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The Pendant: Short Story

The Pendant: Short Story

The Pendant by C. John Archer

Background

The Pendant is a short story I wrote several years ago. It was originally conceived as a short piece of flash fiction as part of a writing exercise. Upon starting out on my writing journey, I later adapted it into the story below. It’s rough around the edges and contains more than a handful of writing no-no’s, but I keep it preserved here as it was originally written because I think it’s valuable to map our progression.

The Pendant

Cassie gazed out of the window, the trickle of a tear running down her cheek. She stood silently, only staring, while outside the rain pelted down against the morbid grey concrete from the dark, looming clouds overhead. Although her gaze seemed focused and unwavering, it was not the stare of someone deep in thought but instead someone outside of themselves. No feelings troubled her mind as the minutes of time passed by unnoticed, vanishing into nothingness like so many things before them.

Instead, Cassie just remained at the window, surrounded by her belongings cast neglectfully around her apartment like they were little more than meaningless trinkets that deserved no special attention or place.

As if her brain had forgotten to remind her to breathe, Cassie inhaled sharply, arising from her waking slumber and snapping back into conscious thought. She looked down at the lukewarm cup of coffee before her and took hold of the handle. Taking a sip her face contorted in revulsion at the bitter taste of the near-cold coffee but nevertheless, she continued to force the contents down her throat before grabbing her handbag out of the pile of discarded possessions in front of her and headed out of the door.

Stepping outside Cassie felt the brisk chill of the wind, as the cold, harsh rain fell upon her head. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself in a futile attempt to stave off the spiteful cold air. Cassie made her way through the town, heading for the park. She would visit the park every day, her one staple of routine in an otherwise tumultuous life.

Walking along the damp streets, she saw in the faces of those who passed a reflection of herself, the unheard anguish of the lonely and the forgotten, each face more expressive than the last. The trees that haphazardly lined the streets seemed to droop in a quiet depression; their green leaves darkened somewhat by the gloomy skies and the little droplets of rain falling off them almost like tears. Cassie wondered what they might say if only they could speak?

Coming to the end of her short journey across the murky town, Cassie arrived at the park. Although it continued to rain the park seemed somehow warmer and more inviting. There was an aura radiating tranquillity and happiness. She took a seat on a bench by the pond that she had visited so many times before and watched as the rain created patterns of movement in the water, seeming so vibrant and alive. A family of ducks sat on the far side of the pond, sheltered a little by the overhanging branches of nearby trees. Cassie looked on and smiled.

As she sat there marvelling at the sight of the family of ducks, listening to their excited quacking and admiring their playful nature the rain started to subside and the sun began to penetrate the cracks in the formerly overcast skies, bathing the park in a warming, orange glow.

Cassie took out a cigarette from her bag and lit it. She inhaled on the cigarette and closed her eyes, tilting her head backwards before exhaling into the air. Opening her eyes again she was startled to see that a man had sat down on the opposite side of the bench. He was an elderly man, perhaps in his late seventies and wore outdated, ragged clothes. His face was withered and wrinkled, and he bore the noticeable grey stubble of someone who had not shaved for a few days.

Noticing Cassie’s anxious surprise, the old man said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, quietly. “I had to take the weight of feet.”

“That’s okay,” Cassie replied. “I just didn’t hear you, is all.”

The old man took out a pipe from the inside of his jacket pocket and a pouch of tobacco from his trouser pocket and began packing the pipe. As he did so, he looked at Cassie briefly and then returned to packing his pipe.

“You know,” he began, his gaze focused on what he was doing, “I used to come here a lot when I was younger. Many years ago now. First time I’ve been here for, oh I don’t know, thirty years I’d imagine. It hasn’t changed much.”

“Oh, that’s… nice,” Cassie responded, trying to hide her disinterest in the old man’s tale.

The old man chuckled for a moment. “Yep, I wouldn’t be interested either.”

“Oh, I didn’t…”

“That’s okay, say do you have a light?”

“Sure.”

Cassie gave the old man her lighter and watched as he lit his pipe. The old man made popping noises with his mouth as he inhaled the smoke before passing the lighter back to Cassie.

