Thursday 12 January 2023

The Garnet Bracelet by Nelly Shulman, champagne


Wet sea pounded the low sands of the deserted beach. During our drive the familiar flatness of the gulf has changed and the calm waters turned into the roaring bottle-green waves smelling of salt and something pungent. This is the smell of the person you are falling out of love with.

I was falling out of love with G., tired of his jealousy, drunkenness, and preference for semi-automatic assault rifles. I mentally calculated the retreat strategy. He knew my address and my phone number but both could be changed in a matter of a day.

I needed to collect my meagre belongings and move back to my parents. G. had no idea where they lived and had never shown any interest in them. He could not have found me even if he tried.

I thought about it during the uneventful drive in the G. new toy. He had a penchant for buying cars made in the year of my birth.

The white leather seats now bore the whiff of cologne, champagne and a strong aroma of weed. G recently turned into a heavy user, claiming business problems. He assured me that everything is fine.

‘Or I am about to discover the information to the contrary,’ he said enigmatically. ‘This trip will clear the air.’

Nothing else was said during four hours of the boring highway, where the melting snow was painted smoky black, the combination of the exhaust pipe residue and the dirt. Few naked trees perched at an endless plain.

We went through the small towns, the ugly constellations of the industrial concrete, where the bus stops were besieged by people huddling in the freezing twilight.

Having noticed an especially long line to the wooden pavilion with the ‘Flowers’ sign, G. snapped out of a habitual morning stupor. He usually spent the first half of the day in bed rising for a late lunch inevitably accompanied by a few vodka shots.

This early trip was a concession to his business acquaintances. He explained that we need to reach the city by midday.

‘Otherwise I would never dream of waking you up so early,’ he added apologetically. ‘You can sleep in the car.’

In the end, I was the one wide awake. He occupied the back seat, half-dozing, half daydreaming.

G. inquired aimlessly, in his habitual manner, not asking but rather contemplating aloud.

‘Why would anyone queue for flowers on a damn Saturday morning?’

One of the Adidas twins, driving the car, politely coughed.

‘It’s Saint Valentine’s day, boss. We can stop at the pavilion if you wish.’

The twin glanced at me. I immediately grimaced in horror.

‘You despise commercial junk,’ said G. good-naturedly. ‘Point taken. We need to hurry, because our hosts despise tardiness.’

I did not want to receive a cheap bunch of flowers but was disappointed nevertheless. G. was lavish with his gifts and I needed to detach myself from the style of life I became so accustomed to during the past year.

‘We have to make a detour,’ G. ordered unexpectedly. ‘I want to visit a shop.’

I was surprised since he was insisting on driving beyond the speed limit. After a careful study of his determined face, I allowed myself a curt remark.

‘I thought you said those people appreciated punctuality.’

G. looked at me with the customary mix of admiration and amusement. This time the latter prevailed. Rarely, if never, I have tried to venture into his business deals.

‘They do,’ he smiled. ‘However, right now something else is more important.’

Keeping my usual unperturbed face, I nodded, ‘I see.’

The car hit the windswept dunes and the narrow strip of the sea on the horizon became a loud beast at our feet. The gulf continued raging in the evening when G. deemed it to be suitable to take me out. He returned from his business encounter with the slightly amused grin on the already ragged face.

G. was at the younger side of forty but sometimes I saw in his features the man he was destined to become in a couple of dozen years from now, if he was to live that long. Not being sure in the latter I preferred not to think about the future.

Even when exhausted, G. never allowed himself to plop down in the nearest chair. Moving with the graceful gait of the desert predator, he occupied the ugly sofa in the best suite of a best hotel in the tiny beach resort we have found ourselves in. G. preferred to mix his own drinks.

‘I trust you,’ he winked. ‘On the other hand, the man in my position ought to be cautious.’

I did not care much since the only drink I took at that time was champagne. Pouring his favorite illicitly produced brandy, G. sucked on the lemon.

‘My dear darling,’ he said melancholically. ‘The dive is still the same.’

I recognized one of his beloved poems. G. elegantly waved his hand with the vintage silver cigarette holder.

‘The junk adorns the walls. The prices have not changed. Has wine at least improved?’

He smiled again.

‘I don’t think so. It is neither good nor bad. The progress is not here yet but this is good,’ jumping to his feet, he tenderly lifted me from my chair. ‘It means we can relax.’

I giggled.

 ‘The last verse is not by Joseph Brodsky.’

