Talisman by Ellie Stewart

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woman holding red glass bead necklace

Her necklace is made up of red baubles that look like glass, dappled and imperfect. I think that I gave them to her as a birthday present when I was five years old. Bought by my father, of course, but chosen by me, in a shop in West London, near a place I used to call home.

The day after she died, as the van waited outside, they asked us what we would like her to be wearing when she was buried. We chose a red jumper and some silver earrings in the shape of Yin and Yang that had been a birthday present from me when I was twelve years old. They took those, and I suppose she was wearing them in the coffin when they lowered her into the ground on a hillside in Stroud. She could have been wearing anything though.

And she had been there the day before and was gone the day after. And we each shut ourselves away in separate rooms, retreating into the gloom, turning our backs from the light she left that receded slowly, day by day. The less that was said about her, the fainter it grew. All her belongings turned into mere objects. Stuff that was soon thrown away. Some things were kept for sentimental reasons and were shut away in drawers, or kept on windowsills under windows that no one looked through.

Years and years later, I was sitting in a room in Leeds, and a woman was talking to me soothingly about group counseling.

“I imagine you see memories of her everywhere,” she cooed sympathetically. “That’s why we encourage people to bring things into the sessions. Objects, photos—things that remind you of the person, things that bring back memories.”

“OK,” I said.

I didn’t see her—or that room in Leeds—again.

In movies, people often have objects that remind them of a person who has died, that symbolize their spirit living on, that keep a connection to the memory, to the light. These objects represent safety. They are talismans clutched in hands and pressed under pillows that remind you that they are always watching, always with you. Even if you don’t believe in heaven, they can be with you, in some way. A memory of love, rather than an enduring memory of the last strained breaths pulled in through a skeletal face, and the green body bag wheeled out the next morning, and as the van waits outside, the green-clothed women coming back in, saying, “What would you like her to be wearing?”

I don’t want those memories. I want a talisman.

I took her necklace from the forgotten box of sentimental items shut away in a drawer. It was tangled with her other jewelry. When I was little, I would sit on her bed at the top of our tiny terraced house as the sun streamed in through the windows, and she pottered about in her bedroom. I emptied her jewelry box and spread the items out on the bed and pretended it all belonged to me—and that I was queen. I made the necklaces into glittering snakes and the earrings into insects. I wound them round my hands and arms and touched the metal and wondered what it would feel like to have pierced ears. And she’d wear her red necklace out to dinner, with red lipstick, and would laugh in the candlelight and drink red wine and remind me every time, “This was the necklace you gave me for my birthday, wasn’t it, my darling?”

Turning the necklace this way, I see the red baubles glow with that warm light from long ago. And they are humming softly in my hands.

ellie-stewartEllie Stewart is based in London in the UK. Her stories, poems and nonfiction have been published in various online and print publications including Popshot Magazine, The Pygmy Giant, Valve Journal and Headland Journal. She is currently developing her nonfiction writing and working on a children’s book. You can read more of her work and blog at www.alittlefantastic.com and follow her on Twitter @EllieAStewart.


Story image provided by author.


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