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Drama Fiction

CRYSTAL CLEAR

By Lavinia M. Hughes

    With a grunt, she hauled her 63-year old overweight body out of her 15-year old car. Her brother called it “a beater” which bothered Ida Bumpus not a whit. She fished her faded tote bag, the one the bank gave her for opening up a checking account, out of the back seat and made her way into the Bountiful Beads convention along with the other attendees, who were mostly middle-aged and senior women. It was the week before Valentine’s Day and Ida was sure that there would be some fresh new beads for her creations, many of which had earned design contest awards.

    Ida hurried, as she didn’t want to miss the seminar on wire work, after which was a demonstration on pearl stringing. She found a seat just as the speaker started. The room was packed with women, all fascinated to learn more about how to manipulate wire into a fabulous and artistic piece of jewelry. The instructor got out several types of wire and began, her demonstration displayed on a giant 60-inch monitor above her.

    Greeting a few ladies that she knew from last year’s convention, she then bustled into the pearl stringing seminar at the other end of the convention hall. She had always just strung them on beading wire, but she knew the proper way to do it was with a needle and special thread, making knots in between each bead. Simple enough, but she liked to see it done before she changed her ways. Maybe she’d buy some good pearls this year with her limited funds.

    After the seminars, it was shopping time. This was her favorite part. Vendors from all around the country filled the convention space in the Dedham, Massachusetts, ballroom at a hotel just off of Interstate Route 95, also known to locals as Route 128, although absolutely no one knew why it had two names. They just knew it.

    There were vendors selling all manner of findings, clasps, and beads—lampwork, wooden, ceramic, pearl, glass, and of course her favorite, Swarovski crystals. Ida had purchased the cheaper crystals from China but they were not the same at all. Pretty from afar, they lacked the perfection of a real Swarovski. Ida preferred Swarovski crystals, which were cut with more facets and therefore had a higher refraction than other crystals. The Swarovski’s precision cut and sparkle were like magnets to her. She used them in many of her jewelry designs and the sparkly pieces made her feel young again.

    Ida was retired, but so obsessed with working at her beadboard that her husband had left her. She was pretty sure there were a variety of other reasons as well as that woman at the coffee shop, Linda, who enticed Charlie away from her. Linda was always after him. Well, she was welcome to him. Now Ida could come and go as she pleased without listening to Charlie’s criticisms of her cooking, housekeeping, and everything else, including cracks about her weight. Hmmpf. Charlie should look in the mirror once in a while.

    “How much for the Lapis Lazuli?” Ida asked the Blues Sisters Semi-Precious Gemstones vendor. 

    “We have a deal today. Just $50 for a 14” strand.”

    “Can you do better than that?” asked Ida.

    “Well, if you buy two strands, we’ll include two 10mm Swarovski crystal bicones in the recently discontinued Red Velvet color.”

    “Ooh, those are hard to get. Where is the stringing hole?”

    “They are through the top. See?” as she pointed it out. “They’re pendants. You could use them in a necklace or earrings. Just pop a jump ring through them and you’re all set.”

    “I don’t know. $100 . . .” as Ida ruminated on the potential purchase. Ida was actually clear in her mind that she would definitely buy the Lapis Lazuli, but was holding out for a better deal.

“Lapis Lazuli lowers your blood pressure among other holistic qualities and the blue color is so beautiful. We’re including crystals today in your purchase as an incentive. You probably already know that crystals in this color were discontinued. That means you won’t be able to get them anywhere except eBay or one of those places.”

    “I’m not a fan of eBay for a variety of reasons,” said Ida.

    “Look at the color. Doesn’t it look like red velvet?”

    “It truly does. The color is genius.”

There was starting to be a line behind her, as this was a popular convention. The pushing and shoving were starting. Ida could hear the impatient sighs of the women behind her.

“All right. I’ll take the two strands of Lapis Lazuli if you include six of the red velvet crystals.”

“Done! You won’t be sorry. These crystals will be very special whatever you decide to design. And perfect for Valentine’s Day creations.” The vendor liked to use the word “design” when waiting on customers because it sounded more professional than the word “make.”

She wrapped up everything carefully in tissue paper and then put Ida’s purchase into a blue designer shopping bag with moiré ribbon handles and Blues Sisters Semi-Precious Gemstones emblazoned on the sides.

Ida made her way over to the food court that was set up just for the convention and purchased a chicken wrap and a cup of tea for lunch. The $15 price she paid for such mediocrity resulted in a tasteless, dry wrap with a tablespoon of chicken in it, wilted lettuce, and gross pink tomatoes—the cardinal sin of tomatoes. The tea was lukewarm. Still, Ida was so happy to have the Lapis Lazuli and rare crystals, she focused on that while she choked down lunch.

