane shouting at me, accusing me of pinching her man."

"I had made the stupid mistake of asking Diane's sister what Diane might like for Valentine's Day," Mervyn explained to me.

"Diane saw me whispering in Margaret's ear, added two and two together and made sixteen at least. On Valentine's Day a week later I took this ring to propose to Diane. She accused me of two-timing her with Margaret. She threw the ring back at me, missed, and it fell into the shingle. Diane rushed off leaving me to scrabble vainly to try to find the ring."

Margaret added:

"Diane came home, rushed into the kitchen where I was sitting on Don's lap, and accused me yet again of wanting Mervyn. Don and I had to explain that he had just proposed and I had accepted him. Diane burst into floods of tears when I told her that all Mervyn had been asking is what she would like. He had bought a large box of her favourite chocolates."

"It took Diane three days to admit that she had made a mistake," Mervyn said. "What was worse was that I couldn't afford another ring. That one had cost me nearly a month's wages and it was lost, not insured."

"Diane was irritated about that too," Margaret said. "Don had bought me a cheaper ring than Mervyn had lost. I had a ring. Diane didn't until Mervyn asked his mother for a dress ring. Even now she only wears a plain wedding ring, not her engagement ring."

Margaret held out her hand. Next to her wedding ring was the engagement ring Don had given her.

"Here you are, Mervyn," I said. "Your ring to give to Diane, slightly late."

"Thank you, Peter," Mervyn said. "Do you want anything for it?"

"I'd like to see Diane's reaction. That's all." I said.

"I'll get her," Margaret said.

"She's not asleep?" I queried.

Margaret disappeared behind the opening leading to the kitchens.

"No," Mervyn said. "We have a new young chef who started three weeks ago. Today was his first Sunday lunch in charge. Diane didn't have to do anything. He was a success and an asset."

+++

Margaret returned with Diane who looked puzzled.

"Peter found something on the beach yesterday," Mervyn said.

Margaret's reaction was similar to his -- polite disinterest.

"He's given it to me," Mervyn continued, "and now I can give it to you -- decades late."

He opened his hand to show Diane the ring. Her face paled.

"It's not!" Diane exclaimed.

"It is. And the inscription inside is still true," Mervyn added.

He picked up Diane's hand and slid the ring above her wedding ring.

"I love you, Diane," he said. "I always have and always will..."

Diane burst into tears. Mervyn wrapped her in a hug and took her away out of the bar. I looked at Margaret. She looked back at me, shrugged her shoulders, and pulled a pint of my usual bitter.

"Why?" I asked.

"Let's sit over there," Margaret said. She gestured to one of the young barmaids to take over behind the bar.

We sat down in a quiet corner. There were very few customers, none of whom had noticed Diane's reaction.

"Diane hasn't been happy recently," Margaret said. "She's not getting any younger and doing meals six days a week has been too much. The new chef will help but she's losing my help too."

I raised my eyebrows in a query.

"I've been working part-time here and as a cleaner for the local cleaning company. My son Ian is starting out as a builder on his own. I'm going to be helping him with the accounts and paperwork. But the cleaning company I worked for is closing down. The woman who started it is retiring and moving to be close to her children and grandchildren in Wales. I'll be unemployed next week. Mervyn and Diane can't afford me to work longer hours now they're paying the new chef. They can't really afford me at all."

"What are you going to do, Margaret?"

"Apart from Ian's business? I'm starting my own cleaning company with one employee -- me. If that works out? Maybe next year I might be able to employ one or two others. It's a risk. The cleaning company's contracts have been sold to a rival so there won't be much opportunity for a new venture."

My brain was whirring. The details of my dream were returning. I sipped my pint to give me time to think. I could see one of the few customers being served a drink by one of the young barmaids. A few years ago I might have been chatting to her as the customer was now. Before that I would have been flirting with Diane -- or Margaret.

"What do you think about the changes?" I asked.

Margaret looked at me.

"Have you got time to talk, Peter?"

"Yes, Margaret. I always have time to talk. I don't talk to many people except at work."

"I could do with someone to talk to, Peter..."

"Shall I get you a drink?" I asked.

"No. I still get offered too many drinks by the customers. That's part of Diane's sadness. She is feeling old. The new chef is much better than she ever was. He might be the saviour of the pub's finances if we sell more meals. Diane had been too aware that her cooking was ordinarily good but took so much effort and time. She was finding it too much."

"I liked Diane's meals," I interrupted.

"I know you did. You liked Diane too, didn't you?"

"Yes. And her sister Margaret. I think both of you have been very kind to me since my divorce."

"Peter, you have always been polite, courteous and helpful to us. In some ways you are an ideal customer. You'll wait patiently if we are busy, help clear tables, and never get drunk..."

"Never?" I queried.

"OK. Once, two years ago, when you found three gold coins on the beach. But you were a happy and friendly drunk, no trouble at all..."

"Except that I tried to kiss you and Diane."

"And accepted our refusals instantly. Diane and I didn't mind. That's another thing that is upsetting Diane. Except for you, no customer, drunk or not, has tried to kiss her for years. She used to be the attractive landlady that everyone flirted with. Now the customers only flirt with the young barmaids."

Margaret looked towards the bar. The customer and barmaid were laughing with each other.

"Diane was the tall beautiful sister with blonde hair and a cleavage. She enjoyed the attention as long as the bar was between her and the customer. Some flirted with me, including you Peter, but most customers' eyes were for Diane. Now they're not and it hurts. She isn't the centre of attention. She's had to admit she can't continue as the only chef. She's beginning to get signs that her body is finding the work too much. Now I'm leaving, even though she knows the business can't afford me, she's upset."

"But Mervyn loves her," I said.

"He does. Diane doesn't appreciate just how much Mervyn loves her. That ring might be a catalyst for change. Good? I hope so. I had my Don. I knew that Don loved me every day. Mervyn's love for Diane is as strong. She just wouldn't accept his obvious devotion to her. Maybe the ring will help? Thanks for bringing it."

Report Story

byoggbashan© 14 comments/ 15989 views/ 24 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

Next
3 Pages:123

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar:

   Cancel