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He Wore a Pearl Necklace
“Edgar? Edgar, is that you?”
Well, DUH. Who else would it be? Had Ma been there in front of him as he struggled to a) remove the door key from the stubborn, rusted deadbolt that refused to give up the intrusive sliver of toothed metal and b) not drop any of the stuff that thoroughly occupied his dinner-plate sized hands—one such item was a lovely little old box that was fragile, mostly because it was, you know, pretty old—she would have seen him glare at her, and she surely would have given him a piece of her mind about his attitude!
“Yeah, Ma.” Success on the key extraction. However, it was the key and not the stuff in his hands that hit the floor. Eggsy looked down, trying to spot the red-white-and-blue HOUSE key against the scuffed hardwood floor of their cramped living room off the front entry. Eggsy blew a raspberry after a cursory search yielded nada nada empanada. Effing key probably skittered under the damned couch.
Eff it. I’ll come back for it later.
Clatters and bangs emanated from the kitchen—Ma’s Domain. She was Queen and Goddess of that space. Russia and Red China could be launching their ICBMs at the good ole US of A, but Eggsy suspected that Ma’s Kitchen would be one of the safest places in the world should that cataclysm come to pass.
Eggsy raced down a short hallway to the small bedroom he shared with his younger brother, hoping he was not in residence. He was an absolute pain-in-the-ass and was also the dipshit that came up with the name ‘Eggsy.’
And lo, another crappy nickname was born.
He tossed his backpack onto his twin bed which was made up with military precision and placed his Walkman on his pillow along with a small sleeve of cassettes (Judas Priest, anyone?). He then dropped into a cross-legged seat on the floor, leaning back against his bed as he took up the small, intricately carved wooden box and held it up before his crystal, cerulean eyes.
Eggsy bought it at a pawn shop for five bucks, knowing instantly that his Ma would love it. Five bones was a DEAL for this kind of workmanship.
The pawn shop owner—a wizened older woman with a pronounced stoop and a distinctive palsied quiver—admitted to Eggsy that it was a fine piece of workmanship from another era and that five bucks was an amazing deal for such a piece.
“But I’ll tell ya, young fella, pawn shop prices sometimes ain’t for the piece itself. Sometimes I price it because of what I think is a lack of demand for something like that. T’ain’t much call for what’s obviously a hand-crafted wooden box nowadays.
“Whatcha gonna use it for, if’n ya don’t mind an old lady being nosy?”
Edgar smiled—practically beamed, as he placed the wooden box on the smudged and smeared glass countertop. “It’s gonna be a gift for my Ma. It’s her birthday!”
“Izzat so? Now you ain’t gonna be like most menfolk with a special lady in their lives and get it for her at the last minute, now are ya?”
“Gosh, no! Her birthday is next month!”
She patted his massive hand, her touch warm, dry, and maybe a little papery. (Although he’d never felt papyrus, Eggsy imagined it would feel like this old woman’s skin.) “Well, look at you! Your Ma certainly raised you right.”
The intricate beauty of the box entranced Eggsy. Gently he nudged the lip of the lid open with a sausage-sized finger. A breath of musty cedar escaped, and Eggsy thought that was just about the finest smell in the world.
“It’s empty, of course.”
“Yes, ma’am. I expected as such.”
“Well, I can fix that if you have a mind.”
“I dunno, ma’am. I only have five more dollars.”
He might as well have been talking to the box because the little old lady was suddenly gone. Eggsy looked left then right for her, but she was nowhere in sight. It was as if she had stepped into a wormhole. “Hello?”
The old woman came out of a room behind the counter with a big smile that exposed severely yellowed dentures. “Right here, sonny. Typical kid, always in a hurry. Lemme tell you a piece of advice, learn how to wait, and do it with grace.”
He didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded good. “Yes, ma’am, and thank you for that.”
“Advice—like farts, are free.” Both seller and buyer snickered over that one. The old woman stepped up to the counter, placed her closed fist on the glass top, turned her hand over so the palm would face the ceiling, and unfurled her gnarled fingers.
