The finely wrought chain glinted as it slipped out of the closed fist. It moved slowly at first then as more of the chain fell from the withered hand it gathered speed. Soon the entire length of chain was dangling from the hand that was now an open palm. My grandmother’s wizened old face folded into a thousand wrinkles, each one a full of stories, as she smiled at me. Her eyes were bright for a moment and her voice cracked to life,
‘This is for you, sweetie.’
I looked at her hand to see a silver locket at rest in her palm. It had been worn close to her heart for her entire married life and long into widowhood. I looked at her and as tears were streaming down my face, unable to make any noise, I mouthed the words, ‘Thank you.’
As that moment passed, the brightness in her eyes that could once light up a room became dull as her life came to an end. The smile was still etched into her face and her hand was still outstretched. I took the beautiful gift as gently as I could manage and with that her arm went limp and fell beside the bed.
Nanna Gracie was a beautiful soul whose time had come. There was little sorrow or sadness. I felt a swell of joy in my heart knowing that her life was full. Whatever waited for her afterwards, I truly believed she would engage with all the strength and vigour with which she lived her mortal life here. I unlatched the lock to see two photos, one in each side. On the left was my Nanna as a young woman. So different yet her eyes still had that same life and joy that I always remembered. The other side was of a man whom I have never met. It was my grandfather but he died when my father was still a young man.
A nurse stood by at the door. I knew she was there and had probably been there a while but I didn’t look up straight away. I wanted to drink this moment in. I wanted to make sure that I remembered every smell, every sound and every detail. I knew that it would start to fade as soon as I left the room, but I wanted to make sure I gave myself every chance for this memory, this precious time, to sink in and get locked away where the ravages of time and age wouldn’t affect it. It may have been a futile attempt but I was willing to try. I felt I owed her that much, at least.
I sat beside her bed with eyes closed and my head bowed until the tears stopped. I lifted my head towards the door. Taking that as her cue, the nurse entered the room. She started talking about coroners and morgues and notifying next of kin and so on. I explained that I was her only living relative. I didn’t go into detail. The nurse had seen and heard enough sad stories to fill in any gaps.
I slipped the locket over my neck and felt the coolness of the silver against my skin. It was a small comfort, but it helped. At the hospital, we spent hours going over paperwork and getting things all together. As a society, we have even managed to make death a complicated red tape nightmare. I could barely lift my feet with each step as I walked out of that hospital. I was completely unware of the nightmare that was just about to begin.
Watching Nanna Gracie in the last days of her life was as special as it was exhausting. Being that I was her only kin I wanted to make sure that the few lucid moments of her life that remained were filled with someone who cared deeply. I had spent just about every waking moment and a good many sleeping ones of the last few days by her side at the hospital.
She’d become so weak and frail living in the nursing home. It wasn’t long after that when she contracted pneumonia. She was taken to hospital and while there were times when the doctors thought they’d be able to extend her life somewhat, it was obvious to me that she was ready to go home. I had taken some leave off from work so I was ready to go home and sleep knowing that I wouldn’t need to get up early the next day. I stood outside the hospital and rubbed my arms. I shook my head vigorously and jumped up and down a few times. The blood started to flow again and I could think clearly. ‘Now where did I park my car?’ I muttered to myself.
The sun was just dipping below the horizon but the hospital grounds were well lit. I made my way over to the parking lot and searched for where I’d parked my car earlier that day. So much had happened that day that it took quite a while to find it. At last I found my car, I pressed the button to unlatch the door and I recognized the Beep! BEEP! of the car unlocking.
It was then that I noticed movement to my left. It was the last thing that I remember from that day. I woke up a few days later in a hospital bed and my eyes were swollen shut. I asked the nurses what had happened and they said that I got jumped by a thug. He smacked me with a baseball bat. I fell so quickly that he didn’t take a second swing. It probably saved my life. An off duty nurse who was leaving for the day spotted me and raised the alarm. I was rushed to the emergency room where I was placed in an induced coma to limit the swelling to my brain.
The thug took off with my car and anything valuable that I was carrying. They said that he was found wrapped around a tree in my burnt out wreck of a car a few days later. After the nurse told me all this I became numb from the inside out. By reflex I reached for my locket, it was gone. I must have gone into shock and passed out or something because the next thing I knew there were people in paper masks asking my name and what day it was. I couldn’t remember. In some ways, I don’t think I wanted to remember.
I finally got out of hospital. It must have been nearly three weeks from when my Nanna died. I missed her funeral. I heard that it was just a few of her remaining friends that attended a quiet ceremony. I sat at home looking through some photos that were taken at the funeral service and some old photos of Nanna Gracie. In each one I could see the glint of the silver chain hanging around her neck. For decades she wore that locket close to her heart without a single incident. On the day that I am entrusted with her heirloom, it is gone. Tears streamed down my face as I mourned my Nanna and my own failure to keep something so precious.
