Saturday, 23 February 2019

F Fic, Non-fic

A Mother's Gift

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With Janet’s constant absence and Amanda’s transition into the teenage years, Amanda had begun spending larger amounts of time away from home, making this Christmas even more important to Janet. Between her jobs, it seemed the holidays were the only time she had to spend with her daughter.

All November she’d done everything she could think of to make a few extra dollars for Christmas, and for a while she’d succeeded. By Thanksgiving, she’d even amassed enough to afford Christmas, until one snowy morning in early December. During her morning commute, one suicidal deer ruined all of her plans and led to this moment, on December 23rd, when Janet’s thoughts turned in despair to the line she swore she’d never cross.

She’d already sold all of her jewelry, often replacing them with costume jewelry to keep up appearances, save one piece. She kept it in an old wooden box, stained with age, that sat on the top of her dresser. It was rarely opened, only on the most special of occasions, but what it contained amounted to Janet’s sole treasured possession. Her grandmother’s diamond earrings.

She’d been given the earrings on her sixteenth birthday, told that they signified her transition into womanhood. Her grandmother had gotten them from her late husband, a man Janet never met, on their first wedding anniversary. They were 1.15 carat, set in white gold, and cut in a way she’d never seen in a modern stone. In 1939 prices they’d cost fifty dollars, an amount her grandmother had placed considerable emphasis on. Today, they were insured for over three thousand dollars and appraised for double that. The diamonds were beautiful and the white gold showed only slight hints of yellowing. Janet had worn them only twice, on the day they were given to her, and on her wedding day.

Those earrings meant more to her than any possession she’d ever owned. Even when things were at their worst, she’d chosen to sell her diamond engagement ring or fur coat without even considering the earrings. But there was one thing more important than those earrings.

She hung a threadbare winter coat around her shoulders and stepped into her car, marks from the deer’s passage still visible on her hood. The fifteen-minute drive into town felt like a funeral procession, including a long line of slow-moving cars as everybody went out last minute Christmas shopping. It was only after parking, wiping her eyes, and checking her makeup in the mirror, that she allowed herself to step out of the car and into the parking lot of a building marked “Eddie’s Resale and Pawn”.

Eddie’s was never her favorite place, but it was where you went when you were desperate. He didn’t offer a holding period before putting an item on sale and didn’t offer a buyback policy, but he was open on December 23rd and would buy anything.

The door opened with a friendly jingle, contrasting the ‘all movements within this shop are videotaped’ and ‘store owner is armed at all times’ signs posted on the bulletproof glass door. Sitting behind the counter, his holster placed for maximum visibility, was the most unpleasant man in town.

Eddie was heavy, likely owing to the fast food and liquor diet that he adhered to when manning the store, and had the kind of smile that made used car salesmen look like clergy. And those were his endearing qualities. Once he’d charmed you with the combination of leering smile, open bottle of Jim Beam, and live firearms, he became truly unpleasant. Sweat covered Eddie like a film, giving him a greasy look that his personality only accentuated.

Eddie behaved in a way that made Janet wonder if his mother had simply given up. Nobody’s parenting skills could be that bad. If you were male he’d lay on the bravado thicker than his cologne, a stench that was overpowering in even the most remote corner of the store. Eddie was a man that brought the worst out of other men, and he had a standing rule: always bring a gun to a fistfight.

By comparison, he was a complete gentleman to women. He would follow them around and work his charm with comments like “you’d look great behind this stove” and “why do you need a new lawnmower, when you can bring me home?” Of the few times Janet had entered his store, mainly to pawn things the other stores wouldn’t take, she’d never left without the desire to bathe in bleach.

Today Eddie was in a good mood.

“What do you want?” he bellowed from behind the counter, the nearly empty bottle of Jim Beam having clearly improved his mood.

“Good evening to you too,” she replied, moving her purse further up her shoulder in a maneuver she only did on darkened streets and around Eddie.

He grunted in response before eyeing her up and down in a way that made ‘profoundly uncomfortable’ sound pleasant. “Well, buy or sell something. This ain’t a museum.” He picked up the bottle and took another swig.

Taking a deep breath, which meant breathing in an unfortunate amount of the whisky-musk aura that surrounded the man, Janet reached into her bag and withdrew the small wooden box. She opened it and placed it on the counter, her hand hovering above them, prepared to snatch them back.

Eddie whistled. “Nice piece you have here.”

“They were my grandmother’s. I want to know how much you’ll give me.” The words felt heavy as they fell from her lips.

He picked up the box and held it closer to his face, picking up a small magnifying glass she’d only seen in movies. He made contemplative noises as he moved the box around, looking with one eye through the magnifier. He made a final grunt and lowered the eyeglass, placing the earrings back on the counter in front of Janet. “I’ll give you six hundred,” he offered.