“Thank you, so do you come here a lot?” he asked.

“Every day since….” Cassie began but then halted herself. She began to fidget with the lighter uncomfortably, rolling it back and forth between her fingers.

“Since?” the old man asked.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters!” the old man exclaimed. “People talk for a reason. You were about to say something and clearly whatever you were about to say was something important to you. Sometimes being heard helps.”

Cassie looked at the man for a moment before glancing down at the floor. Her bottom lip quivered, and she closed her eyes. Taking a deep breath and tensing her shoulders, Cassie suddenly blurted out, “My mother died a few months ago.”

Cassie paused. She looked down at the lighter in her hands. The gravelly path beneath her feet had turned a deeper shade of grey by the rain, and she began to feel lost again as if speaking the words out loud had changed something.

Taking another deep breath, she continued, “Cancer. She used to bring me here when I was a kid until we moved. I came back here shortly after she died. I dunno, I guess I wanted to remember her.”

The old man inhaled deeply on his pipe, holding it in his mouth momentarily before exhaling as he watched Cassie continue to stare at the floor, tears starting to form in her eyes.

“I understand that. I lost my son, in a manner of speaking,” the old man said in a soothing tone. “I did some foolish things when I was younger and ended up spending most of his childhood in prison. He hated me for it. I came back here to try and reconnect with him.”

“It’s not the same,” dismissed Cassie.

“Oh I know it isn’t,” the old man replied, knowingly. “I lost my son through my stupidity. You lost your mother through illness. I do know loss, though.”

Cassie chuckled with a hint of sarcasm. “Loss… yeah, I lost everything. Fuck, I don’t even know anyone here anymore. Gave up my job, my friends, my life to come here, and for what? It’s not got me anything. It’s just made things worse.”

The old man edged slightly closer to her on the bench and leant in slightly. “You gave it up because you’re not ready to let go. There’s no shame in that, you know?”

“No?” Cassie said, taking a long drag on her cigarette, before continuing, “I should have stayed where I was. At least then I’d still have something of hers.”

“What do you mean?”

“I had this pendant, cheap little thing. Not even worth twenty quid I reckon but it was my mum’s, and she gave it to me when I was a kid. A couple of weeks ago some bastards broke into my apartment and stole the damn thing. I mean, why they’d do that huh? They could have taken all the other stuff; it didn’t mean shit but why that? It’s worthless to them! It meant everything to me, and I haven’t got it anymore, so I come to this park and why? Mum’s not here; she’s never going to be here, and all I have of her is gone.”

As she finished, Cassie broke down. She placed her face into her palms and began crying loudly, shaking with a mixture of anger and hurt. The old man put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her and offered her a handkerchief.

“Dry your eyes, child,” he whispered softly.

Cassie took the handkerchief. It was folded into a square, and she could feel something inside it. She looked at the man quizzically. He nodded, urging Cassie to unwrap the handkerchief. Peeling away the final layer she saw the familiar faux gold of her mother’s pendant.

“I… I don’t….” Cassie stuttered. Words faltered in her mind. She stared in disbelief at what the man had given her.

The old man stood up again and looked down at Cassie. “Forgive my son,” he said, “it is my fault.”

The old man turned and began walking away. Cassie asked him to wait, but he ignored her and turned a corner. Cassie fumbled desperately trying to put the pendant securely in her handbag and pick it up before giving chase to the man, but when she rounded the corner, he was nowhere to be seen. She stood there for several minutes looking in every possible direction but could not recognise his tattered, brown clothing anywhere. Cassie soon admitted defeat and returned home.

Later that night Cassie stood at her kitchen window and gazed out into the street. With her apartment now tidied she sipped contentedly on a hot cup of coffee while she looked at the children playing happily outside while their parents chatted and smiled with their neighbours. The sun shone brightly in the sky, bathing the street in a warm glow and making the pavement and roads seem silver in colour. The trees stood proud and upright, swaying in the gentle spring breeze while the birds chirped. The street looked beautiful and full of life. Cassie took the pendant in her hand and held it to her chest.

“I love you, mum” she whispered before placing it around her neck.

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