Eggsy’s eyes grew wide. “Wow,” was pretty much all he could muster as the woman laid out a string of pearls that shimmered in the afternoon light.
“These are … beautiful.”
The woman moved them around on the glass counter; the pearls glimmered and glistened, captivating Eggy’s eyes and imagination.
She opened the lid on the small box and placed the pearls inside, draping some over the front. “Now tell me that your Ma ain’t gonna love this?”
“Ayuh, I think she will. But I only have five—”
“Edgar? Come into the kitchen if you would please.”
Oh, shoot! He cursed himself for dawdling when he should have worked on getting the box and its contents wrapped for her.
Well… I’m just going to have to give it to her like this, and he pushed the pearls back into the box and closed the lid, ensuring to clasp the tiny brass hasp to the matching brass pin on the front of the box, and then into his pocket it went. “Coming, Ma.”
And that was a Truth in their household; when Ma called, you came a-runnin’. Edgar hustled his gangly frame and misshapen head out of his bedroom and into the kitchen, where a riot of delicious aromas bombed his nose and triggered his salivary glands. Ma was standing over the sink with the water running. She glanced over her shoulder, making eye contact with Edgar. She twisted the faucet until the water stopped, snared a hand towel, and turned toward Eggsy.
A rush of concern flitted over her brow as she stared at him intently, as only a mother could do with a pre-teen man-child. She dropped the towel on the counter in a ball, raised a glass with clinking ice to her lips, and nipped the beverage soundly, polishing off the contents. “Two things I need you to get me, Edgar. Grab me a bottle of Jack Black from the basement, then a pack of Marlboros from the hall closet. Then gitcher butt back here, boy, because you look like you’ve been up to no good.”
Eggsy gulped and felt an anxiety that no twelve-year-old kid should feel. “Yes, Ma,” and he bolted off to do her bidding. Ma really liked her Jack Black, and Eggsy was a-ok with that because it made her happy for a while, and then it made her fall asleep nice and early, which pretty much gave him a wee bit of freedom to have another go of weed without interference.
Getting buzzed was cool.
Eggsy collected what she asked for and skidded to a stop at the entrance to the kitchen, setting everything down on the counter in front of a battered, stainless-steel toaster. Ma was there right away, grabbing the fifth of whiskey, popping the lid, and dispensing a considerable amount of the amber fluid into her glass in which a few chunks of ice clinked. “Thank you. Now, why do you look like you’re up to the devil?”
Eggsy shuffled his feet and looked at his shoes. “I ain’t up to no good, Ma.”
She peered at him. “Bullshit.” And with that proclamation, she meandered her way over to a small Formica and chrome dinette and had herself a seat, reaching over for her favorite ashtray. “Sit.”
Eggsy pulled a chair out and sat across from her as she snapped her thumbnail over the head of a match. She applied the sputtering flame to the cigarette’s tip and inhaled deeply, flicking her wrist to extinguish the match. All the while, she stared at him, and it was… uncomfortable, to say the least.
“What are you up to, Edgar?”
“Ma? Happy birthday!” And with that, he yanked the box from his pocket and placed it on the puke-green surface of the table, then slid it across to her.
She sat back in surprise, her mouth forming a little ‘O’. “What’s this?”
“Just a little something that I hope you’ll like, Ma.”
“Oh my,” slipped from her as she took the box and held it up to her eyes. She turned it around, sliding her fingers over the surface of it; sides, front, bottom, and finally, the lid.
Eggsy could barely contain himself, but he clamped down on his tongue as he didn’t want to ruin anything for her.
The tip of her fingernail found the edge of the brass hasp, and she flicked it open, then lifted the lid to reveal the string of pearls. “Oh, Edgar …”
“Do you like it?”
She took the pearls from the box, letting them dangle in her grasp, and placed the box on the table. “Edgar, these are… oh Edgar. And that box! Edgar, this must have cost you a fortune. Where did you get the money for this?”
