Sarah learns that something precious can be lost in many ways.
|One reviewer felt that the title was a give-away (spoiler). Do I need a new title?
SHATTERED CRYSTAL? A DOUBLE BLOW?
Revisited a decade later and revised in accord with excellent reviews.
So far I've collected three rejections for this story, so it must still need some work.
“I've got a date! I've got a date! Sarah, Sarah, I've got a date!” Dina danced and swirled in the aisle between Young Adult and the General Fiction stacks.
My new assistant at the bookstore had just turned twenty and seemed amazingly innocent. I suspected that her thick glasses, drab clothing, mousy hair and five-nine frame had left her somewhat lacking in male attention. Still, she was a good worker and not without a certain gauche charm.
I watched her with mild amusement then turned to glare at the back of the man outside walking away from the store. “Dina, that man has to be at least forty years old.”
She stopped swirling and turned to me with a hurt pout. “And he's tall and handsome and intelligent. And your point is?”
“My point is that he's a creep. Dina, please be honest, have you ever been out with a guy before?”
“I've been on lots of dates,” she began defensively. “One guy back home, Gerry McMurtry, asked me out a few times, and we went like to the burger place and out for a movie with friends. Those are dates, right?”
Dina had moved into the city last month from some two-cow town where they rolled up the sidewalks at dusk. Her words, not mine. When she applied in response to the sign on my store window, she had seemed intelligent, capable and pleasant, and I had hired her on the spot.
“This Gerry, he get anywhere with you?”
“Not really. He tried. I guess he would have wanted to and I guess I would have let him, a bit, but there were always people around, and my mom and dad were waiting at the door when I came home.” She had told me that her parents had been kind and loving and caring. Between the lines, I heard “over-protective”. My word, not hers.
“This guy--” I looked at the credit-card slip for his purchase--“this Richard J. Malone, you can't figure he'll be like Gerry. He looks like a guy who's been around and he's old enough to be your father. This isn't a good idea.”
She came to stand in front of me and swept her hands down her body in a “look at this” gesture. Her eyes filled with tears.
“Sarah, I'm a twenty-year-old virgin. Look at me. I know I'm plain, I know I'm too tall, I know I'm unattractive. I'm not stupid. I've seen how guys look at me and grimace. But when Rich looked at me, he looked at me up and down like no man has ever looked at me and he smiled and he asked me why I was hiding so much beauty behind clunky glasses and grungy clothes and you know what? For all the time we were talking together, I felt beautiful. He can see the true beauty of my soul, he said that and I believe him.”
Oh, what a crock, what a line, to come from such a man. The words sank into my heart like rocks into a still pool.
“Ah, Dina, Dina. You're not stupid, that's true, so use your head. I can think of only one reason why a good-looking, smooth older man like that would want to go out with you. I know his type. He's a user. A taker. He'll use you, he'll take what he wants, then he'll dump you. Have you ever heard the term 'cherry picker'?”
“No, but I can guess what it means.”
She looked at me for a moment, suddenly calm. “Look, I appreciate your concern, Sarah. You're a good friend as well as a good boss and I look up to you in more ways than one.” She shrugged. “And you're probably right. But maybe it's time to be picked. To quote Dickens, 'Barkis is willing.'" She gave me a quick hug of forgiveness, then stepped back before I could even bring my arms up to return it.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for my lunch break, and I want to get my hair done.”
I nodded and watched sadly as she walked out the door.
When Dina came back from lunch, I was astounded. Mousey grey-brown had been turned to glossy auburn with hints of russet and gold, and the shapeless shoulder-length mass had been styled into bouncy waves.
Then I did a double-take. “Your glasses! Your glasses are gone!”
Dina did a pirouette and bowed. “Yup. Day after I got the job here, I made an appointment to get contacts. They came in this morning. You see, mother Sarah, the Ugly Duckling had made swan-plans long before Richard Malone appeared on the scene.
"I know I'm supposed to work till closing, but may I please leave at seven?”
The “mother Sarah” hurt. I was only a dozen years older than Dina, and didn't feel the least motherly. Still, I accepted the role and played on. "Yes, daughter Dina, you may leave work early."
“Thank you. By the way, Richard is picking me up here at the store after work, not at my apartment. You see, Sarah, I do share some of your concerns.”
She got to work unpacking and displaying the new arrivals, and I turned to greet a customer coming into the store.
My mother had a set of German lead-crystal cut stemware, four beautiful and expensive wine glasses she had received as a wedding gift. They were her most prized possession, always shown to visitors but brought out only on special occasions and used only by adults.
