The Eye of the Beholder

Anna ran a fingertip over the smooth quartzite cabochon in her palm.  Her reflected face looked rounder on the stone’s convex meniscus, her eyes almost protuberant. Flecks of gold, caught in streaks of river-brown, winked in the weakening Sunday afternoon sunlight.  She addressed the taciturn stallholder.

“What’s your best price?” she asked, feigning mere half-interest.

He surveyed her from behind darkened glasses, recognising quarry when he saw it.  “Price is on the tag, girlie,” he spat.  “Price is the price.”

She had to have it.  Afraid to haggle, she handed over more banknotes than she could afford.  “Don’t bother with a bag,” she muttered.  “I’ll wear it.”

She pinned the small, domed oval to her coat-collar, pausing briefly to admire its gilded filigree frame and headed home.

The semi-precious stone took on deeper, more opaque tones in the lamplight of Anna’s little sitting room, but the dark forest of marbled browns, nestled again in her hand, still shone powerfully.  As the evening grew old, Anna’s eyelids closed heavily several times.  Eventually she dozed, to dream of seething whorls of golds and ambers.  Once, she felt that she’d almost woken and found herself not alone.  Early the next morning, she awoke properly, her fist still clasped round her precious new trinket.  She uncurled her fingers and looked down.  The gilded filigree nest was still there, but its crowning jewel, so recently glowing up at her, was missing, leaving a small, yawning socket.

In the street below, the stallholder squinted up at Anna’s window, permitting himself a small, sour smile.  Divested of dark glasses, his striated brown eyes flashed with the dull gold flecks that had so charmed Anna at the market.  He fingered the roll of banknotes in his grubby trouser pocket and with a final grin, was gone.

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