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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
"Esther Landry Grove, Pennsylvania"
by Jeannette Harris
Carol finally found the perfect one for her collection. It was pearl and shells on a long gold chain. Every Saturday, she visited places like flea markets and yard sales searching for a special necklace. Her favorite to date was one of solid amber. Its dark warm shades shone in the light and reflected, she felt, the calmest part of her soul. Another one was graduated cultured pearls, a short string that fit loosely around her neck. Still another was a triple chain of handmade and polished maple beads. She fingered the solid gold now strung from beneath her finely chiseled head.
Carol had aquiline features for a woman. Her nose was somewhat long and straight. Her skin was pale and didn't tan. Her cheeks were naturally ruddy. Her mouth was full and today she wore pale pink lipstick to match the nails on her fingers and toes. Her sandals were of a soft tanned leather. Her shorts and shirt were made of soft silk. On her left ring finger she wore a thick gold braid. She wasn't married but her mother had told her years ago that that would keep men from bothering her too much, as she was such a generally solitary figure. Carol was tall too. She towered over some of the men at the county fair that day.
"How are you doing, darling? You like that necklace, do you?" the proprietor of one stand asked. He was old and wizened from the sun. His arms were thick and covered with dark curling hairs. On his head, he wore a cotten cap. Around his wrist was an old gold watch. His pants were faded navy blue and loose. His shirt was striped and tucked in under a cracked brown leather belt. Dirt hid under his fingernails.
Carol had been fingering a necklace of odd-shaped turquoise beads that held a heavy silver pendant in the center. "It's nice. I can't find the price tag on it though."
"For you it's ten dollars, doll," Peter said. He didn't put prices on any of his goods. He sized up his customers, how they were dressed and they held themselves, and then figured out what the top price was that they might pay for any particular item. That method had stood him in good stead over the years. He made an adequate living traveling from show to show, putting up his tent with the tables and their black felt cloths, the glass-covered boxes of jewelry, the small open cases of knives.
"I'll give you five. There's one nearly like it for five over a few booths down." Carol had become adept over the years at haggling over prices. She enjoyed the game and never agreed to the original price, no matter how fair it might seem. Most of the dealers bought their goods at severe markdown prices and could afford to take far less than whatever they said.
"Aw, darlin'," Petie said. "That one don't have no pendant though. The pendant alone is worth ten dollars." He had worked on this particular piece of jewelry himself, restringing the beads half way down after adding the curiosity he'd found. Although most of the jewelry Peter sold was made by others, he had a few more expensive pieces that were made by himself. He was an expert craftsman but could not make a living on his own skills alone.
Carol examined it again. The pendant was a six-pointed star with an arrow through it pointing down. "I've never seen this sign before," she commented with curiosity. "What does it mean?"
"Oh, it's just a love sign, like a heart with an arrow through it," Pete explained. He didn't really know what it meant, had purchased the necklace and the pendant, along with many others, at a large discount warehouse on the other side of town. The other pendants were standard offerings of hearts and five-pointed stars and crystals wrapped in swirling silver strands. He had the rest tied on multi-colored leather strings.
Carol was intrigued. She turned the pendant over and over in her hand, while the beads of turquoise caught the light. "Okay, I'll give you seven-fifty," she offered finally.
"Nope. It's ten dollars and that's a bargain," Petie intoned adamantly. He knew what he had in the jewelry and determined to make at least one hundred percent on each piece. Otherwise, his business wasn't worth having and he couldn't afford the price of booth space. If this customer wouldn't pay what was fair, another would and, if not here, then elsewhere.
She turned the pendant again over in her hand. It let off, it seemed, a vibration of some kind. "Okay," she relented. "Ten dollars and something to hold it in." Peter bent his aching body under the table and rummaged around in a carton there. "How's this?" he said finally, holding out a small cloth-covered box.
"Oh, perfect," Carol exclaimed, not expecting anything but cardboard. She didn't really need the box either but attempted to get her money's worth since she was paying full price. She didn't usually agree to that, but this necklace particularly caught her fancy and interest.