I wrapped myself in a cocoon of sadness for about a week. I called in sick every day and just didn’t turn up to work. I didn’t talk to anyone or see anyone and barely left the house for food. All of my curtains were drawn closed and my air conditioner worked hard to keep the place at a steady temperature. I ordered takeaways and ate what I wanted, when I wanted and binged on movies, food and sleep. I only just started to feel human again by the end of that weekend. I wasn’t in good shape, but I could tell I was improving when I finally decided to clear the lounge room. I collected two full garbage bags of take away containers. It took all my courage to venture outside to the wheelie bin to dispose of the rubbish, and my shame.
That night as every other night, I did my before bed ritual and went to bed. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. I got up the next morning refreshed and well rested. I went out to the kitchen to make my morning coffee.
‘Sit down, I don’t have long’ Nanna Gracie motioned to the chair next to her.
‘Ok’ I said, sitting down.
‘You’re doing it wrong.’ My wise old grandmother said in her usual matter of fact tone.
She continued as I listened, ‘You’re moping around the house feeling sorry for yourself because you lost a locket, have I taught you nothing?’
The shame animal inside me started to growl and pace around.
‘Don’t you hang your head, missy! I’m not here to tell you off, ok maybe a little bit. But you’re missing the point. Stop dragging yourself around the house, you have your whole life ahead of you and locket or not, you’ll still need to live it. Hiding here serves no one, not even you.’
I rolled over, the clock on my nightstand glowered at me in red. It was 6:00 am.
She’s such a good Nanna, coming to visit in my sleep and give me a kick in the pants.
I took Nanna Gracie’s advice and found my way each day, trying to live it to the full, just like she showed me. Years passed, I got promotions in my job and started to get out and socialize. I made time for myself and started to develop great friendships.
One evening in particular, I remember I was eating out with some girlfriends. It was a pretty swanky restaurant and we were well into our third bottle of wine. My friend Janet had just been proposed to by her long term boyfriend and we were in a celebratory mood. It was a fantastic night that ended up with us needing to catch a taxi home.
We all decided that it was time to leave, so I put both hands down on the table. I rose slowly and tried to keep my head steady. The whole world seemed to be spinning uncontrollably. With some considerable effort I managed to stand without the help of the table or the bench seat behind me. I flashed a grin to my friends as if I’d just completed some monumental task. They, who were at varying stages of getting up at the time, all looked at me with my goofy grin and broke down into fits of laughter.
I did my best to maintain my upright position but unable to both stand upright and laugh I returned to my sitting position. I think by the time we actually all got up and made our way out to the taxi rank, most of the patrons had had enough of our ruckus. The maître d’ started making his way towards us. I suspect he was about to ask us to leave anyway.
The four of us stood swaying and using each other as support while we waited for a taxi to arrive. It wasn’t long, which was good because I doubt we had long before one or all of us fell down in a well-dressed, high heeled hot mess. We piled into the taxi. All sense of decorum and delicacy had long since left us and as I was climbing head first into the back seat I felt a tap on my protruding rear end. I thought it was one of my friends so I politely told them to ‘bugger off’.
‘Well Ok, miss. I’ll just leave your wallet with your friends.’ Came the reply with a voice that was far deeper than I recall any of my friends having.
I bashed my head on the roof of the taxi as I tried to get out of the car. I backed, arse first, out of the back seat, searched for a moment with my stiletto to find the curb. Once I found it, then the other leg followed and I emerged from the car in reverse order. I’m sure my hair, by now, was a complete disaster.
I stood awkwardly and took a moment to compose myself. I saw his shoes first, nice shoes. Not sneakers. I looked up, perhaps a little too quickly, as my head started spinning. He had on well pressed slacks – oooh a dinner suit, classy. I got to the belt – it matches, hrmpf probably gay. He had on a dinner jacket, a clean white shirt and bow tie – nice. Strong looking, broad shoulders. By the time I got to his face the dizziness had set in. I knew he was ruggedly handsome but before I could really take note of his features everything started to spin.
‘Oh, God. No…’ I trailed off and tried to turn away as the warm vomit made its way quickly up my throat and out of my mouth. I doubled over and emptied the rather expensive meal, wine and deserts into the gutter. The man stood there and waited. I was throwing up for what felt like an age but still he waited.
‘Hurry up, I have other fares!’ The taxi drive shouted in his thick Indian accent.
Without thinking, one of my friends told him exactly where he could go. So he did.
‘Now we have no lift.’ Janet said and started to tear up. She’s a sad drunk.
