David had the ornate medallion in his hands, finally. At last, Aunt Clara, the woman he had pretended to care so much about, had died. She kept it around her neck on a gold chain while she was alive, but willed it to him and now he wore it. He ran one hand through his dirty blond hair and opened the ancient roll-top desk with the other.
The appraiser would be there any minute to ensure him of its value. The medallion’s original box, the old tin from the ship’s captain, would be in the desk’s hidden compartment. He reached inside, opened a drawer and removed its fake bottom.
David had thought killing Aunt Clara for a long time. His plan was to make sure she left the jewelry to him in her will, then get rid of her. He contemplated many ways to do it, giving her too much medication, pushing her down the stairs or suffocating her with her pillow. He hadn’t even decided on a plan, but, as luck would have it, he didn’t have to, because a few weeks ago, Aunt Clara did him the great service of dying on her own, peacefully in her sleep.
David had wanted Aunt Clara’s medallion ever since he was a child. She had told him on several occasions how she had come to own the piece – solid gold and encrusted with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. But it was a year ago that he devised his plan to obtain it for himself. He would become her favorite relative, visiting her every week and listening to her as she told long, detailed stories of her past. Just as he had hoped, he had won her heart and her medallion, and now, he could sell it and be rich.
It had only been a few weeks since he had sat across from her in her living room, he on a worn plaid sofa, and she on her rocking chair that squeaked every time it leaned back. This time she told him again the story of how she got the remarkable piece of jewelry. She rested her hands on the white cotton apron. Her gray hair swayed, brushing her shoulders at she rocked.
“My father, Stephen, was a very poor man, a fisherman who barely made enough money to feed his family.” She said, stopping for a moment and looking at the floor, but then her eyes brightened and turned back toward David, continued. “One day, early in the morning, on his way to the docks, Stephen saw a sign hanging on a wooden post which read of an expedition at sea and a treasure hunter who was looking for young men to work as ship hands. Money would be paid for their services.”
“How much money?” David always asked this question when she got to this part of the tale. He never tired of the answer.
“Well, not very much was offered at first,” She smiled at David, “But we ended up with a fortune!”
David leaned in closer to his Aunt. He had no use for tales of ships and expeditions, but money and treasure intrigued him.
“When Stephen got to the dock, she said, “He saw many men waiting in line, hoping to gain a position on the ship. The excursion would be one no man could turn down. Not only would it be an adventure, but also money for their families. At the front of the line was the tall gray haired man that would choose the crew. He wore a black overcoat and jewelry – diamond and ruby rings on his fingers and a large earring in his ear.”
David watched the medallion sway back and forth on Aunt Clara’s chest as she told the story in lively animation. “The caption walked slowly through the line of men, stopping in front of each one and looking them over. Most were passed over, but a lucky few where offered a job. Stephen held his breath when the man reached him. ‘Let me see your hands,’ the man said. Stephen put his lunch pail on the dock, and obeyed, holding out his hands – rough, worn and revealing.
“’You have strong, hard-working hands,’ the man said, ‘You will come with me.’
“My father soon learned that the ship’s captain was a very wealthy man who collected artifacts from ancient cultures. His vessel would take them to a small island in the northern Pacific to meet another collector owning relics such as pottery and jewelry from the early Mayan civilization. The captain hoped to acquire the pieces and bring them back to the United States.
“My mother cried when my father left. But he would only be gone for a month. He told her so, when he left. It was a windy morning when she and I, only six-years-old at the time, waved goodbye to him beside the biggest boat I had ever seen. My coat flapped wildly as it was pulled by the wind. My father’s wavy hair floated behind him as we hugged. Sadness hung over my mother, but I felt the excitement in the pink sky and the salty scent of the sea.”
At this point in the story, David grew restless and bored. He was annoyed with the endless details of Aunt Clara’s tale, but he hid his impatience. “Go on,” he said.
Her voice became softer, “Three weeks later, though, the gray haired man who had taken my father to sea came to our door. I stood beside my mother as he told of a violent storm and though the crew had managed to save the flailing ship, several men, including my father did not survive.
“He said that my father was a good man and he was sorry for our loss. Then, he reached in his pocket and pulled out and old, worn tin. He opened it to reveal the beautiful medallion. He explained to my mother that he had purchased it during an earlier trip to South America, and now wanted her to have it. I saw its gems sparkling in her hand. He then took out his earring and gave it to her, along with a box filled with other pieces of beautiful jewelry. He said he knew the gifts were no consolation, but they were of great value, and if sold, would keep my mother and me in financial comfort.
