Three Things Golden
Thomas is a poor boy who lives in the town of London, where he is hopelessly in love with the landlord's daughter. When he finds the perfect gift, he has one chance to give it to her- at the party on Christmas Eve. But can he make the girl of his dreams fall in love with him when she doesn't even know he exists?
I scrape the wet snow and slush off my boots on the ledge of the door. The warm, crackling glow off the fireplace fills the room and ignites in my soul, spreading heat throughout my body. I close my cold fingers into fists and feel the iciness fade away on my palms.
Father is already at Mother's bedside. I make my way around the armoir to the corner, where a bed is set up with a small table beside it and thick layers of woolen blankets are tucked in around her. The woman who used to be my mother that is now a faint, sad wisp of memory.
Just looking at her saddens me.
Her face is as round and pale as the moon, a faint whisper of breath coming from between her dry, cracked lips. Her eyes, a mixture of the loveliest amber and emerald, are unfocused as she tries to discern my face. Before the sickness, they had been filled with kindness and youth, but now they lay empty, like a milk jar that has only the memory of being filled. The friendly wrinkles a the corners of her eyes have turned into lines, like cracks in the earth. She takes a deep breath and tries to sit up, but I gently push her back onto the bed and stroke her cheek.
The rhythmic motion seems to calm her. As I look at the woman who I love with all of my heart, my throat gets clogged up and my eyes start to sting. Mother used to fill the holidays with joy, her baking giving the house the scent of cloves and pine and her caring disposition enough to bring a smile to anyone's face. But now-
I clear my throat and blink, trying to clear my blurry vision. My fingers brush her dark brown hair behind her ear, my slightly calloused fingers getting caught in her silky hair. "Thomas," I hear her manage.
"Shhh. Father and I were at the landlord's. Everything's taken care of, everything's all right." My voice has a false tinge to it, and even I know that my comfort is useless.
"Thomas." I put my finger over her dry lips. She slowly reaches onto the table, her once nimble fingers now struggling. She picks up two coins and places them in my hand. I stare at her in astonishment.
"Mother, do you know what we could purchase with this?" The soft clink of gold is like music.
"I want you-" she drew a raspy breath-"To use it for yourself. For Christmas." Mother gently closed my fingers around the coins. When I looked back at her, her eyes were closed.
I leaned close and whispered, "Thank you." Then I kissed her forehead with care, and with one last wish, hoped her dreams were pleasant, full of love and stars.
After a dinner of toasted, coarse bread and tasteless potatoes, I get into my bed, which I share with my sister and the baby. Our house is made of two rooms- the kitchen, which is adjoining the door, and the other room with our beds and the armoir. In the dim light I can see it looming in the corner. The armoir is the only thing of value we own- passed down through the generations.
The silver moonlight streaming through the window and the occasional sound of a carriage lulls me into a shallow and fitful sleep.
The next morning I awake, my mind fully alert and as sharp as a crystal. In the back of my thoughts are a faint whisper of a dream that I can't quite recall. All I remember is a sharp light filling my thoughts, as golden as the sun.
Outside the window, everything is covered with ice. The rain from yesterday froze over in the night, leaving a frozen, glossy sheet over the branches, the roofs, and the street. I stare for a moment at the pure perfection of the world.
Then the family awakens. Martha, still barely two months, wakes and wails with agony, or so it seems. I sigh, my breath forming condensation on the cold window. Then I go back and start my duty as oldest brother.
When Martha sees me, she quiets down a bit, but then she comes to her senses and lets out an ear-piercing wail that I am anticipating. I pick her up, swaying my arms gently, and kiss her little red nose. Her sweet caramel eyes, the color of Father's, are screwed up, and she is kicking her feet.
I retrieve a soft cloth diaper and change it, putting the dirty one in the wash bin with a practiced move. Then I wash my hands and face, don a pair of trousers and a buttoned- down shirt, my fingers fastening the metal buttons in a quiet, efficient manner.
As I make breakfast, I seem to see her everywhere- the coal is exactly the shade of her hair, the sky as blue as her eyes. Every time I think of her, I grit my teeth in frustration and try to advert my thoughts. But I know my attraction to her is hopeless.
As the day passes and father goes to the blacksmith's shop, the one thing on my mind is the odd secondhand store I had looked into with the mysterious glint of gold. I finish wiping the counter, rinse my hands in the washbucket, and tell Mother, "I'm going out for the day. Father is coming home for dinner. I love you!"
Mother gives me a forced smile from her bed, and I feel a twang of sadness. But today is Christmas Eve, and I should be dwelling on the merry, not the unfortanate.
Flurries of snow whoosh past me, not as thick as yesterday, but big and fluffy like cotton. The air, if possible, had become even more cold, and I clench my fingers into fists to keep out the wind.
I nearly pass the secondhand shop, but my memory guides me back to it. The same oily, foggy glass hides what's within. I hope this isn't a waste of time.
I open the door, my head swirling with possibilities. The shop is cast in a dim light, seemingly abandoned with a strange array of objects on shelves. I pass by a globe that is black with celestial markings on it. I recognize some of the constellations- Cancer, the North Star, and the planets, which are as old as the universe itself. The globe, which was painstakingly hand painted, is peeling in some parts, and looks timeless.
"Don't touch that." I jump, snatching my hand back, and turn around. An old lady is standing in the back. She is ancient, with baggy skin, and dressed in layers of grey tatters. Her sharp gray eyes look at me in almost an accusatory way.
"Lad, what is you business here?" Her voice sounds like crumpling parchment and her face is adorned with a sneer.
"I was just curious- Er, do you have anything small and golden? I just think I saw-" I stopped in mid sentence, unsure of what to say. How exactly was I supposed to tell someone that I was looking for a present for a girl who didn't know I exist?
She sized me up, from my wet boots, up to my tall stature and messy hair. "I think I might have what you are looking for," she mumbled. Then she turned around, muttering something unintelligible. To be honest, she gave me the creeps. There were plenty of crazy people in this town, but I didn't usually cross paths with any.
The hag came back, licking her lips. I could see something in her hand. "Ah, lad, I've had this for a long time. Do you have what it takes for me to part with it?" I looked at her, confused. Her gravelly voice betrayed no emotion.
Then she handed it to me. It was a golden locket, beautifully crafted. It had a thin, smooth chain, and a heavy feeling heart rested in the center.
But this couldn't be possible.
As I squinted at the beautiful locket in my hand, I could make out a single M in the center, surrounded by swirls. I looked up at the woman. "This is perfect!"
"Twenty pence," she said abruptly. My heart beat in my chest. I slowly took out the two coins from my pocket, the ones that Mother had gave me. And my heart stopped again. It was the exact amount.
I handed her the two coins, a bit sad to see her greedily snatch them away, exchanging one thing golden for another. But now the locket rested in my hand, hopefully the perfect gift to win the heart of the girl of my dreams.
I gave her a half smile, and eyeing the globe of the night once more, exited the ship into the bustling streets of the city, the miracle in my hands and hope filling my heart.