She already had in her mind what kind of pieces she’d make with her new purchases. It would take her mind off of the lonely house she was going back to—the one with memories of a faithless husband and her elderly cat that she recently had to put down. Ida was more broken up about the cat, who was her best friend, than Charlie’s absence. Her sweet cat used to purr while sitting on the arm of her chair at night when she watched television.

After lunch, Ida continued to shop and reverently approached the booth that sold vermeil findings. Gold vermeil (pronounced vur-MAY) is genuine .925 sterling silver that has been expertly plated with a thick layer of 14k-24k gold. Ida had a passion for vermeil, but she had spent her budget already. Ida met one of her friends at the booth.

“Elena, how are you?” asked Ida.

“I’m great, how are you?” Elena replied.

“Great, great. Have you bought anything yet?”

“No, but I’m planning to load up here. This is my favorite booth.” Elena started fishing a wallet out of her Gucci bag.

Ida watched her as she directed the vermeil vendor to add a number of things to her basket. They put the items on a scale, as they were sold by weight. The scale contained just a dozen items but the bill came to $400. Elena nonchalantly counted off four $100 bills plus a bit for the tax, and the sale was complete. She casually stuffed her purchase into her Gucci bag, which didn’t even have a zipper for security, Ida noted. Ida felt a pang of jealousy. She, too, wanted to “load up” on the gold satin-finished high-quality beads and posts.

The crowd was at its height now. People started pushing and complaining and the vendors were overwhelmed trying to keep order. Ida saw her chance. The vermeil solid heart beads and stylish earring posts were calling out to her. As she was at the end of the table, she easily scooted the pieces into her open tote bag. Then she left the area quickly and furtively.

She decided to leave by the rear exit. She made it out the door, then froze as she heard the police officer yell “Stop!”

They were both outside now in the area where people took cigarette breaks, although there was no one around now.

“Ma’am, open your bag.” Said the young police officer, hired as security for the one-day convention.

“I paid for these,” said Ida hoping to have some kind of justification for what she impetuously did. She opened up the Blues Sisters designer bag and showed him the contents and the receipt.

“Not that bag, ma’am, the tote bag.”

Ida was sunk now. She slowly poured the contents of the faded tote bag into the officer’s hand. That was all it took up; the few vermeil pieces she coveted and foolishly shoplifted barely filled his medium-sized hand.

“Do you have a receipt?” he asked.

Ida looked down, ashamed. “No sir.”

“You know the punishment for shoplifting is both a $1,000 fine and two years in Framingham?” he asked.

“I didn’t know that, as I’ve never done anything this stupid before. Are you going to arrest me?”

“I should. The first thing we’ll do is return the vermeil back to the vendor.”

“OK. I will do that.”

“Yes, you will.”

“You seem like a nice young man. Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Yes. What has that got to do with anything?”

“Does she make jewelry?” asked Ida.

“Well, yeah, that’s why I got this gig. I picked up some nice crystals and pearls for her. She loves this stuff.”

“If I return the vermeil and give you the rare Swarovski red velvet crystals I just bought, would you not arrest me?”

“Let’s see them. I know a few things about this because my girlfriend is always going on and on about them. But that’s OK. It makes her happy.”

Ida showed him the red velvet crystals.

“Ooh, she would like those,” he said.

“Can we make a deal, then?” asked Ida.

“Yes,” and he held out his hand. Ida transferred the Lapis Lazuli beads into her purse and gave the officer the designer bag with the six red velvet crystals.

He escorted her back into the convention and to the vermeil booth. He explained to the vendor that Ida had been jostled at the end of the table and the pieces had fallen into her bag and she wished to return them. They looked skeptically at her but accepted the, admittedly, thin story, preferring to focus on the handsome young police officer. 

A few weeks later, Ida, still ruminating about the loss of her favorite crystals, dined alone in the one good restaurant in town. She noticed a young pretty woman sitting at the table next to hers in the crowded restaurant. What Ida noticed about her was her earrings. Simple, shiny silver posts had familiar-looking red crystals dangling saucily from them. The young woman was touching up her lipstick in a handheld mirror. Then she tightened the posts on the earrings so she wouldn’t lose them and smiled to herself as she admired them in the mirror.

Her male companion came back to the table and sat down.

“Hey, honey, are those the crystals I gave you?” he said looking at her earrings.

“Yes, I couldn’t wait to make them into something. I told all my friends how thoughtful you were snagging these red velvet crystals. I think I made them jealous.”

“I like to make you smile.”

“I love you, officer,” as she held his hands in hers.

Ida caught his eye. The off-duty police officer smiled at her and Ida smiled back.

All was well.

# END #

January 29, 2021 15:48

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2 comments

Jessica Mills
03:47 Feb 04, 2021

Great story!! I really enjoyed it!

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Lavinia Hughes
22:53 Feb 04, 2021

Thanks so much! I had fun writing it.

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