Mama eyed the necklace. It peeked through my open coat collar, a pale shimmer coiled around my throat.
“Aren’t we fancy,” Ma slurred, voice gin-thick.
“None of your business, Mother,” I murmured, clipping off my words by contrast. The parlor stank. No pretensions that we were even considered to be among the good families anymore.
“It’s pearls for tears, girl.” She cackled. “There’ll be weeping in it for you, whatever your fine gent says now. Just you remember.”
I sighed, removing my gloves, drawing out the long pin that secured my hat. Agnes, our last, remaining servant, helped me with my coat.
I felt Agnes’ eyes on the string of pearls at my throat and raised a hand to shield them.
“Will you have dinner, Miss?”
“Not tonight, Agnes.” I was too full of happiness to desire mere food. I’d forgotten Agnes before she’d even turned away. I wanted to be alone with the liquid joy that spilled through me like wine.
I lay on my bed and held the pearls up to the gas-light shining through the window. No fog tonight. The pearls glowed; pale moons when cool, the warmth of my skin heated them to a pink sheen.
“My grandmother’s wedding pearls,” You’d said; a cool click as you fastened them around my throat. And then you’d kissed me, our lips, tongues, breath meeting in a hot damp tangle of desire. We were forbidden. Indecent. And I hadn’t cared. Didn’t care if I had you.
“It matters not,” You’d said. I’d laid my head against your shoulder. “See the pearls? Each one made from a grain of sand, a speck of imperfection. Yet now surrounded by beauty. Like us. A world no one can reach.”
I was so happy; I almost wanted to die then so it could never be taken away.
On the next evening I waited at our prearranged meeting place. You never came. Rain soaked me, draggling my hair, dimming the pearls. Where were you? Surely only something serious could keep you away from me? My mud splashed skirts were heavy around my ankles as I walked, cold with dread. You’d told me never to come to you at your house but I had to know you were well.
I would have rung the bell. But then I saw the orange flicker of light from an undraped window. I couldn’t help peering in.
I knew it was you. Your shining nut-brown hair flowing back, as you laughed up at him. Your curved lips tempting him to kiss you. And he did. And I watched, an oyster wanting you to myself in my own dark world. Fury was a living thing, blotting out all light. No breath, even if my stays had not crushed my ribs. Then I saw. He had encircled your throat with something perfect; diamonds like tear-drops. Anger collapsed into cold ashes in my chest.
The pearls fell, tiny worlds of imperfection making small splashes in the wet street.