Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Eighth Day of Christmas

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Patrick's Diamond

We found the diamond on a Saturday. We were walking with our heads down against the sleet, and there it was, right in front of us. Laying on the sidewalk next to a pile of snow the plows had pushed up over the curb.

It only took us a second to realize what it was, when Patrick snatched it up before another car could drive by, and throw black slush on it. “A diamond! It’s a diamond.” Mom had a diamond ring once, but this one was much bigger. Being the oldest, I was naturally the authority in found treasures. I told Patrick we should take the diamond to a jewelry store, and sell it.

“You mean for money?” The Possibilities: new coats; warm boots; Candy. A Car.

We both hated walking in Omaha. Patrick, especially. I’d grown out of last year’s boots, and he hadn’t yet grown into them.
When we first came to Omaha, it was September. Mom and Dad had just split up, and she’d found us a place there to live and a job, too. Dad drove all us kids and our clothes there. And he let us take most of the furniture.

At first, I didn’t wanna move there, but when I saw South 14th street, I knew things might be okay. There was something almost holy about the way our new street looked that afternoon. Almost all the houses were made of warm, red brick. It’s not like I’d never seen brick houses before. Lots of our houses at Lincoln Air Base were made of brick. But I had never seen this many houses packed in a row. And there was brick everywhere. The streets, even the sidewalks were paved with bricks.

And then, every single house had a tree in front of it. All lined up straight, one after the other like they were at a dance. The trees were very old. Some of them reached right across the street, and touched the trees on the other side. The leaves were red, orange, and pink. And the sun touched down on us underneath, only after it had fallen through all those leaves. Red was my favorite colour so I decided this was a sign that life wasn’t gonna be so bad there, after all.

But now it was December, and everything around us was hard and grey. Winter had turned the brick houses mean and bloody, and the bumpy brick street and sidewalks were smothered with a grey slime that people in Omaha called ‘snow.’ Downtown, concrete sidewalks followed us everywhere. They bridged bleak stone buildings to ugly dark streets. And they slapped at the bottoms of our feet every time we took a step. We didn’t have a car, and the bus cost too much so we had to walk everywhere. Sometimes, Patrick’s feet would get so cold, he could barely feel them. Then when we’d finally get inside someplace, they’d start to hurt him so horribly, and he’d start to sniff. But he wouldn’t cry ‘cause then Mom would cry, and Patrick couldn’t stand to see that.
But this was a Saturday, and Mom didn’t have to work. We didn’t have to go to school, so we’d headed towards YMCA to play. Standing there with that diamond, we were only two blocks from the jeweler’s. We knew this exactly because we passed it every weekday on the way to the sitter’s.

It took less than a minute to get to the store. It was all lit up on the outside with green and red Christmas lights. The door was wide and covered with a sheet of pink copper, polished shiny, with 4 small framed windows near the top. Beside the door, in a large bay window, there were diamonds and gold watches perched with shiny rings and necklaces of green and red sparkle.

I pushed open the heavy door for Patrick, and he went in first, holding our diamond in his mittened hands, cupping it the way he would a butterfly or a lightening-bug. The floor inside was carpeted in a deep moss green and the room was filled with china dishes. There were goblets and vases of cut glass with little rainbows shining in them. It seemed like there was light everywhere and we could hear the Nutcracker Suite. We started to feel toasty warm right away.

There were two round men bent over a glass cabinet whispering. Behind them was a grandfather clock like the one on Captain Kangaroo, but more elegant.

“What do we do?” Patrick whispered to me.

“I don’t know.” And I didn’t, now that we were here. I’d been with my mother the week before, when she’d sold her wedding rings but that place had been filled with guns, old push-mowers, and picture frames hanging from the ceilings tangled with gas lanterns and fishing poles. Nobody there whispered, except Mom.

The man who’d bought her rings that day wore a green plaid shirt, and he had dirty fingernails. And when he smiled, I saw dark stuff on his teeth. He gave Mom two 10-dollar bills for her rings. First she said no, but then, all of a sudden she made a smile at him, and even thanked him.

But these men here, looking in the glass cabinet, wore suits of soft grey flannel. And their hands were pink and plump. They smelled like tobacco and wool. And peppermint.

One of them turned and saw us. He smiled and his cheeks made little round apples. “May I help you?”

“We have a diamond to sell.” Patrick carefully opened his mittens to show the man.

“Well now, where did you get that?” He came closer, and bent over to see what Patrick had. He had to bend a ways too, ‘cause Patrick only came to the middle of his thigh.

“We found it on the sidewalk by the Safeway. Do you wanna buy it?” Patrick stretched out his arms to raise the diamond higher for the man to get a better look.

“Well, let’s see.” The man reached inside his suit and took out what looked to be a very short telescope made of silver. He lifted the diamond out of Patrick's cupped mitten, and peered at it using the baby telescope. He pressed one end up against his right eye and held the diamond almost right against the other end. “Hmmm.” He furrowed his brow in concentration. He put the little telescope on the glass table and picked up a short, skinny metal pick. He scratched at the diamond and sort of nodded his head. “Hmmm.”

“Have you tried cutting glass with it?” He looked at each of us. We shook our heads in unison but said nothing. Is that what rich people did?

“Well, diamonds are so strong that they can cut glass. I not sure if this is a diamond, but one sure test would be to try cutting glass with it.”

“You mean like a window?” I asked. Wasn’t that against the law?

“Yes, like a window. Try it on this cabinet, here.” He swept his hand to the glass counter beside him. He handed the diamond to me. I passed it to Patrick. He stepped up to the glass, and scraped the diamond across it. Nothing. He tried it again. Not a mark. He turned to look at me and then down at his diamond. “Maybe you just need to put sharper corners in it.”

“I’m afraid that wouldn’t work, son.” The man in the suit answered.

“You might still need it, though, sir.” I offered. “It’s really pretty, and it would make a nice necklace for your window.” Patrick looked up hopefully.

“I’m afraid not. It would be too soft and might break.” He went on to explain that since the diamond couldn’t cut glass, it must actually be a big rock of salt, giving us a fancy name. And he told it was used to melt snow. We tasted it then, and discovered that it did taste like salt.

Patrick wiped off the shiny rock with his mitten, and put it in his coat pocket. I looked down and saw that the snow melting from our shoes was making a wet spot on the fuzzy carpet. I put my arm around Patrick and started pulling him to the door. The heat in the room was starting to make my eyes sting, and Patrick was starting to sniff.

“Thank you, sir. We’re real sorry we bothered you.” I said, inching closer towards the door.

“That’s okay, Miss. One could easily mistake such a pretty kernel for a diamond. It does sparkle. Would you kids like to stay for a while, and look around? We have some hot chocolate and peppermint sticks.”

“No, thank you.” I replied. “We gotta get goin’.” I took my arm away from Patrick long enough to pull open the big copper door. Cold air curled around us, and swept away the smells of the jeweler’s shop. We could hear it swishing shut behind us as we pushed back out into stinging sleet shooting down from Omaha’s flat winter sky.