Pete dropped the necklace into the box. "Here you go, miss," he said, handing it to her.
Carol reached into her purse, nestled the box on the bottom of it, and found a ten dollar bill. "Here you go and thanks," she said, stepping back and moving on toward the next booth.
A few days later, Carol ran necklaces through her fingers like someone else might gold coins in a chest. "Do you know what this is?" Carol asked her friend, Judy.
Judy, like Carol, wore jeans and a loose sweat shirt. They both wore sneakers. They sat on the rug with their legs crossed, going through Carol's collection. "No, do you?" Judy replied.
Carol frowned and held it up to the light. "The man who sold it to me said it was a love sign."
Judy shook her head judiciously. She always felt a little uncomfortable in Carol's house. Carol was what she called "a neatnick," and every single thing had its place. Her home always seemed spotless and Judy tended to feel a bit dirty as soon as she walked into the place. Judy herself enjoyed living in a bit of a mess. She thought it was more conducive to creativity than the kind of relentless order espoused by Carol. "I don't think so," she said cautiously.
"Feel it." Carol handed the turquoise necklace with its silver pendant over. She had cleaned the beads carefully and shined the pendant with silver polish. It gleamed now with a soft evanescence, as if it were old.
Judy rolled the pendant in her hand. "It sort of feels like it moves, doesn't it?" she said. Her shoulders shrugged from the kind of muted strangeness of that experience. She shuddered a bit.
"It must be some weird way it's made," Carol noted with perplexity. Carol held to logic and was not afraid of the pendant at all. She studied it instead.
"We could take it Peale's Jewelry and see what they say," Judy suggested helpfully. She felt there might be a curse on the necklace or some charm a witch had thrown.
"Let's do that." Carol enjoyed any excuse to examine, and perhaps purchase, more necklaces for her jewelry boxes. She had by now three. One was shaped in distressed wood like a miniature dresser. Another was made of fine china with gold-leafed drawer handles. The third was dark metal and contoured like a trunk. All were relatively large and took up quite a bit of space on the special high table she had bought. The table itself was mahogany and about four feet long by three feet tall. It held a precious spot in her bedroom. The bedroom was all dark wooden furniture with white curtains, a white bedspread, and white carpet.
Moments later, they walked down Main Street and turned into the jewelry store. Mrs. Peale was bent over a case, putting a gold watch back where it belonged with its price tag turned down.
"Hello, girls," she said, looking up and closing the case. "Is there something I can do for you today?" Carol, in particular, was a good and familiar customer. The Peales' had fixed jewelry for her and sold her some others. They understood that it was her hobby to collect, restore and keep special pieces.
"Yes," Carol said. "We have a question for you."
"Okay," Mrs. Peale said. "Shoot."
Carol pulled the necklace out of her pocketbook and held it out, dangling from her right hand. "What is this?" she asked, pointing to the silver pendant.
Mrs. Peale frowned and pulled it toward her. She got out her magnifying glass and examined it in detail. "There's a marking here in the back on the bottom of the arrow," she finally noted. "It says GHJ, which I assume is the maker's mark."
"Do you know what it means -- the six-pointed star with the arrow?" Judy asked.
"My guess," Mrs. Peale said, "from years of experience making jewelry for people is that GHJ was a craftsperson who was in love with someone of the Jewish faith and that he made this pendant for her. Or, of course, it could be the other way around and she made it for him," Mrs. Peale amended, conscious suddenly of the changes in her time.
Carol smiled. She liked the story, even if wasn't true. And how, she wondered, would they ever know the truth. "Can you feel it vibrate in your hand?" she asked curiously.
"Yes," Mrs. Peale replied. "It's the angle at which the arrow is set and its style. It moves slightly because the design is purposefully a little unstable."
"Why do you think GHJ did that? You think it's deliberate?" Carol couldn't imagine designing anything that was purposefully unstable. Everything in her life, her work and her home was as stable, as ordered, as she could possibly manage it.
