Afro Poetry Times
Never Let Her Go By Emma Cummings
There’s a job going in our place, Isobel. Or there will be soon,’ Josie informed me. ‘Ann’s getting married and she’s moving away.’
We were lying on the comfy sofa at our little flat, our feet up on the ottoman, letting our toenails dry.
‘I’ve already got a job,’ I pointed out. ‘You can’t seriously want to stay in that old mausoleum forever.’ ‘I’m not sure that word means what you think it means,’ I said. ‘Close enough. It might not be full of dead people, but it’s full of their things.’
This was a point with which I couldn’t entirely disagree. I worked in a jeweller’s shop down a little side street, which specialised in antique pieces. I dare say quite a few of them had been cherished by people now deceased.
‘You don’t appear to have these reservations about all varieties of antique,’ I pointed out. ‘You always turn the television up when Bargain Hunt comes on.’
‘Ah, but that’s furniture and lamps and pictures — not the same at all. People actually wear their jewellery, next to their skin — it’s way more intimate than an inlaid coffee table or a Clarence Cliff vase.’
‘I think you mean Clarice Cliff.’
‘Possibly. I just think your job is a bit creepy, handling all that stuff. And you can’t meet many people our age,
I’d imagine — it’s bound to be mostly old-timers who come in the shop.’
‘You might be surprised. We regularly have customers looking for antique engagement rings — not everyone wants something spanking new or necessarily a diamond. Some discerning brides are keen to find a piece that’s more unusual.
‘And we get quite a few young women coming in with their mums to pick out something distinctive for an 18th birthday or a 21st — Pandora charm bracelets are lovely, but some people want a gift that’s unique.’
Josie was right, though, most of our clientele were a lot older than me.
‘I still say it’s strange, wanting to handle dead people’s treasures. Rather you than me.’
I passed Marion, my boss, a mug of coffee. ‘Thank you, Isobel.’
‘Is this a biscuit day, or…?’ Marion was always trying to stop nibbling. Every Monday she turned over a new leaf, but this was
Friday, which meant anything was possible.
‘Maybe just one each, since it’s the weekend,’ she replied, producing a packet of Wagon Wheels from her bag under the counter.
‘I wonder if we’ll be seeing young Mr Hedges,’ she continued, licking a chocolaty crumb off her lip.
‘It’s certainly his time of year,’ I replied.
We knew Michael
Hedges’ name from his credit card. He made three annual visits to our shop
— once at
Christmas, then for his wedding anniversary in
July and again for his wife’s birthday, which was in October.
For her birthday, he often chose an opal, because it was her birthstone. At other times he might buy a gold bracelet or necklace — always something tasteful. And expensive.
‘Shall I gather together some of our opal pieces, just in case?’ I asked. ‘That’s a good idea,’ Marion said. ‘And make sure they’re all gleaming. In fact, give the glass counter a spray and polish too.’
Sure enough, before the end of the afternoon, the bell over the door tinkled and in came Mr Hedges.
He was a handsome man, with a striking combination of dark hair and blue eyes. There was an intensity about him. He didn’t say much and you never felt he was fully with you, even when he appeared to be looking right at you. But he was courteous, and a valued customer.
Marion and I agreed that his wife must be a beautiful woman. ‘Good afternoon, Mr Hedges,’ I said. ‘Can I help you?’
‘Good afternoon. Thank you, yes, I’m looking for something for my wife’s birthday. You’ve found me some nice opal pieces before, and I wonder, this time, if you have any earrings — I’m thinking of the kind that hang a little below the lobe.’
I didn’t want to announce that we’d put together a whole display of opal items just for him — it might have seemed presumptuous — but I knew we had exactly what he was looking for.
‘Let me just see,’ I said, putting my hand under the counter and sliding out a tray. ‘How about these? They’re Victorian. The setting’s 18-carat gold and the stones
are a good size.’
Mr Hedges looked at them.
‘May I?’ he asked and, when I nodded, he lifted one and placed it on the palm of his hand.
‘I think I like them, but…’ He hesitated. ‘I don’t suppose you could put them on, just to let me see how they would look.’
At this, a hovering Marion came over. ‘Good afternoon, Mr Hedges. It’s nice to see you again.’
She turned to me. ‘Only put the earrings on if you want to, Isobel,’ she said.
‘Sorry!’ Mr Hedges exclaimed, looking mortified. ‘Was that a very inappropriate request?’
‘I’m sure there’s no harm in asking,’ Marion told him. ‘But it’s up to Isobel if she feels comfortable.’
I didn’t want poor Mr Hedges to feel embarrassed, even though I knew Marion was only looking out for me.
‘It’s fine,’ I said. ‘I suppose it’s hard to picture what they might look like.’
I reached for our countertop mirror, removed my own little gold knots and tried to pop the opal earrings into place. Usually, this would be easy, but for some reason I was all fingers and thumbs.
Mr Hedges turned away and pretended to examine the contents of another showcase.
‘How do they look?’ I asked, at last, regaining my composure. ‘Could you…?’ Mr Hedges mimed holding my hair up and back. ‘Yes, of course.’
Mr Hedges didn’t say whether he liked them or not — he just looked.
Then he took out his credit card and asked if he could have the earrings giftwrapped.
‘Certainly,’ Marion said. ‘Isobel, can you fetch the scissors and ribbon?’
I was on my hands and knees in the cemetery, planting a little fuchsia bush on Gran’s grave. She’d had a whole hedge of deep-red fuchsia running along the front garden of her cottage and I thought it would give a bit more lasting colour than a few flowers now and again.
As I knelt, a figure swept past me, from behind. I glanced up and recognised it as Mr Hedges. He didn’t notice me.
Even from an angle, I could see that he was carrying a large bouquet of flowers. Out of curiosity, I watched where he went.
I sat and talked to Gran for a while. I told her Mum and Dad were getting along better and were thinking about moving house — maybe taking on a project
this time. Mum wanted a kitchen big enough to take a dining table, so that people would come in and talk to her while she cooked. Dad was hoping for workshop space and a garden with room to grow vegetables.
I assured Gran we were all making a huge fuss of Wilf, her Jack Russell, and that I’d bring him with me when I next visited.
I missed Gran. I missed the cakes and pastries she baked for me and Josie to take back to the flat, because she thought we needed fattening up. I missed telling her about work and who came and went at the shop. I missed her wise words.
At least I’d got to say goodbye, to hear her insist she’d had a wonderful life and was ready to go, and to promise her that I would listen to my heart in all things, as she had always taught me to do.
It was getting darker and I’d soon have to clear out or risk being locked in the cemetery overnight — now, even I would find that creepy.
There was just one thing I wanted to do first. I’d already noticed that Mr Hedges had left, but something drew me towards the spot where he had stopped. I had to go and look.