There were photos in a box in the back of Simon’s closet: vividly colored cousins and grandparents from well before Simon’s parents had been born. Some were covered in ink—“graffiti,” he thought—and some were as bare and pristine as newborns. None of them had rings. The photos of his grandparents and parents were tech, not paper, and those were kept in the album in the living room. The people in those photos had rings, but none of the chaotic rainbow artworks he’d marveled at in the paper photos.
When Simon’s father had been 50 years old, his rings had been a black gradient down his arm, and the bottom few had faded so much that they were no darker than accidental pencil marks. The very first one, in fact, had looked as though it had been erased entirely. Simon’s own rings were dark, vibrant against his skin. The ring around his wrist was the lightest, but it was remarkably still visible, still sharp. His father’s rings had stopped at mid-bicep last summer and Simon thought of his father as he showered and dressed for the day. Now he had turned fifty, and his newest ring would be added today. It would wrap neatly around his elbow, over the inside bend and outside point. He wondered if he would get to eighty rings, or even a hundred. He hoped for his son to grow old enough to run out of room.
At the doctor’s office, humming fluorescent lights competed with the buzzing of the ring pen, and Simon remembered the sight of his father, at peace in a coffin, his rings linked together by the finality mark: a simple, straight line from the eightieth ring back down to the invisible first one. “This is the whole of this life,” the clergyman had said. “Eighty years of love and sorrow, of toil and rest.”
Then, and now, Simon steeled himself against pinching agony and looked straight ahead.