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. It was as though I was compelled and drawn to the old trunk for reasons unbeknownst to me. I remember running my fingers over it, feeling the raised ridges of peeling paint as I gingerly lifting 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 worth at least the asking price of $28.00, so I had quickly rummaged through my purse for the money, as though unable to do otherwise. I didn’t really have the extra $28.00 to spend on frivolous things, but instinct told me my purchase would not be in vain. It as though the old box had called my name, urging me to claim it as my own.
Once home, I left the old trunk in the foyer and then went to put the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea. It was a cold and rainy day, and I was chilled to the bone. Though I was more than anxious to go through the trunk I’d just purchased, I headed to my room and changed into something more comfortable while my black tea steeped. Within moments, I was back in the foyer and dragged the old trunk over to the side of the sofa, eager to see precisely what I’d just bought for $28.00.
I took a seat on the sofa and slowly lifted the trunk’s lid, childlike anticipation filling me. For long moments, I simply 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 the air from the open box, permeating the entire room. It was almost magical.
Bemused, I continued to peruse the trunk’s contents, more curious than ever. Nestled within, I found several 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. Beneath a small feathered hat, I found a single crystal champagne glass that was intricately etched with detailed, small flowers – perhaps a piece of Bavarian or Austrian crystal. The glass was beautiful, 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 that the glass must have held some sentimental value for the person who had once owned it. 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. It appeared to be a roll of film from one of the older cameras, like the Kodak Brownie. I held it up to the light, wondering what stories its pictures could tell. Curious, I determined I would take the film to the local camera shop the next day, hopeful they would be able to develop the film despite its obvious age.
It was growing late, so I returned all the things I’d discovered to the trunk, with the exception of the crystal champagne glass and roll of film. I carefully and proudly gave the pretty little glass a place in the front of my china cabinet where one could easily admire its beauty, and the roll of film I set beside my keys on the foyer table so that I could take it to the shop the following 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 it, I briefly wondered who had drunk from its delicate rim all those many years before. Had they worn the lovely evening gloves I’d found in the trunk as well? And had they danced or swayed to some lovely 1920’s song with their sweetheart back in the day? My mind touched on all the many possible secrets and stories the glass could tell if it could but speak, just like the undeveloped roll of film. What I wouldn’t give to know more about its owner and why the glass had been stored away like a piece of pirate's treasure.
I drifted off to sleep quickly that night, the pitter patter sound of the rain creating a lovely lullaby. As I slept, visions of what I’d uncovered in the old trunk flitted in and out of my dreams, but most particularly, visions of the little champagne glass. I tossed and turned amidst the dreams, but always the images resorted back to the beautifully etched glass. At one point in my dream or vision, my attention was drawn to page in a book or a dictionary, but only one word appeared on the page, it’s pronunciation clearly denoted. The word was “heikel” and was foreign to me, and I did not know its meaning, but I seemed to instinctively know that it was German and referred to the beautiful crystal glass I’d discovered in my newly purchased trunk.
I awoke very early the next morning as the sun rose in the sky. My dreams from the previous night remained vivid, and I immediately began to search for the meaning of the word I had seen in my dream, “heikel”. I was bewildered, stunned, and simply amazed to discover that the word was indeed German and meant “delicate”. Yes, the beautiful, little etched champagne glass was quite delicate, nearly fragile in its eternal beauty. Now I was more intrigued than ever about the champagne glass, the roll of film, and whomever had owned them. 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 that very same day.
I was a tangle of nerves as I waited throughout the long day and more than anxious, especially after my vivid dreams. I wanted to see what secrets the film might possibly divulge. I busied myself by running errands and such, but still, the day dragged slowly by. Eventually, In the late afternoon, I found myself in a small café near the camera shop, sipping an expresso and nibbling a Madeleine cookie as I waited for the final hour to wind down.
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.
“Hello! The old film gave us a bit of trouble for a moment, but we managed to develop at least four decent photos from it,” she said proudly. “I think you will be most pleased once you see them.”
I nodded, expressed my gratitude, and paid the requested price, not even pausing to open the envelope of the photographs. Yes, I was very curious about its contents, but for some unfathomable reason, I wanted to wait until I was alone in the quiet of my home to see what the pictures showed.