“My mother thanked him through her tears, and after he left, she took the gold piece and hung it around her neck. She decided to keep it always, as a reminder of my father. She did sell the other jewelry though, which provided us with our basic needs – food, shelter, oh, and the dress.”
Aunt Clara sat up straight in her chair and he eyes widened as she spoke. “My mother had always wanted a brand new dress and now she was able to buy one. It long dark blue gown of thick, heavy brocade.” Aunt Clara stopped talking for a moment and smiled. “She loved that dress and although she had few occasions to wear it, she took it out of her closet often, just to look at it.”
David groaned. He leaned heavily on the back of the sofa. Listening to Aunt Clara babble on about a dress was excruciating. “Lovely,” he said flatly.
“Yes,” Aunt Clara continued, “Sometimes we would play dress-up together. She would put on the dress. I would wear one of her dresses too and she would turn the radio on, and we would dance wildly around the kitchen to the sounds of one big band or another. Those were some of my fondest memories. Come, David, I’ll show you.”
David sighed heavily as he followed Aunt Clara into the bedroom. She had shown him the dress already at least a dozen times, every time she told him the story, but he feigned interest and allowed her to show it to him again. She pulled the dress from the back of her closet clutched its bodice and spun around.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” she asked holding it up for him to see. “Sometimes,” she winked at David as though she were sharing a secret, “I put the dress on, turn up the radio and dance around in it, just like my mother used to.”
David faked a deep hearty laugh. “And I’m sure you look stunning in it.” He said before turning away from her and rolling his eyes. David looked at his watch and announced, “Well, it is getting late. I’d better be getting home.”
Aunt Clara hugged him tightly and he promised to return the following Wednesday. But, that was the last time he had seen her alive. She died two days later.
When David heard she had passed away, he was elated. He waited impatiently for the reading of the will and was overjoyed when the attorney announced that Aunt Clara had left him her entire estate. She did so, according to will, because she knew that David would cherish the things that were important to her and take good care of them.
David went through the house the following day. He found the medallion, which Aunt Clara had been wearing when she died, lying on the top of her dresser. He gently lifted its chain over his head and let it fall to his chest. He searched the house for other items of value, but found nothing, except worthless clothes, chipped china and old furniture. David paid Aunt Clara’s close friend and neighbor to box everything up and get rid of it. He had almost forgotten about the old tin that had originally held the medallion and would greatly increase its value. Aunt Clara had shown him the hidden compartment in the desk where she stored it for safe keeping. Luckily, the furniture had not been removed from the house yet, so he could still retrieve it.
He reached inside the desk and pulled out the aged container. He caressed it with his fingers, before carefully opening it. To his surprise he found a letter inside written to him from Aunt Clara.
Dearest David, it read. If you are reading this letter, then most likely, I have passed on. I really want you to have my father’s medallion, but am worried that it may get stolen or broken before you have the opportunity to receive it. That is why I don’t wear the original around my neck. I had a copy made so that I could enjoy it, but hid the real one in a very safe place. I sewed it in the hem of my mother’s blue gown, the one I told you about. You know where I keep it, in the back of my closet. Enjoy it, David. I know how much it meant to you.
David’s eyes darted across the room to the closet. It stood open and empty. Leaning against the desk to steady himself. He dialed Aunt Clara’s neighbor’s number on his cell phone.
He shouted into the phone. “Where are the clothes? Where are Aunt Clara’s clothes! I need them right away! I need to get them back!”
“David, calm down,” the neighbor answered. “What’s wrong? Why do you need them?”
“I just do!” he exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, David, but I got rid of them like you asked me to. They were in pretty bad shape. I had to throw most of them away, except for a blue vintage gown. It was preserved quite well.”
David sighed with relief, “Thank goodness,” he said, “I had almost forgotten about the dress, but just remembered how important it was to my Aunt Clara. I’d like to have it for sentimental reasons.”
“David, are you serious? You want the dress back?”
“Yes, is that a problem?” he answered.
The neighbor hesitated for a moment. “Well, yes, I mean, don’t you remember? I asked you if it was okay. You told me you didn’t care. You told me to do whatever I wanted. Don’t you remember, David?”
“What? What? Remember what?!” David shouted.
“That was your Aunt’s favorite dress,” the neighbor answered, “I’m surprised you don’t remember. We buried her in that dress.”
He hadn’t remembered. He hadn’t paid attention at the funeral. David’s legs grew weak. Unable to steady himself, he fell to his knees on the floor, and the phone fell from his hand. He tried to breathe, but his lungs tightened and his chest ached.
Just then, he heard a knock at the door. The appraiser had arrived.