‘So where’d you get it?’ he asked, interested, ‘originally that is. It really is lovely.’
‘I’ve had it for years,’ she said. ‘It was my gran’s, I think, and I got it for a birthday present, when I was thirteen. Sort of an heirloom, I guess.’
Moments earlier he’d opened the box and handed it to her. She took it out and held up the thin chain to inspect it, held it to her throat, the tiny links shining dully, the tiny silver conch shell. Satisfied, she let it fall into the palm of her hand, like a ball of silver sand.
He said, ‘I had to repair a couple of links. They were worn paper thin, so I doubled them up and added a couple extra to keep the it same size.’
‘I can’t see which’re the links you’ve added,’ she said, pushing around the chain in her palm with a polished fingernail.
‘No,’ he said, ‘you won’t. The silver is dark, it was tough to match,’ adding, ‘almost the same colour as your eyes.’
‘I haven’t got silver eyes.’
‘Close enough. Pale blue, like a flame.’
He spoke with an expert’s eye for colour. She said, ‘Where did you learn to work gold and silver?’
He smiled, ‘I’ve been working metal forever. I’ve made gold crowns for kings, bronze battle swords for warriors; I’ve made assassin’s daggers, children’s bracelets, courtesans’ ankle-chains.’ He looked thoughtful, ‘If it’s metal or gemstone, I can work it.’
She wasn’t sure what to say.
‘It’s a gift,’ he said, smiling, his best feature, well, apart from his hands, she thought. ‘It’s the only gift I have,’ he said, and he smiled again.
She paused for a moment, placed her hands together in her lap, and her gaze fixed on him for a second or two, fingers rolling the chain like a rosary; ‘I could have come to your workshop.’
‘I thought it’d be nice to buy you a coffee,’ he said, ‘and I could give you the chain.’
‘And you have,’ she said, reaching for her purse, ‘I need to pay you, for the repairs.’
‘You know I can’t take your money,’ he said, sitting back, pushing his hands into his pockets.
‘Oh,’ was all she said.
‘Buy me dinner,’ he said.
She looked away. ‘I can’t,’ and before he could say anymore, she said, ‘you know why.’
He smiled again, ‘It’s ok. You can order me a takeaway, have it delivered to my apartment. I’ll eat it sitting in the dark, by myself. All lonely and stuff.’
She giggled, ‘Stop it!’ but then she became more serious, ‘please.’
He said, ‘Put the chain in the box before you wear it out,’ and she paused as she realized she’d been twisting the chain round and round her fingers. She took the coloured tissue paper from the box and unfolded it, laid the chain on it, refolded the tissue and placed it carefully back in the box, closed the lid with a quiet snap and put it into her bag.
She said, ‘I have to go.’
‘Ok,’ he said. ‘I’ll walk with you as far as the shop.’
She pushed back her hair, flashed a half-smile at him and then stood up, brushing a mote from her skirt, said, ‘Time to get home, I guess. Sleep.’
‘Work, for me. The day has just begun.’
‘I’ve been up all night.’
‘Partying,’ he said.
They walked slowly, allowing for his uneven gait. The mall was early-quiet, the lights in nearby units were only just switching on when they reached narrow opening of his shop.
He bent to unlock the shutters and pulled them up with a loud clang. Behind the thick glass counter were rows of jewellery, some handmade, some second-hand: brooches, rings, bracelets, earrings, chains and oddments. One shelf contained watches and clocks in various stages of disrepair. Behind the shelves was his workshop. He turned to her. ‘I should make you a pair of earrings,’ he said. ‘Old silver and the palest aquamarine.’
‘I think I’ve got all the jewellery I need,’ she said, her face friendly but her voice trying to sound firm.
‘Break something then,’ he said. ‘Bring it in for me to repair.’
She gave a small laugh, ‘I can’t.’
‘Ok,’ he said.
‘Well, bye then,’ she said.
‘Thanks again,’ she said.
He smiled and watched her as she walked away. He smiled at the thought of her pale eyes, shook his head and then reached to turn on the radio, humming along with the music as he sorted through the trays of rings and chains and jewellery, making himself available for whatever the day might bring, the thought of her, the very thought, warming him.
‘Aphrodite’ he whispered to himself.