She tells her children that she’d like to divide up her jewellery next Christmas. Her sister, dead only last year, has four children and they’re fighting over their inheritance. Pity you can’t disinherit ungrateful children, she thinks. She’s sad, of course, she misses her sister, they were rather close even though they had their differences, all this in-fighting is really unnecessary. What can she do? Only watch in silence feeling increasingly saddened and helpless. Wealth only stays in the family for three generations she hears; their children are the second. Victor, her eldest, is keen to start dialoguing about divvying up the properties; best to start now before grief takes an ugly turn, he says. He’s a pacifist, has a point. Doesn’t like to fight, always cautious of sibling rivalry. Seeing his cousins squabbling over their dead parents’ stuff has affected him. He has three children and he wants to give them what they’re entitled. She understands that. One granddaughter has asked about her diamond bracelet, the magpie. Is it necessary to talk about her impending death? She still has more years left. Her husband feels differently though. He’s 85, preparing for his death; ‘any time soon,’ he mouths as he goes through his collection of antique books and prints.
Victor derives from victory. In naming him so, she hoped that he would win life’s many battles. He’s a good man but born under an unlucky star. How could she have helped that? Her waters broke at thirty-five weeks; he was a small baby, always crying and never satiated no matter how much milk her body produced. They say that premies will always feel insecure; they say that premies need all the attention they can get. In the old days, there wasn’t much savoir-faire on how to care for premies. She heard from her hairdresser whose granddaughter was born early that the hospital provides ‘kangaroo care’. Her daughter goes to the neonatal unit every day to hold her premature baby in a pouch on her bare chest. Premature babies crave touch. When Victor was born, there was no such thing.
He married young to a good enough woman. Loved her since their first meeting at a church event but she had a boyfriend then. It took her some time after breaking up to notice Victor. When he proposed, he wasn’t even sure if she’d say yes. After, all he could talk about was their lives together. Her crippled grandson came soon enough. They were constantly worried if the spina bifida would kill him, naturally. It’s easy to veer from concern to self absorption. Comes from a state of insecurity and fear, she observes. But what can she do about it? She can only watch and listen silently when he brings his anxieties to her. It’s his character, she explains to her husband who has little patience with his grown up children’s foibles. Remember that time we brought him swimming? He wouldn’t get into the sea no matter how much we coaxed him, remember? He was afraid of the gentle waves lapping the coastline. Afraid that the waves would take him farther than he was comfortable with. That is her Victor. He lives ten kilometres away.
Her eldest girl was born years ahead of her time. She refuses to discuss the properties or the jewellery. Silence is a form of acquiescence. There’s an amethyst she adores. At 56, she still has a face that launched a thousand ships, pity that she’s not interested in those handsome men who came calling. Her poor Elena. The years are starting to take their toll though; her finely lined lips are visibly fuller. She doesn’t look bad, only like those aging movie stars who appear from time to time on TV. Her aesthetician makes magic, luckily. She fears that Elena will be alone when she’s gone. Her chest tightens. This child of hers has always been her biggest worry. Crippled by the loss of her first love in a climbing accident, she starved herself half to death in mourning; the pain was unbearable, is still unbearable. She’s brilliant with her nieces and nephew though. When she’s with them, that child in her emerges and for once, they both can forget that love can hurt.
Her youngest, the star in her night sky, lives overseas. Married a straniera. She was perturbed initially to learn that he was dating an Oriental. How would their children turn out? It was farfetched to think so far ahead since they were only dating then. But he seemed serious enough, even brought her home for Christmas one year, the year before he married her and announced that he would be moving to Hong Kong. Over my dead body, she had said but he married her anyway and moved to the Orient. Such gorgeous children they have, impeccably mannered and respectful of their elders. Always helping and full of ‘p’s and ‘q’s like water gushing from a tap.
Victor had warned that the Orientals are different in emotions and characters. Hong Kong is a trading port; it was a British colony and you know what they say in Europe about the English and the Chinese. Money holds these people together. Stefan works in finance and he understands money, she consoles Victor.
Each piece of jewellery holds a specific memory: pearl necklaces and ear rings from her love, three rings of semi-precious gems for the birth of each child, the only diamond bracelet that once belonged to her mother, her sister got the only pair of earrings, (how she had fought for that bracelet), and many faux pieces she’d collected on their travels. Her favourite is the silver mounted turquoise locket Stefan had brought her one year. She’s forgotten now where it had come from; the boy travels so much that she can’t possibly remember all those exotic ports and cities he’s been to. He refuses to take the turquoise for his wife. ‘Mamma, you’re still breathing!’
Eva Wong Nava lives between Europe and Asia. She is an independent art historian who combines her love for the visual arts and writing by documenting her art journeys. She keeps a personal dossier of fiction and essays on art. Her art writings have been published in various independent arts magazines. She was an English teacher and has taught writing to children and adults.
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Image by Hilary Perkins (Roger Hiorns, Seizure)