‘I can drop you home, I have room in my car.’ The man was still standing, patiently waiting as this whole scene unfolded.
A news headline flashed through my head as I stood, now a little steadier.
“FOUR WOMEN MURDERED BY WELL DRESSED DINER WITH NICE SHOES AND MATCHING BELT”
The problem with logic, reason and rational behavior is that large amounts of alcohol seems to turn these self-preservation tools off completely. We looked at each other and unanimously decided to accept a lift from this decently dressed, polite, patient man. What could possibly go wrong?
Also the problem with risky behavior is that it only sometimes ends in a complete tragedy. Sometimes it turns out to be the most amazing thing ever. We decided that he would drop us all off at one of our houses and we would crash there. That way none of us was left alone with a strange person. He motioned to the valet to bring his car around. We all looked at each other. I raised an eyebrow. An Audi came round soon after and the valet got out and offered the keys to the mystery man.
I did a quick check to make sure there were no stray pieces of vomit on my dress or, well, anywhere and the other ladies all straightened themselves up. We were all still pretty drunk but did our level best to behave ourselves. We piled into the car, a little more delicately this time. Mystery man walked to the front passenger side of the car, opened the door and offered me the seat. I’m pretty sure I blushed. We all got settled and we set off towards Janet’s place as it was the closest. I was regretting agreeing to everyone going to one house now, but it was the most sensible decision.
After a bit, mystery man turned to me, ‘Hi, I’m Adam.’
‘Natalie’ I paused. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
‘Is everything ok?’ He asked, flashing a wry smile.
‘hmm? Oh yes. I’m fine.’ I realized I’d been staring at him and didn’t take my eyes of the road for the entire remainder of the trip. He dropped us off as promised and that was that.
Or so I thought. I had a brutal hangover the next day, so after 11 am when we all got up from our various drop dead locations around the house we went down to the nearest place that would sell us a late and very greasy breakfast. It was subdued as we were all nursing hangovers, we all had on the darkest sunglasses that we could find and sort of picked at our meals.
When the time came to pay I got up to get the cheque and went to the cashier. I pulled out my purse and a piece of paper came along with it then drifted to the ground. I paid the bill and walked back to the table.
Before I got back to the table, Janet blurted out, ‘Geez, you’re a litter bug Nat!’
I was about to tell her something rude and remembered where I was, ‘Whys that?’
‘You dropped something on the ground. Can’t take you anywhere, girlie.’
‘Whatever.’ I was not interested in picking anything up. Every time I bent over too far my head started with the pounding again.
‘Go and pick it up.’
I walked over to the counter and picked up the scrap. I look at it and my heart stopped, but the throbbing in my head started.
‘It’s his number’ I said to myself.
‘I can’t hear you.’ Janet, the loud one, called out from the table to cashier.
I waved the scrap of paper above my head and called out louder than Janet, ‘I GOT HIS NUMBER!’
‘Who?’ She called back.
We were starting to get looks from the other patrons of the restaurant. I got shushed from a nearby customer. I started skipping back to our table but the pounding in my head made my eyes hurt so I walked the rest of the way back, put the scrap down and showed off to my friends. In a hoarse whisper I told them, ‘Adam left his number in my purse’.
We made our way back to Janet’s place and I got my stuff to leave. Janet, who was wrapped in about five different towels after having a 20 minute shower and with a toothbrush in hand called out to me as I left.
‘If you don’t call him, I will!’
‘You’re engaged!’ I called over my shoulder on the way out.
‘I know!’ she laughed and went back to cleaning her teeth.
My taxi was waiting out front and I got in it to go home. The trip home was pretty uneventful. The taxi driver was trying out his English on me so I obliged and corrected him where needed. It was actually pretty good generally, just a few issues with pronunciation here and there. After paying the fare, I went inside to collect my thoughts.
I looked around the house and figured I might as well collect my dirty laundry while I collected my thoughts. I wandered around the house picking up items of clothes that I’d left for various important reasons. Or at least it seemed important at the time to leave them there. Now it was just inconvenient. I gathered quite the pile of dirty laundry after just a few minutes.
I piled them into the washing machine. It was one of those front loading washing machines so it meant I had to bend down to get the clothes in. My head started pounding again. It wasn’t as bad now, but I decided I should probably get some water. I walked from the laundry to kitchen sink to get a glass of water. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to do some dishes in the last few days so I had a clean glass to use. I filled the glass and had it in hand ready to drink but stood and stared out the window for a while. I watched as cars drove noisily past and people hurried from one place to the next with no desire to interact with anyone on the way.
You should call him, Nat. I started a conversation with myself.
Yeah, I will. But I don’t think I’m ready.
