Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Necklace And Two Sets Of Tears

Episode eight of Mrs Sunderbury And The Gold Earring. The story starts here

Ilona and her cousin Mrs Abigail Sunderbury sat in the sunny corner of her otherwise dark garden on two of four heavy garden chairs. On the wrought-iron black-painted table sat a teapot sporting a cheery rasta-style cosy, broad red, gold and green knitted stripes brightening the scene with garish abandon. Abigail was explaining at length to Ilona the loss of her earring. Ilona sipped her tea and looked through the rising steam at her short, round cousin, saying "mmm" and "ahh" and "really?" at appropriate moments, but otherwise letting her guest vent her spleen uninterrupted.

"I honestly don't know how it could have happened. One moment I was just standing up ready to disembark, then the train jerked, I grabbed hold of the nice boy in front of me..."

Ilona's right eyebrow raised fractionally, but Abigail was oblivious to the suggestion that she might have made a passionate move in public.

"... and next thing I know, the earring has completely disappeared, can't see it anywhere, have to get off the train..." Her voice trailed off into uncharacteristic wistfulness, and she reached into her purse, and pulled out the remaining gold hoop, which glinted deeply in the warm sunshine. "I've had these over thirty-five years..."

Ilona was surprised at the sudden sadness that filled Abigail, as her round, smooth face blinked in the sunlight, her dark eyes visibly brimming with tears. She was not used to Abigail showing anything other than implacable determination mixed with varying degrees of self-satisfaction, and strangely, Ilona who was used to being the more relaxed of the two cousins found herself coughing and fidgeting and reaching for inanities.

"My dear, it happens. Shit happens."

Just at that moment, there was the loud sound of a car from the other side of the house, a great revving roar with a dangerous-sounding whine that reminded Ilona of bombs and bullets. Abigail dabbed at her eyes, and Ilona, distracted and thankful for it, said, "Let me get you something, dear, I won't be a minute."

"I'm fine, I'm fine," said Abigail, "Whatever is that awful noise?"

"I'll see," answered Ilona, and she touched Abigail's dabbing arm, rose and walked across the daisy and dandelion-covered lawn towards the house. She had in mind to give Abigail a necklace from home, a gorgeous piece of Austro-Hungarian Empire, a relic somehow saved from the ravages of the twentieth century. She had intended to give it to Abigail for her sixtieth birthday since she never wore it and although it was valuable and an heirloom had no special love of it; but she was moved to see her dumpy cousin so affected by her loss, and spontaneously decided that this was the time.

Entering the kitchen she walked through to the front of the house, as the noise increased. The neighbour's car was obviously having some kind of probem, and worse, she could see that husband and wife were in the middle of an argument, he red-faced, contorted, her white-faced, doll-faced, passive, leaking tears. Smoke, or steam - she couldn't determine - came from under the bonnet of their standard people carrier. As she watched, he reached into the car and switched off the engine, which whined down to a stop, backfiring once, loudly. They both jumped, and so did Ilona. She didn't like sudden bangs; they reminded her of borders.

She started to rummage around in the kitchen, looking in her stash places for the necklace. She was far too savvy to keep valuables in a drawer or jewellery box, and several of her multitude of caddies, pots, baskets and airtight preserve jars contained precious items. The noises outside died down, she heard a car door slam.

Good, good she thought, leave her alone... let her be miserable if she wants. Pulling her small kitchen steps over the tiled floor, she trod upward and her hand reached to a battered blue and white biscuit tin decorated in willow pattern. She lifted and shook it - something rattled inside. "There we are," she half-breathed, half-murmured, and stepped down.

She took out the necklace, unwrapped it from a wind of thin cotton lint, and held it up to the light. Its intricate ancient cuts and fastenings really were from another era, when horses drew carts, people knew their places, and two world wars had yet to make a mockery of morals. It really is beautiful, she thought, but she knew that giving it to Abigail was the right thing to do, and the anticipation of the gift gave her a feeling of satisfaction. Abigail would get far more out of owning it than she ever had.

Ilona turned smiling towards the back door, and the front doorbell rang.

End episode 8.

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