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It is the pocket in which she carried the necklace home! But that is insane, why on earth would it start to glow? How? And, by the sound of it, even move? This is ridiculous. It is sure to be some sort of clockwork. Isn’t it? But how does it glow?
Helena creeps forward towards the sweater. The glow is pulsating slowly, becoming brighter and dimming in turn, but irregularly. The soft jingling sound is a little like tiny bells, but there is something eery about it. Her hand stretches towards the sweater. Helena hesitates for a short moment. Then she takes the zipper slowly between her fingers and pulls.
The first thing she notices is the heat. The second is the smell. Her fleece is smouldering! No wonder there was a glow, the damn thing was starting a fire! Helena takes the whole sweater off the back of the chair and runs to the kitchen where she pitches it into the sink. Small flames have started to develop behind the zipper and melt the fleece, filling the kitchen with the stench of burning plastic.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Helena yanks the pocket open and takes the necklace out, burning her fingertips, but it is scorchingly hot and she drops it immediately in the sink. There is little choice. Helena puts the plug in and turns the tap on. The device sizzles in the wet sink and little clouds of steam curl up before it disappears under the water.
When the sweater is fully soaked and the necklace can be seen swimming at the bottom of the sink, Helena turns the tap off. She lifts the necklace out and pulls the plug. The jingling sound has stopped entirely now.
The necklace lies silent and motionless on the kitchen counter. It is an old-fashioned model with a long chain and a round pendant that looks a bit like a locket but she can not see a clasp of any kind. They had cleaned it a little under the tap in Marina’s kitchen. It had been absolutely filthy with mud and there was a solid layer of grime on the metal that didn’t come off with a good rub of a cloth. Soapy water, that Marina had tried next, did not do much either. When Marina had grabbed her sponge and wanted to get started on it with some corrosive cleaner, Helena had put a stop to it. That stuff would probably not be very good for whatever metal it was made of. And besides, she had been exhausted. With the kittens in her front basket, she had biked home. She would pick up some silver polish or something tomorrow.
Helena turns the watch over and over. It is cold now and no longer making a sound. One of the kittens twitches in its sleep, dreaming little kitten dreams. Helena walks over and puts some of the towel over the tiny fur creatures. The pendant and the chain are put in the sink for the night under a few centimeters of water. Just to be sure.
“So I just want to be clear on this.” Rick makes a little tent of his hands. No doubt he has seen this done by some great leader in some tv show or other, and found it to give the character gravitar. Or something. It is a studied gesture, and one that is costing both him and Helena way too much brainspace as they sit in the glass-walled meeting room of the main building. She can see the visitor centre across the parking lot. The ‘Closed’ sign on the door of the giftshop is red. “You want to have the day off… without requesting it in advance… without replacement… because… Why was it again?”
“To visit my aunt. Who is sick.”
“Right. Your aunt.” He nods. “I was wondering, um…”
“Of course. Helena, I was wondering if you are aware of the position of the giftshop as a separate entity within our enterprise?”
She waits. With this kind of self-importance it is usually better to contribute as little to the conversation as possible. It is not like she will be listened to anyway.
This morning she found the necklace in the sink with the sweater, just as she left it. It looked eerily accusatory in there and she decided to take it out, even though she still has no idea how it got so hot in the first place. She has kept it wrapped in a pair of woollen socks in her pocket, that is obviously and awkwardly bulging. She takes it out sometimes to check if there is any smouldering going on but so far so good. The thing seems to have lost its heat. For now. She pats it absent-mindedly and tries to bring her mind back to the conversation – for want of a better word.
“… and as you see, it is simply very hard to maintain the current organisational structure without making a few…”
“So I was wondering if you could fill in for me today” Helena cuts in. “Please?”
He goggles at her. Obviously he is not used to people interrupting him when he is in full corporate flow but Helena just cannot be bothered. If he is going to fire her, let him do it. But the coward won’t do it to her face, not without building his case first and making it seem like it is her fault in the first place that the shop is not yielding enough revenue. Gaslighting bastard.
“You want me to run the shop?” He scoffs. “I don’t have time for that sort of thing!”
