An English woman of post-retirement age wearing a slightly shabby, full-length suede coat with fuzzy collar came in to the shop tonight looking for silver polish. As I approached I could see that pinned to her lapel was a rather large, gold brooch of some indeterminate design. Her middle and ring fingers bore brightly-colored gem stone rings of blue sapphire and aquamarine. In her left earlobe she wore a dangle-y earring that appeared to be made up of a cluster of small pearls. In her right ear hung nothing.
We got to talking about silver polish versus silver cloth and about how no one seemed to possess silverware anymore (and wasn't that a shame). Her make-up, probably finely applied earlier in the day, now appeared unfocused and smudged around her eyes. She smelled vaguely of wine. As we spoke, I put my right hand to my right ear and said, "you're missing an earring." She stopped talking, immediately brought her fingers to her ear and said very loudly, "oh, shit!"
"These are Sandra's earrings! They were given to me by her husband...ex-husband. I wore them today as it's her birthday. We were just down at the pub. Oh, no. Well, let me buy this silver cloth and then I'll go back to the pub. The earring must have come out as I was putting on my coat. It started to rain as I left, so I put my coat on."
As she she paid, she told me that Sandra, her best friend, had died only 18 months ago, and she had decided to wear the earrings today as a tribute to Sandra. Before leaving the shop, I had asked her to take the coat off just to make sure that the earring wasn't caught somewhere in the collar, or had fallen down the back and gotten stuck in the lining. The earring wasn't in the coat. I took a quick glance around the store's floor and directly out front along the pavement in the off-chance that she'd managed to lose the earring only as she made her way into the shop. It wasn't there. Before retracing her steps back to the pub, I'd asked her if she wouldn't want to take off the remaining earring and pop it into her handbag for safe keeping. She did as I asked and left.
Not ten minutes later as I was tidying up the back stock area, I heard a voice coming from the front of the store. "It's only me," she said. I came out from the kitchen to see the woman with the suede coat. She was smiling. "I found it. I just wanted to tell you that I found the earring." She smiled and came up to the counter. Her eyes were wet, yet she looked happy.
"Sandra was my best friend, you know. -diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was gone in six weeks." The woman started to cry. I stood at the counter and watched her. She dabbed her eyes with her fingers. "Thank you," she said. I took her outstretched hand in mine and held it a minute. She cried a bit more and I fetched her a tissue from the bathroom. She continued, "Sandra was so elegant. She was always so put together, you know." I asked how old Sandra would have been today. "Oh, seventy-something. A lady never tells her age," she said with a slight smile. "We traveled together. Oh, it was lovely! We traveled down the Nile!" She cried a fresh burst of tears. I offered her a cup of tea, but she refused. The presence of another customer entering the store seemed to cause her to leave. She bade me farewell and moved on.
The woman who'd come in, holding a Christmas tree wrapped in mesh and standing by the entrance asked, "Is she crying about her dog?" This was the neighborhood dog walker and the woman who had just left lost her dog the week before.
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