The Cameo

I recognized you as soon as you walked into my antique shop. You’re not her of course, you must be her great niece. Or great great niece, more likely; you’re young, early twenties. Yet you look exactly as I remember her.

I hovered close as you looked around, inspecting the pattern on a china cup, feeling the heft of a brass candlestick, fingering the mother of pearl inlay on a wooden jewelry box. You have excellent taste. As did your great great aunt.

“Good morning. Can I help you?”

“I’m just looking around.”

“Of course. Let me know if you have any questions.”

You made your way farther into the shop, winding between tables laden with crates of records, musty books, pitted metal oil lanterns, a box of vintage can openers and a salt shaker collection piled on a pot bellied stove, barely noticing them, heading straight for my brooch. It’s small, and practically hidden in the drawer of an old cabinet, yet you went right to it, slid open the drawer and reached out for it, but didn’t pick it up. Hesitating, as if something important hung in the air that you could feel but not see.

You stood there, hand poised above it, a shiver coursing through your spine. Could you feel me watching? You shook your head, like shaking off a thought, then pulled the cameo out from among the doilies that filled the drawer. It was cold to the touch.

You brought it to the counter. “An intriguing choice.” A friendly smile in a wrinkled face go far in this business. “I’m Martin, by the way.”

“Anne.”

“You seemed quite taken with this. Drawn to it, almost. Have you been here before?”

“No, I’m just in town visiting family. It’s my grandmother’s birthday.”

“Your grandmother? Did she tell you this was here? Is there some connection?”

“No. Not really. I’m not sure. I mean, I wasn’t looking for anything, but when I saw it, it just looked so much like the pictures I’ve seen of my great grandmother, it surprised me.”

Great great aunt, actually. But they were practically twins. They loved to try to fool me. And you were drawn to it, my dear, you just don’t know it yet.

“Do you know anything about its history?”

“Well now, let me see.” Turning on the charm that has sold antiques for longer than your mother has been alive.  Veined hands pick up the black on white silhouette, running a trembling finger down the smooth line of her neck. So many memories.

“I remember this piece clearly, because its story is so remarkable. The cameo is of a woman who was born and raised around here. She died when she was, oh, close to your age.”

We had only been married a few months.

“Her widower was so grief stricken that he kept it with him always, to remember her by.”

It sat in a box for decades. I couldn’t bring myself to look at it.

“That’s so sad. What was her name? Or his?”

“I don’t remember his name, but I believe hers was Helen, if I recall correctly.”

You wrinkled your brow. “My grandmother’s name is Helen. And I think she was named after her mother or an aunt or something like that. I don’t remember; my sister’s the genealogist in the family.”

Helen and Julia were close, it doesn’t surprise me that Julia would give one of her daughters the name. She was devastated when Helen died.

“How did she die?”

“Childbirth.”

Liar.

“So what happened to her husband?”

I was tortured by guilt. Grief. Regret.

“WWII came soon after. He joined up and was part of the D-Day landing.”

I was in the Pacific. Don’t want to remember that, either.

“Wow, that’s so incredible.”

“He kept this brooch with him through the entire war, wearing it under his uniform.”

It stayed in that box. I wouldn’t have risked loosing it, and never intended to come back, anyway.

“He called it his good luck charm. Said it got him through the war safely. When he came back, he carried it with him for over 50 years.”

You’re just making up a good story, now.

“After he died, his son brought it in. Said he’d watched his father pine over it for too long.”

He was the nurse at the home, and he pried it from my cold, dead fingers to sell for the money. I should have haunted him instead, the thieving bastard.

“So how’d it end up in that drawer?”

“Oh, you know how it is, people move things around in here all the time. Sometimes kids stick stuff in drawers or behind things just for kicks.”

You thought hiding it would suppress me, but it doesn’t work that way.

“Do you have a present for your grandmother yet? This would be a lovely surprise. And for a local girl coming home, I’ll make you a special offer.”

So eager to get rid of me.

“Hey, that’s a great idea.”

I can’t fault you. I was too eager to get rid of her, as well. My Helen. She was so lovely, had so many admirers, and I couldn’t believe she was really mine.

“Shall I wrap it for you?”

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, I’ve never admitted it to anyone. But you look so much like her.

“Please.”

It’s like talking to my Helen. I loved her so much that I couldn’t see how much she loved me. I thought she was having an affair. I was jealous. I poisoned her evening tea, then laid her in bed next to me and read her journal. She never had eyes for anyone else. I wept all night, and in the morning I screamed until the neighbors came over. They called the police, who decided she had died in her sleep.

“I hope your grandmother loves it.”

“Thank you again. Goodbye.”

Yes, my dear, take me home. To Helen.

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