“It’s time, ladies,” Esther announced, tapping a spoon against her coffee cup. “Time for the exchange.”
The women seated at the three canasta tables grew quiet, smiling with anticipation as Dolores walked over and stood beside her cousin. Around her long neck gleamed the white diamond necklace, as stark and bright as an icicle. It was crusted with 239 diamonds and looked like something a princess would wear.
“Leah,” Esther nodded at the redhead at the corner table, “if you will join us, please.”
Shyly the slight woman got up, dusting some bread crumbs from her left sleeve, and joined the two cousins in the middle of the party room. She appeared quite nervous, as if called upon to deliver a speech she was unprepared to give.
“You look as if you’re going to cry,” Esther remarked to her frail cousin.
Dolores smiled palely. “I already am in my heart.”
Esther then removed the necklace and fastened it around Leah’s neck. “How does that feel?” she asked, smiling broadly.
“Like I’ve won something.”
“You have,” Ruth, always boisterous, bellowed from the front table. “You look like one of those people on that survivor show who are awarded an immunity necklace after they’ve won some crazy challenge.”
“Immunity from what?” Dolores asked, puzzled by the analogy.
“From ordinariness, woman.”
“Certainly anyone would have to feel special with a necklace like this around her neck,” Esther said, grazing one of the diamonds with her left thumb.
“Even the plainest of Janes.”
The $30,000 necklace was much too expensive for any of the dozen friends to afford so together they chipped in $2,500 to make the purchase. Esther was the one who first came up with the idea of buying something someone could be seen wearing on a red carpet. It was an extravagance, to be sure, but one she was able to convince the others to indulge in so they could experience what it felt like to be very glamorous, if only for a short while. The arrangement was that each woman got to keep the necklace for a month and could wear it wherever she pleased.
They chose their months out of a hat, and Leah picked June, which pleased her because she was a teacher and school would be out so she would have plenty of spare time then. Four women already had their month with the necklace, and all had interesting stories about the different places they wore the expensive piece of jewelry. By far, the most unusual place was a volcano in Hawaii, which Allison climbed with the necklace around her neck along with a Christopher medal. Jen, too, wore it in the clouds, seated in a glider piloted by her latest man friend who was old enough to be her uncle.
“So do you have any special place where you want to wear the necklace?” Hazel asked Leah shortly after Esther put it around her neck.
“You don’t?” she said, surprised. “But you’ve had four months to think about it.”
She nodded, in silence, unable to take her eyes off the diamonds.
“I won’t be getting to wear it for another two months but I know the first place I’m going to wear it.”
“Where’s that?” Dolores asked, overhearing her remark.
“To bed with my husband,” she said, smiling wickedly. “And that’s all I’ll be wearing too.”
Later that evening, after she got home from the exchange party, Leah sat at her dresser and stared for several minutes at what Esther always referred to as the “luscious” necklace now gleaming around her neck. Idly tracing a fingertip across a couple of the diamonds, she thought of it more as “mud luscious” because it was so heavy and thick. Like a coil of rope, she imagined. She knew she couldn’t afford such an exquisite item but agreed to chip in on its purchase because she was feeling so low at the time Esther approached her with the proposition. Only a few weeks earlier Vince, her husband of eight and a half years, informed her he had fallen in love with someone else and wanted a divorce. She was devastated, not having any idea he was seeing another woman, thought for a moment he was pulling her leg. But he was serious; assuring her he had come to his decision after considerable thought.
She was mistaken, she realized now, the necklace didn’t make her feel any better about herself. Not for a moment. Indeed, even after Vince left, she still felt as if his foot was planted squarely on her neck. She really couldn’t think of any place where she could wear the necklace, where she wanted to see anyone she wanted to impress with diamonds around her crushed neck.
Squeezing her eyes shut, squeezing them until they throbbed, she removed the necklace and placed it in the bottom drawer where she kept her handkerchiefs and scarves, suspecting it would remain there until the next exchange party.
T.R. Healy was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and his stories have appeared in such publications as The Boston Literary Review, Callused Hands, Superstition Review, and Tulip.