I don’t really know why I gravitated to the old, dilapidated trunk in the antique store that afternoon while wandering amidst the many vendors’ galleries, but I did. I was compelled and drawn to the old piece of furniture for reasons unbeknownst to me. I remember running my fingers over it, feeling the raised ridges of peeling paint before I lifted the faded, damaged lid. From what I could see at the time, it held an assortment of old clothing, costume jewelry, books, and other such items. It was an intriguing assortment of unknown treasures, and I was sure there would be something within that would prove to be worth at least the asking price, so I had rummaged through my purse for the money, as though unable to do otherwise. I didn’t really have the extra money to spend on frivolous things, but instinct told me my purchase would not be in vain. The old trunk had called my name, urging me to claim it, and I had eagerly risen to the challenge.
Once home, I left the trunk in the foyer and went to put the kettle on to make myself a cup of strong, black tea. It was a cold, dreary day, and I was chilled to the bone. Though I was more than anxious to rummage through the trunk, I headed to my room and changed into something comfortable while my tea steeped. Within moments, I was back in the foyer with a tea cup in hand. I moved the trunk over to the side of the sofa, eager to see just what I’d purchased for $40.00.
I took a seat on the sofa and lifted the trunk’s lid, childlike anticipation filling me. For long moments, I stared at the assortment of items that had obviously inhabited the trunk for a long while. As I reached to lift a pair of yellowed, silk evening gloves that lay atop everything else, small particles of dust rose in the air. Interestingly enough, however, no smell of mildew or other age related odors was present. Instead, a light fragrance of flowers drifted across and permeated the room. It was nearly magical.
Bemused, I continued to peruse the trunk’s contents, more curious than ever. Nestled within, I found several other pieces of feminine clothing, including shoes, along with an array of costume jewelry that I was sure had been lovely in the 1920’s, but had long since lost its sparkle and shine. What marvelous feminine creature, most likely from the early nineteen hundreds, might have clothed herself in such wondrous clothing, I wondered.
Digging deeper beneath the clothing, I found a single crystal champagne glass that was intricately etched with detailed, small flowers – perhaps a piece of Bavarian or Austrian crystal. It was lovely, and I knew that this item alone had been worth my investment. I had to wonder, however, that there was only one glass and not a pair but surmised the single glass must have held some sentimental value for the person who had once owned it. Perhaps the other one had broken during the long years.
Looking further, I lifted an old copy of The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald from the bottom of the trunk. As I did so, I spied a single roll of film nestled in the corner that had been hidden by the book, and immediately laid the book on the coffee table in order to get a better look at the film. It appeared to be a roll from one of the older cameras, like the Kodak Brownie. I held it up to the light, wondering what stories its pictures might tell. Curious, I determined I would take the film to the local camera shop the following day, hopeful they would be able to develop it despite its obvious age.
It was growing late, so I returned all the things I’d discovered back to their nesting place inside the trunk, with the exception of the little crystal glass and roll of film. I carefully and proudly gave the glass an honored spot in the front of my china cabinet where all could easily admire its beauty, and the roll of film, I set beside my keys on the foyer table so I’d remember to take it to the camera shop the next day.
Not much longer, following a light supper, I headed to bed, but not before stopping to admire the champagne glass again. As I studied the many facets in its etched beauty, I was again led to wonder about its owner. Who had drunk from its delicate rim all those many years before? Had they also worn the evening gloves I’d found in the trunk? Perhaps they had danced or swayed to a wonderful 1920’s song with their sweetheart back in the day. My mind touched on all the many possible secrets the glass might tell if it could but speak. What I wouldn’t give to know more about its owner and why the glass had been stored away like a precious piece of pirate's treasure for so long.
I drifted off to sleep easily that night, the pitter patter sound of rain creating a lovely lullaby. Visions of what I’d uncovered in the old trunk flitted about in my dreams, but most particularly, visions of the little crystal champagne glass. I tossed and turned amidst the dreams, but always my dream came back to the etched crystal glass. At one point, my attention was riveted upon a single page of a book, much like a dictionary, but there was only one word that appeared on the page: "heikel". The pronunciation was clearly noted although the word was completely unfamiliar. However, I seemed to understand that it was German and referred to the crystal glass I’d just found in the old trunk.
