By Anne K. Kaler
When my beloved Grandmere died, her will bequeathed me her gold charm bracelet for my inheritance and for my means of support.
Grandmere raised me, you see, after my feckless mother abandoned me when I was six or so. When my birth mother tried to cadge the charm bracelet in exchange for me, my Grandmere swept me to safety behind her back as the many precious charms crushed against my chest.
“She’s mine now and you are no longer my daughter.” Uttering some long ferocious sentence in French, my mother turned and ran off. We never saw her again.
“Eh, ma petite, you belong to me now. Your mother, she is out of our lives. So you may call me Grandmere.”
I never knew my actual birthday or even the year. My mother, if she ever knew those facts, never saw fit to inform me or my grandmother. In fact, she barely remembered that I was alive and Grandmere certainly never worried about trivia like birth certificates.
Over the years with her, Grandmere would amuse me by creating tales about each charm on her precious bracelet. “This one, ma petite, is the bulldog Warren. See his wrinkled face, bulging eyes, and wagging tail.” And indeed I could see the resemblance of a dog in the dangling piece of gold.
“And this tiny fox hound is Albert — look how his ears are so much bigger than his face but his smile warms my heart . . .” and so forth she would go completely around each charm with a separate tale for each. And there were many charms and many tales. And a small golden key midway among the menagerie.
“Where is the unicorn Petros?” I asked one day as I was working my way through her lineup of charms. “I can’t find him anywhere.”
“Oh, that scamp. He’s run away again,” Grandmere answered quickly. “He said that the tip of his horn had gotten bent. He threatened to leave to find someone to have it repaired. Petros will be back with us soon enough,” she assured me.
Another time I remember that Roger the rooster was missing from his perch on her wrist. Without missing a moment of hesitation, she declared his whereabouts. “He is visiting his many sisters, the hens, in their coop outside.” She knew that I wasn’t about to go inside a messy chicken coop to find him. “He will be back.” And so my early life was crowded with the charm animals who took occasional vacations.
My childhood really ended, I suppose, when she died and left me the bracelet, with all of its charms intact and with the addition of a small golden key. I had never seen that charm before. Of course, I proudly wore the gold bracelet at her wake, taking comfort from its gentle tinkling on my wrist. Her women friends grasped my hand many times to express their grief at her passing and some even commented on the crowded bracelet. I found myself playing with the charms as I greeted her mourners.
However, standing near her coffin, I was puzzled by the number of older men who took the time to find a particular charm on my bracelet, often to caress it gently before slipping it back into its place on the bracelet.
One by one, as they gave me avuncular kiss, many of them whispered names I recognized -– Petros, Warren, Darby, Roger, Bryan, Salvatore – the familiar first names of the various and those sometimes-vanishing animals on the linkage of charms. To a person, most of the men advised me to read the “key to the book” if I ever needed help.
Finally a man who had to be the oldest man in the world tottered up to me, clasping my wrist to inspect the bracelet more closely.
“She never took it off then,” he mumbled. “She promised that she would not remove it. So she wore it all those years. All those years with all those animals and the key.” Tears trickled down his weathered face.
“No,” I said, “I never knew her to remove it. She used to makeup stories for me as a child about each of the charms but never about the key or book or the bracelet itself.”
He paused to catch his breath between sobs. “I gave this gold bracelet to her as an engagement gift just before I went off to war, the Great War, you understand. Over in Europe, that’s where I met my wife so, well, you understand, your Grandmere didn’t take it well. Even after my wife died years ago, she refused to see me. Until now, when it is too late.” He left quickly.
I was shaken by what this man’s past with my beloved Grandmere might mean. Still she had given it to me for a reason and it was my duty to find out the secret book.
The lawyer was the one who explained it all to me. Just before the Great War, the old man I had met gathered a group of her admirers together to assure to her financial security over the uncertain years ahead. They felt that they somehow owed my Grandmere something. Down through the years, the group of investors had played the stock market successfully, each one living up to his promise. When one of the group failed to produce his part of the promise, the others stepped up until that person caught up. Now the investments they controlled for her was worth a fortune to me.
The list of names and investments was detailed in the large ledger which my lawyer presented to me. In each man’s name in gold with the particulars of each man’s service to her throughout the years. She used each man’s charm as the “key” to the investments. Those became mine.
Anne K. Kaler, Ph.D. As a founder and senior editor of the Writing Center Press, Anne welcomes queries, problems, short edits, and longer developmental edits sent to her email firstname.lastname@example.org. During her professional teaching career, Anne wrote, delivered, and published many academic articles, published three academic books, published occasional magazine articles, wrote four unpublished novels, too many poems, and is now paying for her sins by trying to extract a clean copy of her writings for those who come after her.