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December 04, 2023

The Locket

By Pete Armetta

"Well, I can't help if it takes time. It does, right?" There were no customers in the store and Eunice had been vacuuming and was now back behind the counter, windexing the display case and fussing around with the jewelry inside. She'd worked here eighteen years and always had a sense of pride on it being the most exclusive jewelry store in the city.

She knew she was part of the reason why.

Carmen nodded her head in agreement. "Sure, it takes time, but by now you could have at least been on one date, gosh. You don't want to wait too long, otherwise you'll just dry up down there, trust me."

Eunice laughed at this and then sat down on the stool and with her elbow on the display case and her chin resting in her hand. "Oh Carmen, you have such a way. But really, it's scary. I mean I never really dated. Tom and I never dated -- I've known him since the ninth grade! I mean, how would I even go about it?"

"Well, I'll tell ya Eunice, it's not that big of a deal. When you see one you like, just let him know, that's all."

"Oh no, I don't know. Let him know? How would I do such a thing? That's not really my style. I'm gonna have to think about that one."

The chimes on the front door dinged and a man walked in, looking like a bull in a china shop. Well, he looked this way as he was the burly sort, the kind of guy you know has done physical work of some sort all his life, a real working man. He was visibly uncomfortable as his eyes began to dart around the store. Eunice and Carmen kept up with the small talk, with Carmen asking the man, "May we help you?"

"I'm just looking for now," he replied shyly. "Well, I'm looking for a locket, maybe a heart?" He tentatively walked over to the counter where Carmen was standing and looked into the display case.

Eunice resumed her windexing, and Carmen eyeballed and got her attention, moving her head and eyes to indicate the man. Eunice looked at her questioningly and then her eyes fell on him. Oh gosh, she thought, he's nothing like Tom, he's so earthy. I mean he's not the kind of man I would even know how to talk to.

"Eunice here can help you. She has a selection of lockets there she can show you."

The burly man turned and smiled at Eunice and walked over to her display case. "You have lockets?" he asked.

Without acknowledging the man, Eunice reached into the display case and pulled out a selection of lockets on a black velvet tray and laid them on the counter. Her hands shook some, although she didn't know why. She was silent with eyes downcast and the man laughed and asked again, "Ma'am? You have lockets?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Yes I do. Here they are. We have a nice selection and at various price ranges," she said. "Whatever it is you can afford."

"Money's not an issue," the man said quietly and somewhat defensively. "I'm looking to replace a locket that's been lost. One from long ago."

"For your wife?" Eunice asked. Eunice could see Carmen out of the corner of her eye, visibly excited, waving her arms and encouraging Eunice.

"Yes, for my wife."

The man looked down at the lockets while Eunice waited. He picked up and handled some with his calloused hands. He was close enough that Eunice could smell his scent, cologne -- mixed with sweat possibly? She couldn't tell. Eunice could feel him with all her might and it unnerved her.

"Okay, well, these are nice, but I'm not sure if it's exactly what I'm looking for. Can I think about it some and come back?"

"Of course you can." Eunice replied. "And if you have a picture or idea just let us know. I'd be glad to help you," she fumbled, "or Carmen here would." The man looked into Eunice's eyes and she could see he was humored.

"Yes ma'am, I'll do that."

The burly man opened the door to the street. Eunice was flushed and Carmen laughed. "See Eunice, you could have let him know if you wanted to!"

"Let him know what? Oh Carmen, he's married, for god's sake, come on now! Besides, I've never been with a man like that. Tom was, you know, 'soft' compared to him." It was obvious she was affected.

"You never know until you try. I'm not saying you should marry him, ya know. Maybe just a little romp-romp." Carmen said with a wink. "Come on, let's close up for lunch."

Eunice's mind wandered.

They walked out of the store and proceeded down Main Street. Workers were out on their lunch break, apparently intent on enjoying the warm sun while it lasted, before the long cold of winter set in. The color had set in on the trees and the day was still warm enough for shirt sleeves.

"Where to?" Eunice asked, as they strolled down the street. Her thoughts went back to scent of the burly man.

"Let's try that new little luncheonette on Elm."

"Sounds good."

When they got there the line was out the door. "Do we have time?" Eunice asked, looking at her watch. "I mean, should we try somewhere else?"

"No, we have time," Carmen said. She had already begun chatting up people in the line with her usual charm and good humor. There was laughing, which was how it was whenever Carmen was around. How she did it Eunice could never figure out.

She's so comfortable with herself.

They got their table and ordered two sweet teas. Eunice perused the menu, and looked around at the activity in the place. Parents with kids, bankers and insurance and realtor types on their lunch breaks, senior citizens cashing in on today's two-for-one specials. Her gaze moved to the counter. It's nice to still see the old fashioned diner-type counter, she thought. It reminded her of when she was growing up and her parents used to bring her and her sister to the old drug store soda fountain that used to be here downtown and they'd gorge on hot fudge sundaes. This place was hopping today, with the waitresses running around and yelling in their orders to the back. Eunice looked over to the window that went back to the kitchen and she saw him.

The burly man.

He saw her, too. He was putting up sandwiches and yelling out numbers when Eunice realized the waitress was standing there ready for their order.

"Pastrami on rye is fine for me, can you put extra mustard on that?" Carmen asked. She looked at Eunice who was hardly paying attention."Eunice, hello! Your order. Do you know what you want? We don't have THAT much time!"

Now it was the burly man standing over their table, smiling down at Eunice. "Ma'am, I do think I saw something I like. I can come back over on my break after lunch, is that okay?"

Eunice said nothing. She just couldn't. She pretended to study the menu. Carmen chimed in. "Sir, no disrespect, but you said it's for your wife. Do you think you want to bring her along? Us women have such particular tastes." She laughed. "Although we do love jewelry, don't get me wrong."

The burly man's expression changed to sadness or concern. "No, I'll come alone if that's okay."

Eunice finally looked up at his face, searching, trying to pinpoint why his sudden change in demeanor.

"Okay, well, either way," Carmen said. "We just want her to like it, that's all."

The burly man choked up. "Well I'd bring her along but I can't. See she's been gone for ten years now, that's how it is. I've plum torn my house apart looking and looking but I can't find her locket. She always loved that locket. I need to buy her a new one."

Article © Pete Armetta. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-02-03
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