“Amazonian” by Nicole Amsler, 36, of Springboro, is the winning story in the adult category of the 13th annual Dayton Daily News Short Story and Poetry Contest.
“Amazonian” by Nicole Amsler
“How are you doing, Mr. Duncan?” The neighbor lady in the Nelson’s old house (Sophie? Susan?) gave me a meaningful look as she squeezed my arm.
“I’m just fine,” I said, a bit too gruff as I straightened the crocheted tea towels.
“Parting with this stuff must be so hard,” Sophie/Susan simpered, as she fingered the London paperweight Georgiana and I bought on our honeymoon. “Would you take $3 for this?”
My lawn held several tables of “antiques and collectibles,” as the ad stated. A cherry armoire with a missing knob. A stack of afghans Georgiana knitted. Her collection of paperweights, each from a vacation or family trip. A series of delicate tea cups, elegantly painted with blooming flowers. Her unworn underthings.
“Bric-a-brac,” our ever-practical daughter, Melanie had declared. “You’ll feel so much freer when Momma’s stuff is out of here. Your house has always been so cluttered.”
“We like it that way,” I groused. “It’s what you get when you live together for forty years.”
Melanie’s modern house was decorated with iron, glass and bolts. Everything was hard and cold. There was nothing to dust—or treasure.
“Well, you could make enough money in a garage sale to travel to Australia if you got rid of this stuff. You’ve always wanted to go to Australia.”
“No,” I sighed, fingering a macramé plant hanger Melanie had tossed at me. “That was Georgie.”
In the end, I had been coerced into holding a garage sale — God, how Georgie loved garage sales — and Melanie was in full negotiating mode, hawking her mother’s treasures to the highest bidder.
“Dad, does this humidifier work?”
“Yep. Brand new,” I called over the heads of several ladies from church. They had brought casseroles over after Georgie died. In unison, they lifted their fluffy heads, smiled and batted their sparse eyelashes at me.
Rosalie, one of Georgie’s bridge buddies, held up a pale pink nightgown. Georgie hadn’t worn it since before Melanie was born. The flimsy fabric barely covered a quarter of Rosalie’s robust bosom. I suppressed a snicker. Just then, Rosalie caught my eye and waggled an eyebrow at me. I did snort then but pretended it was a sneeze from the dusty trophy I was holding.
“Excuse me, sir, but I don’t see a price on this.”
In his palm, he held out an oversized ebony and ivory brooch. Edged in silver filigree, the center was a relief carving of a regal Amazon woman. She held a spear and wore a loin cloth. Her right breast was concave while the other was firm and lush. The piece was a size of a hotel bar of soap.
Turning to him, I snatched the item out of his hand.
“This is NOT for sale!” I snapped.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” he stammered, backing away from me. He was a foot taller than my perpetually shrinking height and was dressed all in black with matching fingernails. A shank of greasy hair covered one eye while an oversized washer seemed crammed in his earlobe.
I blinked fast, holding the pin too tightly in my hand. My knuckles groaned.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered, “I didn’t know this was here. You see, my daughter has been helping and this is a very important ... to me ...”
Twenty years earlier, I hovered over her hospital bed.
“What is this?” Georgiana had asked, holding the brooch in between her fingers like a dirty rag. “Oh! She’s naked!”
Suddenly, I felt very stupid, the hospital lights illuminating my mistake.
“Wait, wait! You see ... she is an Amazon woman. You know ... those women who cut off their breasts so they could hunt better.”
Reflexively, Georgiana clutched the hollow in her own chest. She flinched as she touched the new wound — or from the thoughtlessness of my gift. Covered in bandages, you couldn’t see the damage but it was my hope that the sacrifice of a breast would save my wife.
“Amazon women are notoriously strong ...” I tried again. “Nothing could hurt them ...”
I had been wrong. It wasn’t a significant gift. It wasn’t a talisman to protect my wife. It was a tacky reminder of what she lost.
“Oh, Richard ...” And Georgiana sobbed.
I reached over and patted her IV-pierced hands, uselessly. Our fingers intertwined in the familiar pattern and her thumb stroked mine — a comfortable tradition we had practiced from our very first date. As her sobs slowed, I eased the pin away.
“No, don’t.” Her reddened eyes met mine. Determination sparkled underneath the steely blue. “Pin it on my hospital gown.”
“Are you sure?”
Her shoulders straightened under the cotton gown.
“Yes, Richard,” she said, “I’ll be your Amazonian queen.”
Still holding the pin, I watched the lanky boy back down the driveway. Tattoos ran down his arms while his pants slouched down his legs.
“No, wait!” I heard myself say. “Please?”
He looked even more startled. Melanie and widow-watchers glanced up from across the yard as I shuffled down the drive towards him.
Warily, he had stopped, glancing at a beat-up Nissan at the end of the drive. A shadowy child-like figure was in the front seat. His fingers fluttered out towards the car, bidding “Hello” or “Wait.”
“Who did you want it for?” I asked, intrigued as to the lure of a classical piece for a ruffian like this boy.
“It was for my wife,” he mumbled back at me, eyes shifting to the car. He didn’t look old enough to be married but my judgment was often off. I was sure my cardiologist was no more than 16.
“Do you know what this is?” I asked, already knowing his answer.
“No. This!” I pointed, frustrated at the relief etching. “The carving. Do you know what it is?”
“No. It’s just some chick,” he answered, attitude flooding his words. His black eyes — was that eyeliner? — met mine, defiantly.
Still perplexed, I asked, “Why did you want this for your wife then?”
He had already started walking away, tiring of our conversation.
“I don’t know. Something about the girl reminded me of Phoebe ... my wife.” His voice lowered, almost too quiet for my failing ears, “She looked so strong.”
As if on cue, Phoebe emerged from the car. She opened the creaking door and leaned heavily on it. She was frail little thing, dressed in all black including a black and white checkered scarf tied tightly on her bald head. Purple circles punctuated her grey eyes.
“Do you love her?” I asked, urgently as he quickly walked to her side, steadying her.
“Yeah.” An intense protectiveness shone through as he pulled the tiny girl to him, sheltering her.
“And are you a strong woman?” I shifted my gaze to her, aware of the strange conversation she suddenly found herself in. A diamond sparkled in her nose, lost in the freckles.
“Yes.” Her chin jutted out like a little girl’s but her eyes were fierce. It was a look that brought tears to my own eyes.
“Then this is for you both.” I stepped forward and pressed the brooch into her hand. “Wear it well.”
The boy snaked his hand down her tattooed arm and knotted his fingers with hers. Her thumb randomly stroked his hand while she studied the brooch in the other.
“So who’s the chick?” he asked with sincere interest.
“It’s an Amazon woman,” she answered, quietly. Our eyes met, knowingly. I prayed she would explain the sentiment better than I had so many years ago.
“Thank you,” they said in unison. I nodded and inched back up the drive.
As the car door slammed behind me, Melanie met me at the shoe cart.
“What was that about?” she asked accusingly, glancing at my empty hands and noticing the lack of money.
I turned back to the car, as it rumbled to life. In shadows, I saw his arm slung over the seat, pulling her towards him. And I saw her clutching the brooch to her heart. With a growl, they sped away.
“They just reminded me of me and your mom.”
Melanie snorted and I shot her a weary look.
“When we were young and invincible ...” I said. “When we fought battles and won.”