Family Jewels

Rose dusted the baseboards and listened.

Scant evidence: a decade after Jenny died, when I was in junior high school, my grandmother Edith gave me a gold chain with a cameo pendant that she said had been passed down through generations of women in her family, mother to daughter. Later she gave me the diamond engagement ring she had accepted from Charles some forty years before. These things had been sitting in her dresser drawers for years, undisturbed, waiting for someone. Since Jenny was gone, they came down to me.

Edith also gave me a jewelry box, its vinyl cover cracked, faded light pink with a stamped-in gold-filigree pattern. Inside, there was a hole in the middle where a tiny dancer had once turned to the box’s tinny song. The case was filled with odds and ends of jewelry. They seemed strange pieces for Edith: little dangling cloisonné pears, long strands of colored beads, large silver earrings with inset turquoise. It was Jenny’s jewelry, of course: the dangle earrings of a pretty girl with the long, straight hair of the late Sixties and a long nose much like my father’s—and like mine.

Rose remembered those earrings; she remembered that hair. The description made it sound effortless, that kind of long hair, though it was anything but: whenever it got wet, or got blown around at the beach, or during the two weeks a year when it rained in Southern California, it became impossible to maintain hair like that, frizzing up like an old wool sweater, refusing to flow in the silken sheets that all the fashion mags called for. Jenny’s niece must have seen some studio shot, where her hair had been blow-dried or maybe even ironed straight, held back in a headband until the shutter clicked. Rose remembered school picture days when she’d done that, sometimes successfully, sometimes not; until finally she had stood in front of the bathroom mirror one day and chopped it off into deliberately (necessarily?) abrupt layers, an act of defiance that made her mother stop in the vacuum track she’d just made in the hall, and stare.

Vacuuming–it was time for Rose to pull the canister vac out and make some noise. She paused the playback and hurriedly sucked up all the sand the tourists had left. If she missed a little, so what? She was usually so careful but she knew the place would be full of sand again the moment the new people arrived. Which was not scheduled to happen for another two hours; their plane was landing at Reina Sofia at 3:15, the manager had told her. She wound the power cord around her right elbow and hand, hung it over the handle, and stowed the vacuum in the closet off the kitchen. Then she sat down at the little wooden desk chair to listen to Jenny’s niece finish narrating Episode One.


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