On Polycarp’s Finger

2/20/24

A woman coughs up blood in the ICU at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles where her husband stands next to her bed, rubbing her back, helping her expel pink phlegm into his handkerchief.

At a table for two, at nearby diner, a deep voice punctuates the greasy air that smells of Saturday Night’s Special: “Finish your chicken and waffles, so we can get out of here.”

“Relax! Everything’s gonna be alright. We have the security code. We know the police response time. We’re good!” replies the heralding voice. “Besides, I’m enjoying whatever this is. This sustenance is … heavenly!” As he spoke his last word, they kissed their rings, simultaneously.

Two peace officers walk past their table and sit at a nearby booth. The baritone collaborator nervously looks back at the men with guns whom have now taken notice of them. In a rush, they finish their meal and leave, forgetting to leave a tip.

One of the officers asks their server if she knows who the peculiarly-looking characters were or if she’s ever seen them before. She answers no to both counts. The police are triggered, leaving prematurely to being served, although leaving a generous tip. They speed to their squad car to tail them while keeping their distance.

Shortly after, they arrive on scene as the crime is in progress. The officers allow them to “smash and grab” the jewels while remaining undetected. As the burglars are about to make their getaway, the police purposely trip the alarm and catch them in the act. Bad luck, or so it seems, has gotten in the way of them walking away with 2.5 million dollars’ worth of exquisite jewels. But when they’re brought down to the police station, the stolen merchandise is not on them.

After being incarcerated for over a year, they walk through their foiled machination in detail, coming to the disturbing realization that things are not adding up. Since there was nothing stolen, their only charge was breaking and entering. But the law mandates that jail time for such a crime not exceed six months. So why are they rotting in county?

A few days later, they receive a note from an anonymous source buried in their mashed potatoes. They unfold it. It turns out to be a blueprint of the jail and the underground sewer system, as well as the shift-change schedule for the guards. All they need now is to get on the other side of the iron-barred door. But with no key, escape might as well be the Rapture. Feeling frustrated—being locked-up while holding two tickets to freedom—they fall asleep, but not before they kiss their rings in unison.

At midnight, they awake to their names being whispered. A supernatural being, who only the men can see, unlocks the door, facilitating their flight.

Their first order of business is to track down the crooked cops who set them up and put them away.

The anonymous source strikes again—leading them to the domicile of one of the off-duty officers. Before they break in, they overhear the same two men with guns talk about how their ruse to rob the same jewelry store at the same night afforded them the perfect cover: using the men without guns as patsies.

Coincidence?

The cops are hogtied and gagged. A letter of admission of guilt is left along with the stolen jewels that hang around their necks like Mardi Gras beads. Every gem is accounted for.

An hour later, a knock at the hospital door of the woman with the rare respiratory disease gets the attention of her husband. He lets them in. As she sleeps, the three men talk about the night of the robbery.

As it turns out, the owner hired the tall twin-looking specimens, who prefer rags over expensive trappings, to steal the jewels from him, knowing his business would be compensated by the insurance company. Then he could sell the jewels the criminals stole for him in order to pay the ongoing hospital bills that total 2.5 million dollars.

Desperation, as it’s been observed, will cause a person to do drastic things. For the octogenarian, his wife’s cough comes with an echo, the haunting echolocation of love disappearing into the past as he tries desperately to hold on to the present. Every time he hears it, he fears the worst: if his high school sweetheart were to die, he would only have the hospital bills to remember her by. So his “tell” is revealed. Since he was an orphan, raised in the foster care system by abusive parents, he’s been obsessed with self-governance, not depending on anyone for anything. His obsession has taken the form of financial security, never—no matter the circumstance—to get into debt. He’s even flirted with the macabre notion of killing himself so his life insurance policy would cover the balance of his wife’s hospital bills. But his policy is worth less than half of what is needed to square his debt with the hospital.

He looks to heaven to blaspheme his Creator. Just as he commences to curse God, he glances down at the table where his spotted handkerchief lay. A ring with a note sat on top of it.

The note reads, “ ‘How then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?’ ”[i] On the back, it continues, “Square your account or heal your wife. The choice is yours.”

The strange thing is that the ring didn’t come from his store or any store for that matter. He’s only seen it once before, in a history book about the early church martyrs. It was believed to be on Polycarp’s finger when he was miraculously protected from being burned alive in the colosseum, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, when the persecution of Christians was ramping up. It’s rumored to have special healing powers, worth well over thirty million dollars.

He mulls over the dilemma in his head: sell the ring, never to worry about their financial security, hopeful that a cure will be found while investing millions into medical research, or heal his wife and struggle for the rest of their lives to pay a crippling debt.

“Why give me an option? Why not just say, ‘Here, take it! Do this. Don’t do that.’ How evil to make me choose between these two things.”

From mental exhaustion, he falls asleep deciding.

When he wakes up, he gasps for air and declares, “ ‘Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?’[ii] Forgive me Lord for blaming You for this gift of life. Just as it saved Your persecuted saint long ago, I will use it to save Your sleeping saint here and now.

He puts the enchanted ring on his sweetheart’s finger. Instantly her pale face turns pink with a rosy-hue on both cheeks. She sits up like a spry school girl and speaks words of life back into her husband, whom at this point is starting to look like he’s the one dying of an incurable disease.

He turns to thank the two men who might as well be invisible. But they’re nowhere to be found. He makes the rounds looking for them at the hospital wing like a lost medical intern. Nothing. He inquires at the nurses’ station. They’ve never seen them before. He asks to see the security tape. Again, nothing. They seem to have floated in and out, undetected, as if they were not men or mortals given to fear and greed, but guarding angels given to love and need.

[i] Polycarp, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Chapter IX. Christian Classics Ethereal Library, https://ccel.org/ccel/polycarp/martyrdom_of_polycarp/anf01.iv.iv.ix.html (accessed 2/20/24).

[ii] Ibid.

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Sari
Sari
2 months ago

Such a compelling, beautiful story of provision, faith and love. Your fiction powerfully conveys important truths while taking the reader on a thrilling ride. Well done!

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