Havoc In Motion
By Jay White
Pearls of the Islands
A girl in a faded navy blue skirt sat on a bench in the Dallas bus depot feeling alone as an abandoned valise. She sat with her knees pressed together and held her ankles together as well so that the toes of her church shoes pointed straight ahead.
“Your Uncle Carl and Aunt Minnie will be there to get you, Imagene, but if they ain’t right there, you wait. Don’t go out of the building. Find you a place to set down close to the ticket counter.” Aunt Goldie picked up Imagene’s hand and fixed a critical eye on it and tsk’t her tongue at it. “These fingers are a sight, Imagene--you have just about gnawed them all the way down to the knuckles.” She sighed exasperation itself but after a moment of reflection said, as if in deference to some last whisper of secular morality, “Well, let’s see if I can at least find you a pair of gloves. Women don’t wear gloves like they used to. But I reckon they’s a bunch of things women don’t do no more like they used to, ain’t they?”
“Nome,” Imagene murmured, paying attention to her image in the mirror at the end of the hall.
Aunt Goldie went to her special drawer in the highboy in her room and brought back a pair of grey kid gloves and Imagene put them on and stood before her aunt as if she imagined herself on display in the window of a department store.
“You know what you need?” Aunt Goldie asked categorically: “You need you…a sweet little pair of pearl earrings! I wish I had some to give you.” She felt of the place on her lobe where the pierce had grown up. “I had a pair of pearls when I was your age…oh, not real ones from the islands, of course. But they were just precious. Everybody said so.”
“Yesum,” Imagene murmured squinting down the hall toward the image of her nose in the hall mirror.
“Put on your glasses, Imagene. I swear you’re going to develop a permanent wrinkle if you don’t quit doing that.”
“I just hate my nose.”
“Jesus heard that.”
The girl dropped her shoulders and sighed, “I know…”
“Stand up straight, Imagene, and turn around. Let’s see if your slip slipped any.”
The girl turned and walked away stiff-legged and flopped onto the divan and hugged Aunt Goldie’s yellow satin pillow to her chest—it was a “commemorative” USN pillow with a sufficiently ferocious dragon stamped on it above the words: Tokyo Japan Pearl of the Orient in green glitter mostly fallen away down the cracks between the cushions of the divan and fringed all around in flimsy red thread. Aunt Goldie observed the girl minutely for a moment and said in tones of authentic sadness, “I see trouble, Ima.”
“Was my mama pretty?”
“Imagene Bailey, I have told you five hundred times you had a pretty mother.”
“Did she have a pretty nose?”
“My saintly sister…your mama, had a very pretty nose and blond hair and blue eyes just like you and me. It is in the family. We’re Nordic. Where’s your suitcase?”
“In the hall by the mirror…. Aunt Goldie? What would you do if I was to run off?”
“Shoot myself. You’re not but fourteen years old, Imagene. You ain’t old enough to run off yet. Anyway it’s too late for that—here’s Tim to take you to the depot.”
Uncle Tim opened the door and stood in it. “Where is it?”
“It’s in the hall and Imagene is ready, ain’t you, hon?”
“Well then, let’s git on down there!” Uncle Tim said with intent. “I got to git back to work sometime this year.” He went into the hall and returned with the bag, then stood there obviously waiting.
Aunt Goldie gave Imagene a quick hug and took her back the length of her arms and sang out, “When you come back next summer, I’m going to have you a pair of them pearl earrings for sure, honeybunch--you wait and see if I don’t.”
When they had gone, Goldie sat for a moment petting the satin pillow Imagene had hugged. The light in her eyes arrived from a private corner of her existence she sometimes visited. After awhile she hefted herself off the divan and went to stare at her nose in the bathroom mirror, the sight of which life-long enemy started her swollen heart swinging in its cage ponderously as some dark bell sans clapper tolling a dirge.