by S.C. Rood
The meaning is lost and then found again in a father's gift to his daughter.
| 13-year-old Agatha Remington stared down at the faded gold pendant in her hands. Tracing her thumb along the ridges, she felt the roped outer circle, the waves of the woman’s long hair and the intersecting lines of the palm frond held across her chest. Even though the metal was dingy the charm was beautiful. She was nearly mad at her father for bringing it out where her brothers could get to it. If they did, she would never see it again.
“I know it’s a bit old fashioned,” her father said, sitting next to her. His massive weight pulled on the bed and the young girl leaned to her right. She scooted over and tucked a gangly leg beneath her for support. Even though she was less than half his weight their shoulders were just about even.
The morning sun lightened the bedroom and brought with it a sense of refuge. More and more it seemed that the girl always had somewhere to go but on this late summer day her father had caught her alone in the upstairs bathroom. Standing in the hallway, he watched as she pulled her dark frizzy hair up into a ponytail on the top of her head. She was wearing her brother’s old blue basketball shorts. The orange t-shirt had hung on her shoulders almost every day since the start of summer camp. Her open hands awkwardly matted down her hair and once it was secure, she quickly yanked out the tie. She watched her reflection in the mirror and simultaneously shook her head as she pouted her lips. Her father quietly backed away and a few moments later had called her into his bedroom just down the hall.
“I guess you’re supposed to have it when you’re 16,” he said, clearing his throat. Joe rubbed the palms of his hands on his pants. “I don’t suppose there’s any sense in waiting.”
“You mean I can keep it?” her questioning eyes searched her father’s face for the answer but he continued to stare out the window. “My name is on the back,” she said softly as she moved her fingers over the engraved lettering.
“That’s right. That’s who you’re named after.”
“Wow, my grandmother was a Saint?”
A smile cracked through the man’s dark beard.
“No, no,” he spat out with a snicker. “That blasphemous old woman was definitely not a Saint. Look here.”
Taking the pendant from his daughter, Joe flipped it to the front and held it between his thumb and forefinger. The woman’s face was the only thing that could be seen for it was barely larger than a dime. The metal seemed brighter in his hands; the man’s skin was stained from years of factory work.
“This lady’s name was Agatha, too,” he said.
“Did everyone call her Ags?”
The man cleared his throat.
“Probably not. You see, they made this woman a Saint because she stood for what she believed in, no matter what anyone else said.”
“What did she believe in?” the girl interjected.
“Just hush a minute and I’ll tell you. Good Christian things, you know, like God and Jesus. But one day a man, er, a Roman, tried to have his way with her and she was strong and refused. Like a young woman should,” he added in a firm voice, glancing straight into his daughter’s eyes. A red blush crept into her cheeks and she looked back down at the charm.
“Well,” he continued, “they sent her to a brothel and she refused that, too.”
“What’s a brothel?”
“A whore house.”
“I’m just tellin’ it like it is. You’re old enough now and you need to know how life really is. Anyway, she stood firm saying that there was only one God and the Romans didn’t like it at all. They beat and tortured her; they even cut off her breasts.”
“Oh my God, Dad! Stop!”
The girl pulled both knees into her chest, buried her head and covered her ears.
“Well, that’s it, anyway,” he placed the coin on the blanket at her feet. He walked to the window and saw a breeze pull leaves across the yard. Perhaps he would need a jacket.
The small head lifted and her muffled voice asked, “So, did she die?”
“Eventually, but not from the torture. The Roman said to kill her and they rolled her over a bed of hot coals, naked.”
She picked up the coin and looked over at her father with wide brown eyes. “So, do I get to keep this?”
“Well, it’s yours, not mine. I’ve just been holding it for you,” he said, opening the closet doors. “Your mom wanted to wait until you were 16 but I think you’re plenty grown now,” he turned back to her with a sweatshirt in his hands. Like most of his clothes, there were paint stains on both of the sleeves. “Do you think she’ll mind?”
The young girl smiled and shook her head. No, her mother wouldn’t mind. Her mother left them when she was still in diapers and they had never heard from her again. There hadn’t been a trace of her in the house for years and the girl thought of her mother as a mythical creature that gave birth to children and then moved on to do other things. Better things. Her brothers were still sore about it and often they would curse. Typically it was when they had to clean their own dishes or scramble in the kitchen to find food. She didn’t mind, though.
Ags knew only one type of family and it was hard to imagine it being any other way.
She kept the charm hidden in the box on her father’s nightstand so her brothers wouldn’t find it. One day, she looked up “Saint Agatha” in the library. Some of the pictures showed the woman beautiful and glowing just like her pendant. There were also pictures of her surrounded by demons with red faces that pinched her nipples with huge black clamps. There was even one of the woman carrying her breasts on a platter as though she were serving them for dinner.
Ags worked through the summer cutting the neighbors’ grass and by the end of August had saved up enough to buy a real gold chain. She carried the box into the upstairs bathroom and slipped the thin band around her neck. Her hair kept getting caught in the clasp and she eventually she slid it around to the front. It was difficult to work backwards in the mirror but the chain finally closed. The young girl slid the clasp to its rightful place and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
She wet her hands and ran them over her hair until the frizz disappeared. Ags tugged on her mane until it lay straight. Standing up tall, she lowered her jaw and relaxed her lips. The young girl tipped up her head, turned her face to the left and put a hand to her heart. She held still for a moment and imagined herself as the woman on her pendant.
The following Monday was the first day of high school. The worn gold piece hung around her neck until fourth period when the new girl asked to borrow it. Ags said no, the new girl called it old and dirty and proclaimed that it was suited for an ugly face like hers. The necklace went back into the box that night and was forgotten about for years.
When Agatha Remington boarded a plane for Basic Training, her father placed the pendant back into her hands. She tucked it away in her pocket. Alone at 30,000 feet in the air, she pulled out the chain. Thinking she would take all the help she could get, the woman fastened it around her neck. It was the only piece of jewelry she had ever been given.