“Just picked up some odd jobs, Ma,” which was more true than not, although Eggsy did not share exactly what those jobs were.
Eggsy was quite certain that she would not approve of his ‘odd jobs,’ specifically, selling weed.
Her gaze softened. The hard lines around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes seemed to smooth out as she studied the pearls and the box. Eggsy sat there quietly, watching her appreciate the sheer beauty of her birthday gift. He grew momentarily alarmed when he saw a tear course its way down her cheek.
She brushed it roughly away and looked at him, though Eggsy could not ascertain what emotions she was feeling. Maybe a little embarrassed?
“Help me put these on, Edgar.”
He sprang up from the chair (almost knocking it over) and rushed to stand behind her, and she handed him the pearls. He found the clasp and opened it—no small feat considering the thickness of his digits and was struck by the seeming frailty of his mother’s long, pale neck.
How easy it would be to snap it.
He fumbled the clasp open, then clipped it over the link in the chain and let it gently fall where it settled against her skin and flat out looked like it was meant to be there for her entire life as if she should have been born with it.
He patted her shoulder, and she stood up and made her way into the living room, where there was a mirror on the mantle over the fireplace. Eggsy followed her, and as she gazed at the gleaming pearls, he caught sight of himself and quickly averted his eyes.
He hated seeing himself, his deformed and misshapen head, brown-spotted and completely hairless, and not for the first time, he cursed the air for his misfortune.
Someone once told him—maybe a sympathetic guidance counselor at school—that there would come a day when he would not think about it. Not once. Eggsy found that hard to fathom and pretty much told the well-meaning counselor that she was full of crap.
How the hell could he NOT think about it?
“Edgar, these are so beautiful, don’t you think?”
“Oh yeah, sure do, Ma.”
“Okay, I wanna enjoy them a bit more before your Pa comes home. But I’d better get dinner finished.”
Mother and son looked at each other knowingly. Neither wanted Pa to come home. “Sure, Ma. I’m going to knock out my homework.”
She patted his shoulder. “You’re a good boy, Edgar. You certainly deserve better than the hand you’ve been dealt in this life.”
The two hugged, then broke and went their separate ways, her humming something vaguely familiar and him just wanting to be alone so he could enjoy his weed.
Time skittered past on happy feet as it tends to do when not paying attention to it, kind of like, you snooze, you lose, and Edgar was thinking about twisting up a joint when a loud, masculine voice invaded the peace of the home.
“I’m home!” The front door slammed, and just by that door slam alone did Edgar know the mood of his Pa, and it wasn’t a good one. He sprang to his feet in alarm—thoughts of protecting Ma forefront.
He whipped his bedroom door open and was met by the sound of the TV/ Local news from the sound of it. “C’mon, c’mon, I just wanna hear the damned weather!”
Eggsy eased his way down the hall, around a corner, and into the living room to see his Pa sprawled out on his recliner, staring bullets at the TV. “Hi, Pa.”
He fluttered his hand in the air but said nothing. Eggsy rounded his way into the kitchen, where Ma was doling spaghetti with hotdog medallions into a clear glass bowl. “Edgar. Can you please take this into the dining room?”
“Sure.” He took the bowl from the counter and felt like he was drowning in a flood of apprehension. Both he and his Ma were just waiting for the old man to blow a gasket. It was inevitable; as certain as the sun rising and setting, if the dude was home, he was going to erupt.
“Dinner’s ready,” Ma announced as she headed into the dining room with Eggsy right behind her. Pa clumped his clodhoppers into the dining room and yanked a chair out from the table. Eggsy and Ma were already seated, and both looked up at him as he sat himself down.
“Shall we give thanks for the food?”
“Fix me a drink first.”
Ma paused, knowing full well that if she did, he just might take to a little manhandling later, and that wouldn’t do at all. And even though the Jack Daniels caused her to slur a bit earlier, she was razor sharp and sober now.
“Mitch, c’mon. Can it wait until after dinner?”