As a child, I had admired those glittering glasses and had loved the amazing “ping” they made when rapped. I wasn't allowed to even handle them until I was ten or eleven, when Mom permitted me to set them out on the table at Christmas. I was so careful, and so tense, that I might have been handling live bombs.
I suppose it was inevitable. When I set the last glass in place, I put it not quite onto the place mat, so that it tipped over. It might have simply fallen onto the table cloth and silencer, but no, it hit a condiment tray. The beautiful crystal shattered into a dozen pieces, and the almost musical sound of that destruction has haunted my dreams ever since.
My mother was good about it. She held me and dried my tears and assured me that it didn't matter, that there were still three more glasses. “It was only a glass, honey,” she said, “just a thing.”
But I had seen the shock on her face, and the sadness, and I knew that something precious had gone from her life and that it was my fault.
* * *
The afternoon dragged as slowly as the last day of school. Dina prattled on about Richard's plans for the evening: dinner at the Olympia just down the block, followed by drinks at the Athena bar. Followed no doubt by a trip to his room. Every word grated on my ears like a dentist's drill on a sore tooth. I was glad when she went to the back room for a break and I could lose myself in the distraction of customers.
Precisely at 7:00, a maroon BMW pulled up in front of the store. Malone strode through the door, tall and self-confident and clearly thinking himself God's gift to women. At least the creep is punctual, I admitted grudgingly. He smelled of good cigars with just a hint of cologne, which raised my opinion of him by maybe a tenth of a percent. Dina had gone to the back room to change so Malone and I talked. That is, Malone talked. About himself.
When Dina came out, we both gawked. The sloppy jeans and baggy T-shirt had been replaced with a shape-hugging green dress that made me suddenly aware of something I had long suspected: Dina had a very attractive figure. I caught a light hint of an enticing floral scent as she passed the counter.
Malone's eyes widened in the rapacious delight of a man who has just won a lottery. He wrapped his arm around Dina possessively and hustled her out the door.
Neither of them even said goodbye.
* * *
Two years after I had left home and opened the bookstore, I found in an antique store three lead-crystal wine glasses that were identical to those my mother had. They were in perfect condition and their beautiful “ring” was the exact pitch of my memories. I bought them for a ridiculously high price but considered it worth while. Now mother would have a set of six.
When I gave them to her, and explained why, she thanked me and hugged me but had the strangest look. It took some persuasion but finally she admitted that she had sold the glasses to an antique store. We both caught on at about the same time and laughed.
“You take the glasses now,” she urged. “You bought them. They're yours.”
Oh, Mama, what a heritage. The missing shattered crystal would haunt me badly enough without its three silent companions to accuse and blame. I took them back to the antique store and got my money back, less a 10% restocking fee.
What was broken could never be made whole. What was lost could never replaced.
* * *
I had closed the store at nine and was reconciling the till when Dina rapped on the window. I opened the door to let her in and locked up again. One shocked glance at her disheveled hair and rumpled dress and smudged makeup, and I immediately took her into my arms.
“Oh, Sarah,” she sobbed. “You were so right. It wasn't what I expected at all. I thought he'd be a gentleman but he-- Oh, dinner was okay, he insisted we have some drinks first and I didn't want---- he had his hands all over me and that was okay, I knew he'd do that, but-- he got drunk, crude--”
“There, there,” I murmured. “You're safe now. It's okay.”
“A-after dinner, in his car, he-- said go to his hotel, I would have if he'd been nice but not--I wouldn't. He got mad, he wouldn't wait, he-- Oh, I didn't like it, I said stop but he-- I got out of the car and ran here.”
“It's okay, baby,” I soothed as I caressed her hair.
"Why would a man be like that, Sarah? If he'd been nice, I was willing, I would have..."
She didn't know about middle-aged men and performance anxiety. Her sudden metamorphosis had probably thrown Malone right off his game. Good.
"Men can be pigs," I murmured, and stroked her back.
"I guess Barkis wasn't willing. Not like that." She tried a giggle but it tripped over her sobs and became a hiccup. She cried again in earnest.
"No, not like that. Never like that. You are worth far more than that." I rocked her until I felt her relax and her sobs quieted.
I kissed her gently on the lips. She stiffened and pushed me away.
In my heart, I heard the sound of shattered crystal.
This draft is based loosely on the opening events in a dream sequence called "The Innocent Betrayed" by J. Marion, with the author's permission.
Marion, J., "The Innocent Betrayed". McCallum, Rachelle, ed. Below the Canopy. Maple Ridge, BC: Polar Expressions Publishing, 2009. Print.