All The Wealth In The World

It’s the colours I remember most: the cabbage pink of the roses on the bright yellow curtains; the musty dust-speckled light in the corners; the very light itself, a sort of faded milky haze through a narrow mid-afternoon kitchen window that illuminated and concealed in equal measures.  A soft haze that existed both inside and outside the eye and prompted an intense yet relaxed awareness.

My mother was sitting on the chair in front of the sewing machine, a chair she regularly sat on as she made dresses from patterns and repaired other items of clothing for me and my siblings, shirts, blouses, jackets.  I remember the fabric strewn across her lap like a big stain, it poured onto the tiled kitchen floor, a flood of black and white cotton gingham.  Her fingers worked as she talked attaching a line of green braid to the fabric with small knobble-headed pins.

“You’ll always be rich with that,” she said glancing across the room at me.  “If you keep that you’ll always be able to say you have a bit of money.”

I glanced at the piece of paper in my hand, a corner of a pound note that looked like a small shard of glass in my hand, an icicle or a sword of a border and just enough of the note to show a tinge of decorative green.

“Hold onto to it,” she said.  “Mark my words, it’s something to keep.”

“It’s only a corner, and not worth anything,” I said with the wisdom of a ten-year-old holding it towards the yellow curtains with the cabbage roses.

She paused holding a pin in the air.  “Its worth is that you’ll always have a bit of money,” she said.

She turned the wheel and the sewing machine went clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-clap-clap and she bent over it guiding the fabric under the needle, the green braid forevermore set on the black and white gingham around the neckline and sleeves of the new dress.  I placed the shard of money in a little wooden box made of icecream sticks in my bedroom.  I’ll always have a bit of money, I thought, always, and this thought delighted me.

Later I would open the wooden box from time to time and smile at the shard of money, turning it over, looking at it, and replacing it back in the box.  But there came a time when mostly I opened the box to put something else in, something else that was important to that day or that time, something else, treasure, to hide from my siblings or save for some other time, a bright button red like the evening sun, my fathers old watch that didn’t work anymore, a pretty little bow from one of my shoes.  Eventually, the shard of money lay at the bottom of the box, forgotten.

Returning for my mother’s funeral many years later, I emptied the wooden box onto the table.  The shard of money was stuck in a corner as if it was reluctant to be found.  I scraped it out and held it to the old light.  What had I kept this for? A bit of money?  It occurred to me that that is what I had always had, a bit of money.  What I wanted was a lot of money.  Money that was real, money that I could spend to buy real things, money that I could spend without having to deny myself or loved ones.  It seemed to me that what I needed was a brand new money charm, something to attract a large fortune.  I didn’t know what that was but I was all grown up and ready.  I lifted the lid of the bin and dropped the shard of money inside.

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