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The Necklace – Katherine Duffy

Old tv shows winking up from the mud of backwater channels are like those beads of your mother’s that you missed when you were clearing out her stuff and find some time later down behind the chest of drawers, lying in an ermine trim of dust. You brush them off with a sneeze or three and, as they emerge, you see her in the pale crimplene dress she wore to a cousin’s wedding, an impressionist dash of blue and green at her neck.

Kwai-Chang Caine hatches out of a big salmon-pink sun and stumbles down the dunes towards the four of you, grouped in lamplight around the screen. Your mother is knitting something speckled for the cousin’s child. Monks glide through a meadow of candles. The master puts his hands inside his golden sleeves. With his blank eyes he can see Grasshopper’s soul and tell him how to sculpt it.

As quickly as you can, snatch the pebble from my hand. You take the beads downstairs and wash them and wonder what to do with them. They’re not something you’d ever wear yourself. Maybe you should buy a jewellery box with lots of drawers and consign the necklace to one of them. You had a musical one, once. When you opened it, a little ballerina twirled to a few phrases of plinky music. Brahms’ lullaby springs to mind, but that wasn’t it. The box was given to your mother by a better-off friend, and she passed it on to you.

Ah, Columbo! The sun of his mind burning through the glass of his eye, a cavalry of pertinent detail charging him, fit to trample him. His reeking cigar, that sly smile as something dawns. A shabby trickster god, outwitting the rich and pretentious.

Oh, I almost forgot, there’s just one more thing. Who could forget Jim in his skintight gold and black, sprawled on his back in the dust of another shoestring world. The siren in purple chiffon has just shown him her true face. Fooled again, he writhes and calls for Scottie.

Dousing the tv, you wish you had a wise monk to tell you where to put the beads and other such things. You want a smooth-skinned Captain Kirk to stride down from the bridge, to steam you apart and reassemble you on some other rickety planet. You wonder if finding the beads is some sort of message from your mother. You want to pluck Columbo’s glass eye from his head, put it on a thread around your neck, and wear it always.