G. kissed me.

‘I have taken the liberty of adding my own words,’ he looked at the watch. ‘Hurry up, because people are waiting. Put on the bracelet,’ he added. ‘I am glad you liked it.’

I decided not to inquire about the mysterious people, assuming G. wanted to parade me in front of his business associates. I did not bring a lot of clothes to an impromptu outing but I knew G. would appreciate something fancy. For someone who spent almost ten years incarcerated, he was surprisingly elegant, having a penchant for bespoke suits and vintage watches.

The bracelet he gifted me in a cluttered second-hand store was also vintage, a chain of blackened silver with a scattering of garnets. Their pomegranate color was almost menacing as if at some point the trinket was spluttered with blood. The liquid disappeared, leaving behind the faint trace of a bygone murder, the almost undetectable whiff of something illicit.

The shop on the outskirts of the resort town where G. purchased or picked up a bracelet, was piled up high with the jumble of old kitchenware and broken appliances. Leaving me at the entrance, G. disappeared behind the rails of mismatched clothes. He emerged with the bracelet, lying in the pale palm of his dry, almost artistic hand.

He did not ask my opinion of the gift. The honors bestowed by him were to be accepted with gratitude and his choice was not to be questioned. On the other hand, he had always given me the objects of infinite beauty. Once he noted that almost nothing of the worldly goods was worthy to accompany my aesthetic perfection.

I put on a black dress of vintage silk and dangerously high heels. In the living room, G. nodded approvingly. His grey eyes were already slightly bloodied by liqueur. His gaze was wandering but he managed to help me into the softest black cashmere coat. I steadily refused to wear fur and he did not insist. His lips brushed my neck, and I caught the powerful smell of whiskey mingled with the aroma of weed and the salty wind of lost desire.

‘Time to go,’ he opened the door for me. ‘People are waiting.’

I attended such gatherings many times before. Women were usually banished to a side table, but this evening G. asked me to stay with men. The deserted summer café was boarded up and badly lit. Even now he wanted to boast, showing me to his business acquaintances. I realized he wanted to cement whatever victory reached in the afternoon by parading a rare bird of paradise, the desired creature that he managed to catch and tame.

Suddenly bile rose to my throat. I could leave but G. was notoriously unpredictable in his moods. I did not want to end up in a raging sea of early spring. The waves were pounding the wooden promenade outside the shaky shack of the café.

I caught a quick glance of the stocky man of peasant appearance on the other side of the table. His milky-blue eyes followed G, gleaming with pure hatred. His sweaty flaxen hair was disheveled. Taking off his tie, he unbuttoned the shirt collar.

I smiled imperceptibly. The vassal hoped to become king but his dreams were crushed and he was publicly humiliated in front of his enemy. Such a man would never refuse revenge, especially of the sweetest nature. I looked at him, briefly moving my head. His nod was visible only to me.

‘I shall go to the Ladies,’ I whispered to G., who did not pay any attention to my words.

I only had to wait a couple of minutes in the bare toilet next to the café entrance. The tap water dripped into the chipped enamel sink. I smelled the whiff of the sea and the door creaked. The nameless man pinned me to the white-tiled wall. The black silk tore, and stockings slithered down my thighs. His strong fingers found warmth inside me, and I bit my lip. In the dull mirror on the opposite wall I caught a glimpse of an elegantly thin silhouette.

The gunshot deafened me, and the tiles exploded in the spray of sharp edges. G. aimed for his head but missed. He was not likely to miss twice. Screaming, I crouched in the corner. The nameless man was younger and quicker than G. and his shot found the target.

G. doubled, clutching his stomach, painfully moaning. The dark ruby blood turned his white shirt into a ripe pomegranate. G. sunk to his knees in the glistening red pool on the floor. The stream of bullets broke the mirror over the sink. The nameless man’s skull cracked under the fire and he lifelessly plopped to the blood-smeared tiles. Darting past the Adidas twin clutching a rifle, I ran through the commotion in the café.

The white sand cooled my bare feet, the droplets of icy seawater hit my face. Fresh blood spluttered the garnet bracelet. Tearing the chain from my wrist, I threw the trinket into the black beast of the night storm. Breathing the clean air, I went to the lighted bus stop nearby.

About the author 

Nelly Shulman is a writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of six popular novels. Her work has appeared on, in the Vine Leaves Press Anthology of the Best 2021 Flash Fiction and in the various literary magazines and anthologies. She is a winner of two writing awards.


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