“Do you not wish to see the pictures, my dear?” the sales woman asked as she watched me place the envelope in my purse.
“Yes, assuredly so, but I think I’ll wait until I’m home,” I replied without further explanation. However, her next words gave me slight pause.
“Well, I think you may be surprised when you do look at the photographs,” the woman smiled, an all-knowing gleam in her eyes. “Where did you say you found the roll of film?”
“In an old trunk I purchased at Adeline’s Antique Store. I appreciate your help,” I said again, exiting the shop. Whatever could the surprise be, I wondered? My curiosity was piqued beyond measure.
It was only a short while before I arrived home. I placed the unopened envelope from my purse on the sofa table before heading to the hutch to retrieve the delicate crystal glass. In the kitchen, I filled the glass with a bit of bubbly champagne, more sure than ever that there was cause for celebration if for nothing else, because the film shop had been able to obtain at least four decent photographs from the old roll of film. Excitement coursed through me with each step I took, and I did not even pause long enough to change my clothes or discard my shoes before heading back to the sofa, the filled champagne glass in hand.
I took a seat on the sofa and took a deep sip of the champagne, feeling its bubbly warmth tingle all the way to my toes. Taking a deep breath, I reached for the envelope. As 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 delaying the surprise they provided. Surprise - and a bit of disappointment - filled my face as I flipped over the first photograph. It was a picture of a flower or a large, 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 exciting, I reached to flip over the second photograph and then smiled. This one was of a young woman, maybe in her late twenties. She was lovely and dressed to the tens in a beautiful 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 gorgeous smile and was obviously quite happy the evening 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, 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 type of work she was doing. I wondered if she’d been a secretary or something similar and again wondered who had taken the photo. 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 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 I learned more about it or not. I held my breath as I reached for the last photograph, unsure what story it might tell. As I turned it over, my breath caught in my throat and then I gasped in surprise at what – and who – I saw in the picture.
This photograph was the epitome of everything I had hoped to discover. In it, the same young woman was pictured, but this time she was standing with a man, but not just any man, it 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, Fitzgerald's arm around the young woman and each held one of the delicate, little champagne glasses, precisely like the one from which I was currently drinking. The woman also held a book in her other hand. Was it the book that had been in the trunk, I wondered? It looked to be the same. Without delay, I retrieved the edition of The Beautiful and Damned from the depths of the trunk. I had barely taken notice of it the previous night, but now I wondered about it and why the owner had kept it alongside so many other treasured items. It was obvious that it was significant in some way, especially because it was in the old photograph with them.
I held the book and saw that it was quite weathered and worn, as well as tattered around its edges. It was bound in a blueish green cloth reminiscent of the novels from the 1920s but was still largely intact. A shiver ran through me as I held it; it was as if I already knew what I would find once I opened it. With care, I turned the book’s cover to find an inscription on the right page just inside that was written in extraordinarily aged, brown ink, and with a delicious flair of a writing style that is seldom used these days. The inscription read: “For Miss Oehler – in memory of her patience with its wild manuscript, from F Scott Fitzgerald”.
I was momentarily stunned, unbelieving of the treasure in my hand. The woman in the photos must have been Miss Oehler, whomever that might be. She had obviously been acquainted with F. Scott Fitzgerald in some capacity. Quickly, I went to my computer and did a Google search for Miss Oehler. Within moments, I easily learned only one fact about a Miss Oehler: she had been Fitzgerald’s typist on The Beautiful and Damned. Of a sudden, 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 glasses to toast to his book’s publication as well as 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 typist, but I also held a glass from which he had once drunk to celebrate the book. I was stunned. Not only did I now know who had owned the champagne glass of which I had so vividly dreamt, but I also knew its story. Everything had merged together in a most unique fashion. This story was perfect and indeed, it was also “heikel” – or quite delicate - in its nature. I felt special to share in a small part of such a lovely story, and I knew that I would always treasure what I had stumbled upon in that small antique store on a rainy afternoon.
A long time has passed since my fortuitous purchase of $28.00 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 to me. I shall remain immensely thankful that I listened to my instincts on that fateful day years ago.