“You’ve got to be kidding. It’s appraised for ten times that amount,” Janet replied.

“Do I look like a charity?” he returned.

“But it’s insured for five times that amount.”

“Look, I’ve got a business to run and nobody is going to buy those for that price. You’d be better off getting them stolen, but you wouldn’t be in here two days before Christmas if you didn’t need the money quick, would you?” He pulled out a calculator and began to type, wetting his lips with his tongue as he calculated his earnings. “Listen, because I like you and you obviously need the money, I’ll go as high as eight hundred.”

Janet’s jaw dropped. His price was insulting. Gathering the shreds of her pride, he shook her head. “A thousand,” she offered.

“Sorry, sweet cheeks, this ain’t an auction. Eight hundred or nothing.” He reached into his cash register and pulled out fifty-dollar bills, counting out sixteen of them onto the counter.

Janet stared down, her hand wavering between the bills and the diamonds.


Christmas morning Janet woke early, wanting to surprise Amanda with breakfast in bed, but after showering and dressing, she opened her door to see Amanda’s already open. The sound of bacon cooking and the smell of fresh brewed coffee assaulted her as she imagined her daughter, now a young woman, cooking breakfast for her. She grabbed the wrapped parcel off her dresser.

As she entered the kitchen, her daughter turned and smiled. Janet was struck by the change she saw in Amanda. She was no longer the little girl with pigtails who insisted upon wearing dresses to play outside. Now, fourteen years old, she stood wearing Janet’s apron, a beautiful young woman. “Merry Christmas, Mom.” Her voice sang with only the slightest hint of disappointment. “I’d hoped you would sleep in. I wanted to bring you breakfast in bed.” She moved the bacon over to a plate and blotted it with a paper towel. “No matter, now we can eat together.”

The table set, and two cups of coffee poured, mother and daughter sat across the small table from one another. “This is great, Amanda,” Janet said, taking a bite. “I feel like we don’t have much time together anymore. This is perfect.”

She took a drink of coffee, willing herself not to start crying. “I have a gift for you too.” Janet said, pushing the gift across the table. She flashed back to that moment with Eddie, her gaze flickering between the money and the diamonds. Sitting with her daughter, on Christmas morning, she knew she made the right decision.

Grabbing the package and turning it over in her hands, Amanda first started picking at one wrapped end. Even as a child, she’d opened her presents neatly, as if she knew that wrapping paper was a luxury they couldn’t afford to waste. One side open, she pulled out the small box and looked up at her mother, her eyes wide. Janet nodded.

Amanda opened the lid and stared down at two of the most beautiful diamonds she’d seen in her life. She instantly recognized them. “No, Mom, I can’t.” She shook her head, pushing them back. “These are Great-Grandma’s. It’s too much.”

Janet reached over and pushed them back. “She gave them to me when I was sixteen. She told me I’d become a woman. You’re a woman now, although you were forced into that role sooner than I would have liked. They were my most treasured possession all these years, and they're to be yours as well.”

They sat and ate for a full minute in silence, Amanda’s eyes never leaving the gift. Finally, Janet spoke up again. “Thank you for this Christmas breakfast. Spending some time with you was all I could ask for this Christmas.”

Amanda reached forward and grabbed the box, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “Well, don’t think breakfast was all I have for you,” her daughter replied. She pushed aside the half-finished breakfast and stood, motioning for her mother to follow. Amanda opened the door separating the kitchen from the living room.

Janet could smell it before she saw it. Standing in the middle of the room was a real pine tree. Covering every part of it were twinkling lights and colored ornaments. Strung across the walls were garlands and paper chains. Hanging on the back of the door was a wreath. Surrounded by the sights and smells of Christmas, Janet turned to face Amanda with tears running down her cheeks.

“How?” Janet asked, looking in her daughter’s red-eyed smile.

“I know how much you missed real Christmases, so I did odd jobs for people. I got the tree from Ernie’s Tree Farm for working Christmas Eve with him. The decorations came from friends and neighbors as payment for cleaning houses or shoveling walks.” She pointed to objects as she spoke, fragments of a Christmas Janet had thought she’d never see again.

Janet made a slow circle, drinking in every detail of the room before facing her daughter and launching into a hug. “Amanda, this is everything I wanted. A real Christmas like your grandma used to give me.”

The daughter returned the hug. “Merry Christmas, Mom.”

Mark Vorenkamp is a young writer, born on May 16, 1988 in Brighton, Michigan. He is a current student in the Master of Fine Arts program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. He primarily writes thrillers and slice-of-life stories, preferring to write about people you could meet anywhere in America. When he's not writing, he does professional ebook development for several small publishers. His first novel, State of the Union, is currently in progress.

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