You better call him. Remember Nanna Gracie, no time like the present and no present like now.
What?! I should call him now?
Did I stutter?
I went and got my phone. I had entered his number into my phone as soon as I got the chance under the name “Adam Hot Pants”. I might have still been drunk when I put it in. I dialed. It rang, and rang and rang. After it rang for a good 30 seconds I began second guessing myself. Maybe he put it my purse by accident. Maybe it was a prank and he hates me. Oh God he thinks I’m ugly! I ended the call.
I leaned with my back against the wall. Why is this so hard? I slid down the wall and was getting ready to wrap myself up in a cocoon of sadness and shame. I can’t even go through with calling a guy. The blanket of shame was just about to cover me as the phone rang. I could barely swipe to open the call because my hand were shaking. I didn’t even bother to look at who was calling.
‘So have you called him yet?’ It was Janet. I hung up.
My phone buzzed with a text message. It was a notification from my phone company that a person called and didn’t leave a message. I could have screamed! It rang again. This time the screen flashed the name, ‘Adam Hot Pants’.
I carefully accepted the call, double checking I was pressing the right button.
‘Hi, I got a missed call from this number’, his deep voice sent a shiver down my spine.
‘Um, yeah, It’s me, Natalie. You left your number in my purse, so I thought I’d call. After you didn’t pick up I sort of panicked.’
He laughed a deep laugh that was comforting but at the same time I realized he was laughing at my silliness.
‘No problem. I remember you.’
‘I was wondering if we could meet sometime when I’m not rolling around drunk? I mean, I’m not always rolling around drunk so it’s not as if it would be a difficult thing to do but what I meant was…’ I was digging a hole so I could crawl in and die from the embarrassment.
‘That sounds fine.’
‘I totally understand if you don’t… wait, what?’
‘That sounds fine. How does next Friday at 7 sound? We’ll get dinner and it’ll be my shout, but we might keep the alcohol to a minimum.’
I garbled something incoherent.
‘Text me your address and I’ll pick you up.’
‘Great, I’ll see you then.’
‘Great.’ I said and the phone went silent.
A ball of excitement and nervous energy started to form in the pit of my stomach. I cleaned the house from top to bottom and all I could think of at work was how far away Friday was. I don’t recall driving to work, doing work or coming home or even eating. The whole week was one long exercise in anticipation for this one date.
I’m going on a date! Nanna Gracie would be so proud of me.
The big night finally arrived. I had taken the afternoon off work to get my hair down and have any hair removed that might be even the slightest be unappealing. Jan came over to help with picking a dress. She was no help, by the end of the afternoon she was rolling drunk and telling me about how hard it was to organize a wedding. As a bad friend I ignored her completely and got about getting myself ready for my first real date in a very long time. I did call another friend over to make sure Janet didn’t swallow her tongue when she passed out.
Adam came to the door and knocked. I was already at the door but I decided to wait a bit so as not to appear too desperate.
‘I can see you through the door, Natalie.’
Good one. Idiot.
I opened the door and there he stood, handsome as ever with a bouquet of flowers and a small gift.
‘I brought you these.’
‘I love flowers!’ I squealed and rushed to find a vase to put them in. Once the flowers were set I made my way for the door.
‘Aren’t you going to open your gift?’
‘Oh, I totally forgot’.
It was a small package, wrapped in a shiny metallic wrapping paper. After peeling away the wrapping I saw that it was a small jewelry case. One of those blue velvet ones where the lid snaps open and closed. My hands were shaking with excitement and my palms were getting sweaty, He brought be jewelry on my fist date. I didn’t know what to make of it.
As I cracked the lid open the glint of a finely wrought silver chain caught my eye. I opened it a touch further, inside was a locket. I slammed the lid shut.
‘Where did you get this!’ I was half yelling, half crying.
‘What do you mean? I saw it in a second hand jewelry place and I couldn’t walk past it. I don’t normally buy jewelry on a first date, much less a locket but this, this one was to fine to pass up.’
He was defensive and a little hurt. I don’t imagine that this was the reception he was expecting.
‘Is there something wrong with it?’ He asked, and leaned in with his hand out as if it might have been defective somehow.
I opened it the whole way and ever so gently took the locket out of the case. I opened the locket and before I could speak he spoke again.
‘Of course, I didn’t even check if there was a photo inside. We can just take them out.’ Again, he gestured to take the locket.
I clutched it closer than ever. I was sobbing and my hands were shaking so it was difficult to get the words out.
‘This photo is of my Nanna’ I pointed to her photo and then to my grandfather ‘…and this is of my grandfather. My Nanna gave it to me on the day she died but it was stolen from me.’
I hugged Adam as tears of joy streamed down my face.