I awoke very early the next morning as the sun rose in the sky. It was a much less dreary day and the sun was shining easily through the clouds. My dreams from the previous night were vivid, and I immediately went to my laptop and began to search for the meaning of the word I had seen referenced in my dream: “heikel”. Within moments, I was stunned to discover that the word was indeed German and meant “delicate”. Without a doubt, the beautiful crystal glass was quite delicate, nearly ethereal or fragile in its beauty. How odd. It was as though someone from beyond was attempting to tell me something more about the little glass. I was more intrigued than ever now and hoped the secrets the roll of film might divulge told me something more about the glass. Curiosity resounding within me, I dressed quickly and then made my way to the camera shop, where I was assured the film could and would be developed by late afternoon that very same day.
I was a mess of nerves as I waited throughout the day, exceedingly anxious, especially after my vivid dreams. I wanted so badly to see what pictures might be developed, so I busied myself by running errands and attempting to work on my novel, but still, the day dragged slowly by. Eventually, I found myself seated in a small café near the camera shop, sipping an expresso and nibbling a Madeleine cookie as I waited for the final hour to approach when I could pick up the film’s pictures.
More anxious than ever, quite possibly due to the three espressos I’d drunk, I made my way to the print shop an hour later. The woman behind the counter greeted me with an enthusiastic smile as the bell on the door signaled my arrival.
A short while later, I entered the small shop.
“Hello! The old film gave us a bit of trouble for a bit, but we managed to develop at least four fairly decent photos from it,” the shop's owner said proudly. “I think you will be most pleased once you see them.”
I nodded, expressed my gratitude, and paid the requested price, not pausing to open the envelope. While I was very curious about its contents, for some unfathomable reason, I wanted to wait until I was alone to see what the pictures revealed.
“Do you not wish to see the pictures, my dear?” the sales woman asked as she accepted the payment and eyed me as I carefully placed the envelope in my purse.
“Oh yes, assuredly so, but I think I’ll wait until I’m home to look at them,” I replied without further explanation. I turned to exit the small shop, but her next words gave me pause stopped me in my tracks. I turned back to look at her again.
“Well, I think you may be very surprised when you do sit down and look at the photographs, dear,” the woman said with a smile, an all-knowing gleam in her eyes. She arched her brow in question as she studied me and posed her next question. “Where did you say you found the old roll of film?”
“In an old trunk I purchased at Adeline’s Antique Store.” Anxious to be home, I didn’t linger to say more. “I appreciate your help,” I said again, exiting the shop. Whatever would I find in the pictures, I wondered? My curiosity was now piqued beyond measure after the shop owner had just said.
It was only a short while before I arrived home. I placed the unopened envelope from my purse on the sofa table and then headed directly to the china hutch to retrieve the crystal glass. In the kitchen, I filled it with a bit of bubbly champagne, sure there was cause for celebration, if for nothing else because the shop had been able to develop at least four decent photographs from the old film. I did not pause long enough to change my clothes or discard my shoes before heading back to the sofa, the filled champagne glass in hand. Excitement coursed through me with each step.
I took a seat on the sofa and drank of the champagne, feeling its bubbly tingle tease my tongue. Taking a deep breath, I reached for the envelope. I opened the end of it and gently shook it. The photographs spilled out and landed face down upon the sofa table. Interesting, I thought. It was as if the photographs knew my anticipation and were deliberately delaying the surprise they provided.
Surprise, and I admit, a bit of disappointment, filled my face as I flipped over the first photograph. It was a picture of a flower or a fully bloomed, single lily in a porcelain bud vase. It was a nice photo, but not precisely what I had been expecting.
Hoping for something a bit more revealing, I reached to flip over the second photograph and smiled. This one was of a young woman, maybe in her late twenties. She was lovely and dressed to the tens in a long evening gown. She also wore a pair of evening gloves like the ones I’d found in the trunk. Were they in fact the same ones, I wondered? I quickly scanned the photograph, hoping to gain a glimpse of the little crystal glass, but it was nowhere to be seen. Whomever the young woman was, she had a tremendously beautiful smile and was quite happy when the picture was taken. Had it been a beau who had taken the photo or just a friend? I would never really know the answer to questions like these, but still, there were limitless possibilities and it was fun to wonder about such things.