"Maybe it's meant to signify that love is alive, that it moves, that it's dynamic rather than stagnant, static," Mrs. Peale guessed.
"You're a genius," Judy said.
"Well, I'm just guessing. You might try to find a silversmith with the initial GHJ in the phone book," she offered. "See if I'm right."
"Oh, I like your story so much," Judy exclaimed. "I'm not sure I'd want to find out the truth if it was any different than that. It's such a lovely tale."
Carol, of course, was more practical. "Yes, that's what I'll do. Thank you," she said, peering into the cases with interest.
"Can I help you with anything else today?" Mrs. Peale asked.
"No," Carol finally said. "Not today. But thank you very much about the pendant. I'll be back another day."
A little later, Carol and Judy leafed through the J's in the local telephone book, but they found no GHJ.
"Ah well," Judy said finally. "It's a mystery."
"I think," Carol commented, "that, just like the necklace collection, I'll search for GHJ in various ways."
"Do you think it's good luck to keep the necklace, or do you think the pendant wants to be returned to its original owner?" Judy asked with trepidation. "It might be bad luck to keep something that's a sign of deep affection between two complete strangers to you."
"I have no idea," Carol said, somewhat abruptly. She became irritated off and on at the lack of rationality that followed Judy around.
"Maybe the silversmith is dead," Judy said.
"Could be," Carol replied, summarily.
A few years later, she was wearing the turquoise bead necklace with the silver pendant at a flea market close to home, looking as ever for more to add to her collection. A new craftsperson had put up a booth and she admired her skill with silver and brass. "You have quite a knack for turning out unusual pieces," Carol commented to the owner.
"Yes, and you're wearing one of mine too," Lila said. She was short and swarthy with a gypsy look. Her dress was colorful and she wore bright beads around her neck and dangling from her ears. Her hair was pulled back with a red kerchief. Her voice was scratchy and low.
Carol fingered the pendant in some astonishment. It was far finer and more delicate than the pieces that Lila had spread on the table before her now. "You made this?" she asked.
Lila leaned forward and held the pendant, turning it over and back again. "Yes indeed. I remember it well."
"Who is GHJ?" Carol inquired aggressively.
Lila hesitated. She wasn't sure whether she had a contract with the original owners to keep their secret. Finally she said, "That's the initials of the man who asked me to make it for his wife for their fiftieth anniversary."
Carol grinned at a mystery now nearly solved. "And what happened to him?"
Lila looked down at the work in her hand. "Oh, they were long-time customers of mine." She strung a bead carefully on its thin string. "They both passed away several years ago, within a few months of each other."
"Can you say what the symbolism of it is?"
Lila strung several more glass beads and then looked up. "Well, yes," she said, looking into Carol's eyes. "They were Jews and they loved each other and Judaism."
Carol puzzled again at the necklace. "And why does it move? Is it meant to?"
Lila pursed her lips and closed her eyes for moment. "Yes. It meant something very special to them," she sighed, "but what I can't exactly say." Her heart ached for the clients that were gone. "They were insistent, though, that it be that way."
"A jeweler in town suggested that it might mean dynamic, rather than static, love," Carol persisted. "Do you think that might be true?"
Lila nodded a little sadly. "I think it might be something like that. Do you like it?" she asked.
"It's my favorite piece."
"Well, then," she declared, "it's meant for you. Do you have a special person in your life?" she inquired.
"No, not right now."
Lila reached out and patted Carol on the hand. "Well, maybe it's a sign, a vision of what is to come."
"Maybe so," Carol murmured and moved on to another booth, lost in thought. Maybe the pendant would bring her good luck. She'd been alone for over three decades now. She realized at that moment that her collection of not-rights and one-night stands had exhausted her and resolved to give them up. She fingered the silver pendant again. A dynamic love now would suit her just fine.
Separated from God
like Saint John the Baptist's head from his body,
our selves and lives shown off on a platter,
while Salome dances
as the musicians strum and play.
So the drum beats on,
and the conductor
still lifts his baton.