Two stories for Sleep is for the Week’s Writing Workshop, this week, and as I’m doubling up, I figured this could count for The Weekend Creation at Words In Sync too.
First a true story…
When the prompt of psychometry – being able to tell the story of an object by touching it – was introduced, it gave me a nostalgic smile. I had a character once, in an ambitious story that I never finished, who had the power to tell an object’s history through touch. The character found out her boyfriend had been cheating on her when she touched his wallet.
It also got me wondering what object I had that I could use that was interesting, but would tie in with my ongoing short story series. I don’t own much that might tell a story. Lots of books, CDs, clothes and the general detritus of life, but I’m not much of a one for keepsakes and ornaments. Our house is too small, for a start, and has no convenient surfaces. I do own one ornament – an ostrich made from a shredded coke can, bought in South Africa – but I didn’t feel this fitted in too well with fairies.
So my mind turned to jewellery.
I don’t wear much jewellery. I own a lot – mostly tacky stuff that I should really throw away or charity shop, but some does have sentimental value, and a story to tell. As soon as I opened my jewellery box, my mind immediately jumped to these:
Again, excuse my non-existant photography skills.
These three rings belonged, one each, to my mother and her two sisters. I’m not even sure why I have them. The wedding band is my mothers, from her previous marriage. She gave it to me when she replaced her simple band with something a bit more elaborate and expensive. The green engagement ring belonged to her younger sister. I have no idea why I have it.
The third ring belonged to the older sister, and is the subject of the story.
I acquired this ring shortly after my aunt, who was a marvellous woman I have too few memories of, passed away. I was only about five and barely remember those days, but this ring has always been in my possession.
I have no idea if it’s worth anything, what value it held to my aunt, if someone gave it to her or if she bought it for herself. Straining my memory as I type this, attempting to dredge up what’s probably hidden in the vaults of my mind, I have a feeling it was part of a set and had a brooch that went with it.
All I know for certain is I’ve loved it since I was tiny – fascinated by the beautiful colours in the stone, the otherworldly shine it has. I also love that it’s not set in gold. I’ve always disliked gold jewellery.
I can remember trying to wear it when I was little, with fingers so thin it wouldn’t stay on even my thumb. It’s a miracle it survived to this day, to be honest, but at some point I put it away in my jewellery box and I’ve barely looked at it since.
Today I’ve tried it on, and it fits.
I wish I knew the story behind this ring. I’ve tried asking my mother, who was equally clueless, and I doubt the grandparents have any idea.
So I’m using it as my prompt today and creating my own story for it. As always, if you are unfamiliar with the series, you might want to go to the Writing page and read the brief summary, if not the other episodes!
By Liberty Gilmore, 12/03/11
Ava is given a ring.
Ava had few possessions of any great value – sentimental or otherwise. In fact, sitting at her desk, she could see only two things she would be sorry to lose. One was a photograph of herself with Holly and Graham, taken at the prow of a ferry on a school trip to France. The weather was dismal, but though they were all swaddled against the elements, their faces glowed with the happiness they found in each other’s company.
They were only twelve, and hormones were yet to put a strain on their friendship. A strain that was only just easing now.
The second thing was the flower sat in a vase on the desk – a flower that should have been long dead, but Ava kept alive with a touch of fey energy every few days. It was looking a little wilted now, and Ava gave its petals a gentle caress, coaxing them back into vibrancy.
‘Do you intend to keep that flower alive forever?’ her mother’s voice spoke from behind her.
‘Until I tire of it,’ Ava answered, turning on her chair to face her mother.
Natalia had a glacial beauty. Ava had inherited her dark hair, pale skin, but not the frost in her eyes, or the set of her mouth that made her the perfect business woman – both disarming and ruthless.
‘I have a gift for you,’ Natalia said, gliding to Ava’s side and perching on the desk.
‘It was my birthday two months ago, Mother,’ Ava said with a half smile.
‘Birthdays are a human sentiment.’
‘Of course,’ Ava said, the smile disappearing.
‘Your father and I are proud of how well you’re doing,’ Natalia said after a moment. ‘You are fulfilling your duty admirably. In fact, our Lord and Lady at the Court have taken a personal interest in your progress. They would see you make an advantageous match soon.’
Ava knew she had to keep her face straight. It was a test, always was with her mother.
‘I look forward to their suggestions,’ she said, trying to keep her voice steady. ‘Though it may be advantageous to wait until after University. Most humans do not match so young.’
‘Perhaps,’ Natalia said, accepting the minor resistance. ‘But it is not for us to decide, in the end.’
Natalia moved away from the desk and began a slow circuit around the room, hands held behind her back in a stiff, proud posture.
‘I didn’t always want this job, you know. Infiltration, spending so much time among the humans.’
‘I thought the business world suited you?’ Ava said, uneasy about where this conversation was going.
‘It does,’ she said, a cruel smile gracing her perfect face. ‘I enjoy the thrill of the chase, closing a deal, being the best. Were that all infiltration involved, no doubt I would be perfectly happy.’
‘I never thought of you as unhappy.’
Natalia paused to examine the flower. ‘Happiness is irrelevant. I am dutiful. Doing my duty fulfils me. But it was not always easy.’
Ava had to bite her tongue as Natalia closed her hand around the flower, watching for Ava’s expression, her protest, as she sucked the life from it, leaving it a withered husk.
‘There is no success without succession,’ Natalia said, crushing the fragile petals in her hand. ‘That’s what our Lord told me, when I protested my match to your father. My progress in the business world was of no use if my contacts, my position would become a dead end when I surpassed expected human retirement age. I was to have children, someone to pass my successes to. So I bore you.’
Ava was well aware of the circumstance of her birth, but hearing it said still bit sharply into the place that stored memories of Holly’s mother and the loving affection she showed her two children.
‘When you were conceived our Lord gave me this,’ Natalia said, plucking a ring from her right hand. ‘A token of his admiration and appreciation for my work.’ She walked back to Ava, picked up her hand and placed the ring on her finger. ‘This ring is the burden of duty. It is all the things I have had to do and all the things you have done and all the things you have yet to do. It is to remind you that duty can be beautiful.’
Natalia’s hand strayed through Ava’s hair, tucking it neatly behind her ear. For a moment, Ava even wondered if Natalia was suggesting she was beautiful. Then Natalia smiled, all sharpness and ice, and Ava remembered that Natalia knew she was beautiful, and saw it as an asset. No doubt she would teach Ava to use her beauty as she had, and still did, use hers.
‘Oxford wrote, by the way,’ Natalia said as she retreated to the door. ‘You have a conditional offer. Four As.’
Ava nodded. ‘Then I should accept that,’ she said, opening her laptop.
Natalia flinched at the sight of the machine. Her tolerance for electronics was much lower than Ava’s, her only flaw as a business woman. One she made up for with an army of PAs.
When the door closed, Ava snapped her laptop shut again. The ring on her finger was opal and glowed, shimmering with colour beneath its surface.
A reminder that duty could be beautiful. Or a trinket that tied Ava to her duty, binding like a wedding band. How could Ava forget her duty when she wore it on her finger.
Ava turned to the dead plant, sighing. She knew it was another test. Temptation to give in to human sentimentality. To throw it out would mean she had passed.
Ava grimaced and brought the flower back from death, filling its bloom with vitality once more. She would wear the ring, but she wasn’t ready to give up her attachment to her friends. It was the only thing she had that was hers alone.