The earrings were the only thing she wanted from her mother’s meager estate and now she had lost one. They were a wedding present from her father to her mother, tiny, perfect pearls set in gold and glued to an earring clip. She wore the earrings almost daily when she was a child. They were the central ornament in her dress-up fantasies, a gift from the king, she would proclaim in an exaggerated accent nobody could place. Her mother didn’t wear them, and her father never commented on the fact that his bride had turned his wedding gift into a toy. Maybe he didn’t care or notice.
Or, more likely, he wasn’t many weeks into the marriage before he realized that the pearl, round, smooth, white and pure, was not the most appropriate gift for a buxom, wide-mouthed redhead named Ruby.
Rubies would have been too obvious, he told her later, long after Ruby was gone, and it was just the two of them. “The earrings are yours,” he said. “Perfect for you.”
They hurt, the way clip-on earrings do. She could have converted them to studs, but she liked the pinch to her earlobe and the eventual throb which had her removing one and then the other, rubbing her lobe. It reminded her of Ruby, the beauty and the pain.
“Ruby was a package,” her father said. “You got it all.” He paused and looked at her, abashed and embarrassed. “I wanted it all.”
“Masochist,” she said.
“No,” he said. “I got you too. The best part.”
How like him to give pearls to the one woman who not only would never wear them, but would resent them as an overt attempt to define her. Ruby must have loved him briefly—who wouldn’t love that sweet man?—but she bored quickly and was gone before Garnett turned ten.
Garnett checked the pocket of her coat, her jacket, every compartment of her purse. She’d probably taken it off midway through dinner, when the sharp stab was too much, held it in her hand, thinking she’d snap it back on and then didn’t.
Just like her mother—who said she would do something and then didn’t. I’ll pick you up on Saturday. We’ll go to the zoo or the movies or Grant Park and feed the ducks. Garnet would wait, in her clean clothes, hair brushed, ready when the call came, running late, can’t make it, Sweetheart, next time, next time. The pain was a quick sharp stab of disappointment and expectation. If it bothered her father, he never said anything and always had an extra hour to take a kite to the vacant lot or to walk down to the creek and catch tadpoles. Nothing her mother would ever suggest.
He was the pearl, polished by irritation perhaps, but smooth and beautiful. She didn’t need two of everything. She had the one that mattered.
© 2011 Kathleen Coskran