He hammered the table, furious. Plates and silverware clinked and clanked noisily, causing Eggsy and his Ma to jump back in their seats. His voice was low. “Now.”
“Okay,” and she pushed herself back meekly from the table to comply, leaving Eggsy and his Pa to stare at each other.
“You’re turning into a big boy now, ain’tcha?”
“Are you screwing your ma?” Pa was leaning over his empty dinner plate, face red and glaring at Eggsy.
He was serious!
A pause. Silence as the two stared at each other. Then, “You’re a damned liar. I know you’re banging her.”
Ma came back into the room carrying a tinkling glass. Eggsy looked at her, and she met his gaze with a quick wink, which meant that she’d spiked his drink with some kind of barbiturate, like Phenobarbital.
She set the glass down before him and took her seat, handing the bowl of pasta to Edgar’s father.
He grabbed it and slapped a couple spoonfuls onto his plate. As he set the bowl down on the table, he spied the string of pearls around his wife’s neck.
“Where did those come from?”
“I’m sorry. Where did what come from?”
“Don’t play stupid with me, bitch! The pearls!”
She touched the pearls and smiled at Edgar. “Remember, today’s my birthday.”
“Did your lover give them to you? Did you blow him after he gave those to you?”
“Oh my god, Mitch, these are a gift—”
He was beginning to slur his words, and Eggsy knew it was only a matter of time before he passed out. They just had to make it that far, and there was no guarantee that would happen.
“I gave them to her!” He stood up quickly, causing the chair to fall backward with a jarring clatter.
Pa practically jumped up himself, and he was fuming. “I knew it! Can’t keep it in your pants.”
“No, Pa, it ain’t like that.”
“Dumb son-of-a-bitch, I shoulda killed ya when you were little like I wanted to. But who woulda guessed that you’d be banging your own ma?” He reached over and ripped that string of pearls from his wife’s neck and threw them at Eggsy, and then he sagged back down into his chair, his head lolling and his eyes closing laboriously.
Ma was sobbing softly, clutching at her neck and Eggsy’s heart broke, but while Ma wallowed in her pain and self-pity, Eggsy would do no such thing. Righteous fury blazed in his eyes, and he began clenching and unclenching his fists.
“Whatcha gonna do, ya little piece of shit?”
Ma looked up at Eggsy, shaking her head. “No, son, let it go, please.”
Pa’s head drooped against his shoulder, and his eyes were no longer fluttering to stay open. They were closed, and the man began snoring, and Eggsy wondered just how in the hell such a man could be permitted to continue to get away with this kind of abuse.
Had Ma not slipped him P-Barb, he’d be up terrorizing both Edgar and Ma.
Ma had her face in her hands, and her slim shoulder jerked with her sobs while Pa snored and slobbered all over himself in the other chair, and the bowl of pasta was pretty much forgotten by the entire family as Eggsy found and retrieved two knuckle-sized pearls on the floor by his foot.
Eggsy opened his hand to look at the pearls. Slowly he began walking around the table to where his father snoozed in his chair. “Enough is enough, Ma. Enough is enough.”
Eggsy grabbed the back of his father’s chair and threw it—and his father, to the floor.
The damned sod never awoke, and rage flooded Eggsy, a terrible, all-consuming rage that was both white-hot irrational and coldly rational and meticulous, and Eggsy fell to the floor beside his Pa, took a pearl in each hand, and rested one each against his father’s closed eyes.
He looked again at his Ma, who was crying and nodding as if she wanted him to do it, do it, do it, and kill the damned bastard.
Eggsy rammed a pearl into both of his father’s eye sockets, pushing further and further with all his strength until he was sure they were now a permanent part of the brute’s brain, and only then did he relent.
He stood up, gore dripping from his fingers, looked at his Ma, and spat on his Pa.
He then went into the kitchen, located the beautiful little box and jammed it into his pocket, then rushed into his room and began packing himself a bag, his mother’s cries and sobs drowned out by the thrashing metal music of Judas Priest, who was announcing to whomever would listen that they do indeed Got Another Thing Comin’.
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