“Well neither do I frankly, not today, and since you need to open it anyway I thought you would be optimal material for that kind of frontline sales position.” She gives him her best impression of a coy admiring grin. “Get back to the roots of capital investments with a few euros per sale, to get your hand back in the money game perhaps? I am sure you are extremely good at that!” She even looks away as if she is a little shy. “Perhaps you will be able to give me some real hands-on and context-specific pointers to increase sales?”
She can’t believe he actually fell for it. A sick aunt! Context-specific pointers! Freaking capital investment! The man is more ridiculous than a litter of kittens under a kitchen sink. Which is, incidentally, one of the things he will probably find out about, Helena realises as she makes her way to the bus stop. She hadn’t intended to involve Marina in all this, which is why she didn’t call her yesterday even though she had considered it briefly when the glowing had started and all kinds of weird explanations had started shooting across her mind. But Marina had laughed at the idea of Helena taking the kittens with her today, and when Helena had explained that a litter of kittens could very well get her fired when found in her coffeeshop, Marina had just rolled her eyes.
“Really? For these?” She had pointed at the cute fur balls tumbling over each other between the apples and bananas in the bowl. “That is one hell of a charm offensive if ever I saw one. And if needs be, I will recruit one of my regulars to claim them as theirs. They totally will!” she laughed as Helena looked at her incredulously, “they love me!”
So do I, Helena thinks as she boards the bus.
Arriving in Amsterdam is always a joy. Even the throngs of tourists that flow to Dam Square like a massive and polluting river, can not ruin that for Helena. Even though she has found her home in the country now, to get to know the natural environment more and not be stressed all the time, she misses the city sometimes even though it has so much stone, and the wildlife is mostly human. It helps if you know where to go, of course. Avoiding the sewage drain that is Damrak, Helena quickly finds her way to the quieter streets off the big canals. She knows where she is going, after all. Not a sick aunt, no, but close enough. Betty is an eternal aunt – never a mother, definitely never a wife! – and today’s kids would probably call her Totally Sick or something. We used to call it cool, Helena thinks, grinning as she steps into the tiny shop.
“Lena! Darling!” Betty’s hugs and kisses are never quick and certainly never fleeting. They linger and cling to you like lint. The good kind.
Another good thing: Betty never asks why you’re there. She just assumes you probably had a good reason, and that is that. But this time Helena wants to share.
A good hour later. The giftshop in the visitor centre back home is not the only shop that has been closed for the morning. There have been several customers rattling at the door but Betty has waved them away – “family emergency sweetie come back tomorrow!” – to give Helena her full attention. They sit among beautiful and carefully curated second-hand gala attire and gaze at the pendant and chain. Helena’s ugly woollen socks contrast ugly with the elegant fabrics around them, but Betty doesn’t care. She stares at the necklace, fascinated.
“Why on earth did it glow?” she breathes.
“I don’t know!” Helena answers, “Well, I have been thinking about it. I think that maybe it was caused by some kind of friction inside the mechanism…” She stops when she sees her friend’s face. “Maybe not though.”
“Verrry unlikely. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I guess, yeah. But still. How else?”
“There are ways,” Betty says mysteriously as she gets up and pulls open a drawer. She looks inside, searching for something.
“Like what?” Helena is intrigued. Betty never disappoints.
“Aha!” Betty flourishes a sharp letter opener with a handle made of mother-of-pearl. “Let’s see, shall we?”
“What are you doing?”
But Betty has already started to peer at the edges of the pendant, poking it with the sharp blade. “Let’s get this thing open, shall we?”
“Do you think it opens?”
“In my experience” – Betty sounds a little muffled through clenched teeth as she narrowly avoids stabbing her own hand – “lockets like these always have some way of opening. Although it can be hard to find.”
“Lockets? Like these? You have seen this before?”
“Indeed!” Betty says triumphant, her letter opener raised like the most ladylike of weapons. “And it looks like we need the help of an expert! Be a darling and fetch my phone will you? Let’s see, who will we call?” She looks pensive. “What do you think? My big spender customer and antique jewellery dealer Luc? Or my childhood sweetheart Benny?” She winks. “He’s a fence. You decide honey!”
tl;dr Leaving boss Rick in charge of the giftshop, and Marina caring for the kittens, Helena visits her friend in Amsterdam. Betty suggests enlisting the help of one of her friends to identify and open the pendant. Who?
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