Pearls Of Wisdom by Linda Bond
"Yoo hoo! Grandma! It's only me!" Rosa called, bustling into the light and warmth of the only room in the small stone cottage.
"Mum's sent you some beef stew," she dumped her basket on the solid oak table, hung her red cloak on the back of the door and smoothed down her blue chequered school dress before busying herself by the huge iron bedstead on the far side of the room.
"Here, Grandma," crooned Rosa propping the old dear up on plumped pillows.
"You are so bony," she remarked. "Shall I get you some stew?"
"No thanks, child, I'll eat later," barked Grandma, her voice deep and tuneless, like a saxophone full of gravel.
"Oh, and Jack got you some more of that chicken broth for your sore throat," Rosa continued, pulling back the covers to reveal a thin bandaged leg poking abruptly from an ankle length, pure white, nightgown.
"Blasted woodcutter and his meddling axe," groaned Grandma, inspecting the wounded leg with wide-eyed fearful curiosity.
"What was that?" asked Rosa absent-mindedly.
"I said, that's good dear. Your mum and Jack, permanent is it?"
"They're so embarrassing," Rosa blushed. "They don't even notice me when they're doing all that kissy stuff," she tutted. "Your leg's still swollen," she remarked, neat fingers picking and pulling at the blood-stained bandage.
"Tell me about the outside world child, I sit here alone all day." Grandma winced as Rosa cleaned the wound.
"You know Tom Godby, the minister's son?" Rosa said coyly.
"That great lumbering fool," Grandma folded scrawny arms across her chest.
"Well," interrupted Rosa breathlessly," I think he's going to ask me tonight! And if he does, I shall say yes," she took a deep breath and continued. "Grandma, you know how Mum feels about the minister."
"Tis the minister's job to punish unmarried sinners, child."
In a theatrical flourish Grandma crossed herself and put her hands together in prayer. For a moment Rosa stopped and stared open-mouthed. Then she noticed the twinkle in Grandma's eye. They erupted in girly giggles, a soprano and a baritone in simultaneous harmony.
"I hope you don't mind," continued Rosa regardless, "I've asked Tom to meet me here."
Grandma took a deep breath and a long black tongue flicked across her lips.
"Can I get changed here Grandma? It won't take a mo. Then I'll get your supper."
Her grandmother nodded her consent.
"Thanks Grandma!" She gave her grandmother's thin, bony, hairy hand an excited squeeze. "Remind me to trim your nails before I go," she remarked casually.
Rosa quickly changed behind the curtain that separated the living and sleeping areas of the cottage.
"Well, will I do?" she said, re-appearing with a dancer's twirl.
"Like a lamb to the slaughter," muttered Grandma grimly.
"What did you say?" puzzled Rosa.
"Like a bride at the altar child, you look good enough to eat," she rummaged around under her mattress and pulled out a string of pearls, shiny and translucent white in the candlelight. "They are a family heirloom, child. About time you had them."
"Grandma, they're so beautiful!" Rosa held it to her neck. "Do it up for me please."
"I call them my pearls of wisdom, child," explained Grandmother, fumbling clumsily with the clasp. "Twenty four pearls, all individually selected by me."
Rosa walked over to the wardrobe and admired the pearls. Each pearl shone as if it had a life of its own, each slightly different in colour and lustre. Each as beautiful as the next.
The powerful beauty of the necklace made Rosa feel different; alert and perceptive. The room seemed to shimmer and ripple as a pebble thrown into a pond, it shifted and changed like a theatre curtain lifting to reveal a new scene. And what a scene.
Rosa noticed the dark, dirty poverty of the room; the bony left-overs of meals strewn in dank corners; the stink of animal that almost made her retch.
"Grandma your ears, your teeth, they're all different!"
This was the last remark she ever made…
Walking nervously through the darkening forest Tom Godby thought he heard the scream of a barn owl. He didn't notice the svelte figure of a wolf limping off into the trees. He didn't hear the choking sound as the wolf coughed up a blonde hairball and picked a small, white pearl from the centre of it.
"Twenty-five," noted the wolf, threading a new pearl on to his necklace. "Now to find twenty-six."