I tried to explain, I didn’t have enough time. But she insisted. She needed the necklace that night.
Later, she accused me of stealing. And what was she saying I’d taken? Not pearls or jade, carved from a precious stone. No, she claimed I’d pilfered a few jet beads.
Jet. A gemstone, created over time from compressed wood. A form of coal that can emit an electric charge when rubbed. A popular material for mourning jewelry during the Victorian era.
I tried to do this woman a favor by restringing her necklace. She repays my efforts by saying, “Miss, you’re a thief. Do you hear me? A thief.”
Yes, lady the message comes across loud and clear. Not everyone adores Florida, the everlasting sunshine state. I feel smothered, trapped inside a dusty auditorium at the beck and call of rich old people who have time on their hands to shop for collectibles and antiques.
And to think I used to love old things, sifting through scraps of lace and bits of broken jewelry on Grandma’s bed. Pretending I was someone famous wearing glamorous beads. Delicate and shiny faceted bits of glass. Exotic treasures. Nuggets of quartz strung on sterling chain, cool against the face.
Sweat gathers in my armpits. What should I do next? By force of habit I play the dutiful shop clerk and hold the necklace up to the light. Then I lay it on a pink velvet jewelry pad and pull out my giant magnifying glass. A twenty-eight inch strand of graduated jet black beads. Yes, the alignment is slightly off, but I’ve made it whole again. The focal point of the necklace is three large jet teardrops and at their base a finely beaded tassel. I try to explain that under the circumstances, it would be impossible to make the beads line up evenly on both sides without removing a few.
When re-stringing a necklace, I use the edge of a cardboard tie or scarf box to line up the beads. Nylon beading thread works best, because it doesn’t stretch or fray. Nothing good is ever rushed, so I work slowly and pull hard and hold tight when adding the findings.
Please, she’d implored only hours earlier, making her voice sound sweet, Can you fix my necklace? She‘d purchased the necklace from me the previous year and then broken it. Please.
I felt a responsibility. I’d imagined she’d be grateful. I’d imagined she might buy something again. I need the money.
Gullible, that’s what I am. Angry. Not just at this unkind person, but at myself.
I’d warned her when she bought it, the necklace was fragile.
I think of my grandmother and her white starched aprons. This would be the kind of necklace she liked to wear. Old-fashioned. A Victorian classic. I picture it on a woman wearing a silk mourning dress with the tassel hanging down to her waist. If only I could have taken the time away from working here, to go to Aunt Milly’s funeral. Most of my family would be there. My heart beats faster. Swallowing hard, I push back tears.
I look at the woman standing before me in her designer jeans. In an act of defiance, I slip the necklace over my head.
She points her finger. “How dare you.”
A small vein bulges and throbs above her temple and I notice the transparency of her skin, how tightly it is pulled across her face. Over sixty, I think, pretending to be forty. As if surgery and fashion can provide the appearance of youth.
“Listen. I was trying to do you a favor, “ I say, “ I‘m just a dealer trying to make a living, not a jeweler.”
She seizes my hand. “ Everyone is always trying to take advantage of me.” Her touch is cold. “Give me my extra beads. My necklace. ”
I bend down for my workbasket. Perhaps inside one of the vials were the odd beads. Total value a dollar maybe.
“And I want my money back.”
I turn to face her and place my basket on the counter. “What about the new clasp, findings, string, my time?”
Customers in the aisle stop and gather. I see the dealer in the booth next to me turn and stare. That’s when I take the necklace from around my neck and dangle it in the air.
“Give it to me,” she says, “Now.”
“I’ll give you back your necklace,” I say, “The way you first gave it to me.” Inside the basket are a set of shears. Snip snip. I feel a shift in the universe.
“How could you?” she cries.
The beads roll across the floor and she is on her hands and knees. I watch her crawl across the ground to chase them.