Reaching over to the sofa table, I turned over the third photograph to find the same woman in it, but this time she was dressed much more casually in a tailored suit while seated at a desk in front of a typewriter. Again, she was wearing a lovely smile and seemed pleased with whatever she was doing. I wondered if she’d been working. Was she a secretary or something similar. Had her boss taken this picture or perhaps a coworker? So many unanswered questions.
I reached for my champagne glass and took a large sip of the champagne before venturing forth to turn over the final and fourth photograph. Even though no picture thus far had included the special little glass, I was sure it was singularly exceptional in some fashion regardless if it made an appearance in any of the photographs.
I held my breath as I flipped over the last photograph, butterflies in my stomach as I did so. My breath caught in my throat as I gasped in surprise at what – and who – I saw in the old picture.
This photograph was the epitome of everything I had hoped to possibly discover. In it, the same young woman was pictured in her elegant formal attire, but this time she was standing with a man, but not just any man: the man was F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had been an English major in college and knew Fitzgerald’s work quite well, so I immediately recognized him. He was just as brutally handsome in this picture as I’d thought him to be in any other picture I’d ever seen of him. The two were standing close, and I immediately knew they had at the very least been the best of friends, Fitzgerald's arm encircled the young woman’s waist as each held and raised a delicate, little champagne glass, precisely like the one from which I was currently drinking my champagne.
The woman held a book in her other hand. My mind raced. Was it the book by Fitzgerald that had been in the trunk? It looked to be the same. Without delay, I retrieved the edition of The Beautiful and Damned from the trunk. I had taken little notice of it the previous night, but now I wondered why the owner had kept it. It was obvious that it was highly significant, especially because it was housed in the antique trunk along with all the other items.
I held the book and saw that it was quite weathered and worn, as well as tattered along its edges. It was bound in a blueish green cloth reminiscent of the novels from the 1920s but still largely intact. A shiver ran through me; it was as if I already knew what I would find once I opened the book. With the utmost care, I turned the book’s cover to find an inscription just inside that was detailed in extraordinarily aged, brown ink with a delicious flair of a writing style that is seldom used these days. The handwritten inscription read: “For Miss Oehler – in memory of her patience with its wild manuscript, from F Scott Fitzgerald”.
I was stunned, unbelieving of the treasure in my hand. The woman in the photos must have been Miss Oehler, whomever that might be. Their expressions in the photography showed that she had obviously been dear to F. Scott Fitzgerald in some capacity. I went to my computer and did a Google search for Miss Oehler. Within moments, I learned only one fact about her: a Miss Oehler had been Fitzgerald’s typist on The Beautiful and Damned. I smiled. I knew without a doubt that the small champagne glass I had used this afternoon had been the one from which Fitzgerald had drunk in the picture. Indeed, the two had used the delicate little glasses to toast to his book’s publication as well as to her contribution to it.
Shivers of delight encompassed me at the realization that I held not only a first edition of a book with an original inscription by Fitzgerald to his celebrated typist, but I also held a glass from which he had once drunk to herald the book’s publication.
There were so many answers in these few pictures. Not only did I now know who had owned the little champagne glass of which I had so vividly dreamt, but I also knew much of its story. Everything had converged to come together in a most unique fashion. It was a story in which I found perfection, and much like the unique crystal glass, it was all quite “heikel” – or deliciously delicate.
I felt an unknown excitement as an affinity for this woman and Fitzgerald filled me. I knew I'd been privy to a special, shared moment betwixt the two. I would never regret my purchase at an old antique shop on a cold, dreary afternoon. Indeed, it was a treasure – and a story - most heikel in its very nature. And I was elated that it had become my treasure to cherish.
A long time has passed since my fortuitous purchase for only $40.00 in Adeline’s Antique Store. I still have the beautifully etched champagne glass and the first edition of The Beautiful and Damned with Fitzgerald's inscription, as well as the photographs that complete their story. Despite many opportunities to sell both, I have always declined. Indeed, my treasure is worth more than money. Listen carefully and always to your inner voice as you follow your instincts. They will seldom disappoint.