“A ring is a promise,” Evangeline’s mother told her as she sat upon her knee.
Content warning: misogyny; allusions to sexual assault
‘She was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused,’ – Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
“A ring is a promise,” Evangeline’s mother told her as she sat upon her knee.
“Just like baking, we put the ingredients in a bowl and mix it all together, scoop it into a tin and pop it in the oven. The oven promises to heat it up, make the mixture warm and cosy and turn it into a lovely cake.” Her mother waited for Evangeline to nod her head, her green eyes wide and curious.
“Well, it’s just like that, you see?”
“What’s just like that?”
“Love. Dedication.” She kissed the top of Evangeline’s head.
Evangeline looked over into the kitchen, where their oven sat dormant like a sleeping uncle.
“I want to play with your rattle, Mummy.”
Evangeline’s mother sighed and shook her head.
“No, honey. You know Mummy’s rattle is only for Daddy.”
Evangeline turned and dragged herself into her room, closing the door. Her mother had never quite realised how strange it was, her daughter sequestering herself away each time she heard the word, ‘No’. It was as if the word carried a foul smell that permeated throughout the house and clung to the drapes and the wallpaper.
Evangeline’s mother walked over to their hall cabinet—a small chest of drawers that belonged to her husband’s family for generations. With her right hand, she opened the top left compartment, taking out her engagement ring and twirling it in her fingers. It was a pity it didn’t fit anymore. The ring really was lovely. A clear emerald nestled between two neat rows of diamonds on a gold band.
She lifted her left hand—or what once was her left hand—and held it to the light. At her wrist, the skin smoothed out, her pink flesh slowly mutating into a deep green. The same green as the emerald from her engagement ring. There, her skin hardened and curled in on itself, twisting into the shape of a frog. Its frozen eyes bulged and reminded her somehow of her daughter.
She could ring it now. Evangeline would surely not hear, hidden away in her room, and there wasn’t anyone else about to hear her open the frog’s bubble-throat and pull the little toggle that made him go ‘ribbit-ribbit’. Rattle. She imagined herself laughing, cackling. She could see her whole body contorted with a pleasure that did not belong to her.
But Evangeline’s mother knew that she would not. The frog would only ever be touched by her husband. That part of her belonged to him. He had carved it as he slid that emerald ring onto her finger and promised to protect her from all the unspeakable monsters of the world. At least it was only a frog, she thought, and not a whole carousel like her sister or an elephant like her friend, Yvette.
Such a small part of her. What did it matter if it was his?
“Does it hurt?” Evangeline asked. She was greeted by her mother’s raised eyebrows.
“When he puts the ring on, I mean.”
Evangeline’s mother continued brushing her butter-coloured hair and wondered whether it would someday melt in her hands. She looked at the face of the now young woman in the mirror; her muted expression concealed a mind with its own thoughts, wants and desires.
“No, it didn’t hurt. Not really.” Evangeline’s mother paused, the hairbrush still in her hand. “Almost as though your body has its own anaesthetic.”
Evangeline frowned and then nodded, catching a glimpse of both their reflections in the mirror. Her mother twisted a piece of hair and pinned it back behind her ear.
“Stop worrying, Evie. This is a happy day, remember? You’re lucky Freddie’s bought you a diamond. You know they say diamonds bring the purest representation—”
“Mum!” Evangeline scoffed. “You know someone in marketing probably made that up because diamonds are more expensive.”
Evangeline’s mother sighed and put the brush down.
“You want to be happy, don’t you, Evie?”
Evangeline did not meet her mother’s eyes, instead inspecting her own reflection. She stood, kissed her mother on the cheek, opened her bedroom door and descended the staircase into the living room. Freddie and her father sat side-by-side on the couch. Freddie smiled but had a look in his eyes that she recognised in her father whenever her mother told him there would be steak at dinner.
“Evie.” Freddie rose to his feet as he saw her.
Evangeline walked towards him, reminding herself to smile. He held out his hand and waited for her to take it. His skin felt somehow cold and clammy and she imagined, for a moment, her left hand turning into an octopus. She could almost see her fingers multiplying and becoming tentacles, floundering around, cutting off her circulation, before the metal-flesh set itself into place.
“Perhaps we could have a moment in the garden?” Freddie asked.
Evangeline’s mother had grown wisteria over the gilded iron archway. Freddie’s favourite flower. They stood underneath what Evangeline knew he saw as a blooming symbol of his love. But her mother had planted it, not Freddie.
“Give me your hand.”
She lifted her hand and held it out to him. Freddie reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring. Diamond, just as he’d promised. He pushed the ring onto her finger and released her hand, taking a step back. Funny, Evangeline thought. All this time she had imagined Freddie getting down on one knee. Actually asking me to marry him, she thought. She had pictured the moment just before she answered, wondered what sorts of wild animals would dart across Freddie’s eyes. Only, Evangeline saw none. Perhaps it was better this way. This way, she couldn’t hesitate. She wouldn’t have to try and remember how to form the word ‘yes’ between her lips, as if it were a parlour trick performed with a gun to one’s head.
Evangeline stared down at her skin. Waiting. Her heart rattled in its cage.
And then, nothing.
Awkward glances followed with Freddie checking his watch, shoving his left hand in his pocket, searching for videos of engagement-rattle-changes on his phone, messaging all his married friends, deflowering the wisteria that covered the archway, bulb by blooming bulb. Evangeline just stood there.
“The sun’s starting to go down. We can try again tomorrow,” Evangeline said, breaking the silence. She rubbed her right thumb up and down Freddie’s arm.
Evangeline’s mother made roast chicken for dinner. It gleamed in the tray all festive and happy, nestled between potatoes and rosemary. Evangeline’s father and Freddie made neat work of the carcass, hollowing it out like an old tree. Evangeline and her mother did not touch it. Before the last bite, Evangeline excused herself from the table and retired to her bedroom.
By the time Freddie decided to join her, he’d rather enjoyed himself. Evangeline’s parents had brought out the wine glasses and filled them, over and over. When Freddie wandered into the bedroom, he heard Evangeline’s hushed breathing. He climbed into bed and nestled beside her. He could feel her form against his own. Freddie stroked her hair and let the scent of melting butter fill his nose as he drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of a room with a thousand rattles and smiled into the darkness.
Light streamed in through the open window. Freddie yawned, rolled over and reached out, not caring to open his eyes. His fingers stretched on the mattress, searching for Evangeline. He felt something cold. Metal.
Freddie opened his eyes and saw, in the otherwise empty bed, a raven. It was carved of iron and perched upon the pillow, so small it could fit in his hand. The tips of its feathers were buttered gold and there was a toggle in the space between its wings, like the space between a woman’s thighs, just begging to be pulled. So, Freddie did. He loved watching the little bird hop and beat its wings up and down, the metal too heavy to fly, stranded here in Freddie’s euphoria. Stuck with him on the pillow or between the sheets of the bed. And all it could do was its purpose. The very thing for which it was made.