My mother always said that she wanted me to have her pearls when she died.
It was one of her most treasured things, that necklace. My father gave it to her for her 40th birthday, and I think – I think, because the mind’s a funny thing, and your memory is never more prone to playing tricks on you than when there’s no-one to correct you – I remember that day. She was happy. The whole family got together at my grandparents’ house: an old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere in rural Wales. There were fireworks, and my grandfather complained that said fireworks had blown up his “best cement-mixing bucket.” That’s my grandpa for you.
But that’s a digression. The point is my mother’s pearls. She loved them, very much. So much so that when I borrowed them on my wedding day, I could feel her watching them through my neck as I said my vows….
Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.
A few weeks ago, I brought those same pearls back down to Brighton with me. They were part of two carrier bags’ worth of things that I brought after my dad and I packed up her belongings – and as the train pulled out of Victoria, I wondered how everything a person is (or was) can fit into two bags. Just two.
Her pearls are in my bedroom now, on the mantelpiece (yes, I have a fireplace in my bedroom. She’d be so impressed, I tell you). I don’t think they’ll ever be “my” pearls; they’ll always be hers, and I’m still borrowing them. When I open the case, they still smell of her: a mixture of Rive Gauche & Chanel No. 5. Her “going out” perfumes, because her pearls were only for special occasions: dinner parties or evenings out. I’m afraid that if I open the box too often, the scent will disappear and that all will be left is a string of pearls – as though it’s the perfume that makes them hers.
Carrying those two bags back from the station, I thought I had everything that was left of her in my hands. Of course I was wrong.
There was a box. Upstairs, in the attic bedroom. One of the last few boxes we’ve not unpacked after the move. It had lived in the attic of our last house, sealed up, and had been that way since we moved out of our flat somewhere around the 2004 mark. I thought it had some china in it, and that was about it, so I never bothered to open it. It just moved with us, from storage cupboard to attic and now to the “stick it in the attic” pile here.
But this afternoon, I opened it.
My books: the books I read when I was younger. Books I’d long given up for lost, or passed along to my cousins (who had all my Redwall books, forcing me to buy new copies to read to my own little boy….) or simply gone. Wonderful books: my copy of Diana Wynne Jones’s “Fire & Hemlock“; Alison Uttley’s “A Traveller in Time“. “Puck of Pook’s Hill“, “The Princess and the Goblin“, “The Happy Prince” (which I remember trying to retell at Eastercon, with decidedly less panache & pathos than Wilde does), “The Shadow Cage“… The Noel Streatfeilds, the William books, Swallows & Amazons, even the novelisation of “Dark Season” (which I remember begging for in a bookshop somewhere near High St Kensington on a rare trip to London).
Oh, my books.
And even as I unpacked them, as I put them on the shelf, I realised that in so many ways, these books made me what I am. Fairies, time travel, history, goblins, fantasy, ghosts, evil computers and a man named Eldritch… my mother bought me these books. She, the same woman who rolled her eyes when I told her I was writing fantasy and horror, she bought me these books.
And to think that I believed all I had left of her was a necklace.
Never mind the jewellery. These books – and everything they taught me: this is what she left me.
These are my mother’s pearls.