SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: A String of Pearls by Christine Lawrence

Picture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock
Simo Lagnawi Picture: Hassan Hajjaj

GOING OUT: Six great things to do in the next 48 hours, June 20 and 21.

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub

I was named Pearl after my grandmother who was a nursing auxiliary during the war in the 1940s.

She was a beautiful woman. I’ve got an old photograph of her in uniform, handed down to me with this old necklace.

The pearls don’t look much now – I don’t suppose they’re real and the clasp is tarnished. When I hold them in my hands it’s almost like I’m looking down a tunnel into the past, into the history of my family.

I went back to the house in town where she’d lived once, long after she and granddad were gone. It still felt like she’d only just left the room, popped out for a packet of tea or something.

Of course, it was all just in my imagination – she didn’t even live there anymore.

After the war, my grandmother married my grandad – he was a sailor during the war and worked in the docks afterwards. They only had one child, my mother, who was born quite soon after they married.

I never saw gran wearing the pearls and didn’t even know about them until after she died. I was only six years old but can still see her face, smiling at me from her bed just a few days before she went.

She left me a box of things and the pearls were tucked inside an old brown envelope at the bottom of the box. Mum said she’d never seen them before. She thought that they couldn’t have been worth anything much.

Gran and grandad went through tough times after the war and had to sell everything that was of any value. The necklace would have been the first thing to go, she’d thought.

I sometimes take them out and just hold them in my hands – the smooth pearls feel warm to my touch.

Then today I had this urge to go down to Old Portsmouth. I dropped the necklace into my pocket and walked through the town.

I sat on the wall by the Square Tower and looked at the sea. I could sense the pearls in my pocket, almost calling me to take them out and breathe in the fresh brine.

The tide was high, the waves smashed against the shingle, loud and dangerous, splashing spray up towards my feet. I held the pearls to my cheek and could feel them tingling against my skin.

So immersed as I was in the power of the elements and this link with my grandmother in my hand, I hadn’t noticed that I was no longer alone.

It was only when I felt the touch of a hand on my shoulder that I jumped with a start. I stood and turned to see a man was standing beside me. A stranger, but somehow familiar.

He was dressed quite oddly, I thought later, although at the time I hardly noticed what he was wearing. It was his face, his eyes, that struck me at that time. He was smiling at me.

‘My Pearl,’ he said. ‘You waited. I knew you would.’

I wondered how he knew my name. I wondered what he meant when he said that I had waited for him. I had never seen him before. And yet...

He took the pearls from my hand.

‘Allow me. Turn around.’ I turned as he gently placed the pearls around my neck. He spun me around to face him once more.

‘There. Perfect.’ He took my hand and lifted it to his lips. I was powerless to do anything other than stand there but his lips were cold and it felt wrong somehow, to be kissed like that by a stranger.

I pulled away and looked at him.

‘Who are you?’ I asked.

He frowned. ‘You don’t know me? But of course you do. I promised I would come back for you, remember? I know I’ve been away for a long time, but you said you would wait for me.

‘I gave you the pearls, you know I gave you the pearls, instead of an engagement ring. The pearls were my mother’s. I promised I would marry you and now I’m back.’

‘No, these pearls were given to me by my grandmother,’ I started to explain, but he didn’t seem to be listening. He just gazed out to sea and carried on talking.

‘I got your letter about the child. I know it must have been hard for you, being on your own, but I promised to marry you and now I’m here.

‘How long is it now before the child is due?’

I stared at him, horrified. ‘The child?’

‘Our child,’ he said. ‘I’ve been longing to see you for so long. Now we can be a family at last.’

‘But all that happened a long time ago,’ I said, trying to find the right way to tell him, not being quite sure myself what was happening.

This was probably a joke, someone who knew a bit about my family, trying to make a fool out of me. But why?

I decided to put a stop to this straight away. ‘My grandmother – she married someone else. It’s not me, it was my hrandmother you gave these pearls to – you, or someone else – more than 50 years ago.’

It was then that the pearls fell from my neck. The string, being old and weak, broke and the pearls tumbled to the ground, bouncing off the wall onto the beach below.

I cried out and scrabbled around, trying to save them from being lost amongst the shingle. I think I managed to find most of them, and placed them safely inside my coat.

By the time I’d stood up and looked about me the man had gone. It had started to rain and there was nobody about.

I shivered, turned up my coat collar and walked home, the pearls still warm in my pocket.

Christine Lawrence has a published novel Caught in the Web, has written stories for Day of the Dead, Victorious Festival and St Valentine’s Day Massacre and has three stories in the book Portsmouth Fairy Tales for Adults.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.