The Silver Locket
|......It was pure chance that he found it. Clive Franson would not have gone out on such a filthy wet night if not for Roger, his old spaniel, being so insistent on taking his evening walk. If he had not paused to let a car pass before he crossed Samson Street just where he had, he certainly would not have spotted it.|
......It was as he glanced down to ensure Roger was safely at heel, that he caught the glint of something reflected in the car's headlights. The occupant of the car, old Mrs Charlesworth from Hill Crescent, gave him a cheery wave as she drove carefully by. He returned the wave with his usual sheepish grin before bending to investigate. What made him do so puzzled him later; he was not normally inquisitive. Somehow though, he felt almost drawn to the gleaming object.
......The rainwater was rushing along the gutter at the side of the road in a heavy stream, carrying the object along with it. Clive's gloved fingers fumbled clumsily, his first attempt to get a grip of it failed and it was swept on, twisting and turning in the stream. It was fortunate that his next attempt succeeded; otherwise, he would not have had another chance to rescue the object. The water was flowing rapidly along the gutter and down a gurgling drain, the object with it. His clutching fingers grasped it just as it reached the metal grid of the drain cover, a moment later and it would have been lost forever.
......Clive straightened and inspected his find. It was a small oval pendant on a chain, the chain tangled and knotted from being swirled about in the water. The streetlights did not provide sufficient light to examine it properly, so he slipped it into his raincoat pocket to look at more closely later. Roger, who meanwhile had occupied himself with worrying fallen autumn leaves floating by, had tired of his game and become impatient to be on his way. He tugged at his lead and looked up imploringly at his master, dumbly pleading to move on.
......"Ok, lad, we're going, there's no need to drag my arm out of its socket," said Clive, allowing himself to be pulled along by the eager dog.
......They carried on across Samson Street and down the hill until they reached the small park, where Clive let Roger off the lead to run free. He followed the path around the park, keeping to the meagre shelter of the dripping trees, until he had completed the whole circuit. He then called Roger, who reluctantly permitted himself to be put back on the lead, before leaving the park and heading back home.
......The tiny town of Kingsfield had few shops, Clive owned the only newsagent's, Kingsfield News. He had taken it over from his parents after their death, ten years ago. The income it provided was small, but as his needs were modest, he was content. He unlocked the door, the familiar sound of the bell above it greeting him, and stood well back to avoid being showered as Roger shook himself. Relocking the door behind him, he crossed the shop floor, past the magazine racks and sweet shelves. His living quarters were above the shop, reached by a flight of stairs behind the counter; before climbing them he took a last look around the shop to ensure all was well, then followed Roger's wagging tail up.
......After removing and hanging up his raincoat, he dried Roger with an old towel, and then prepared a light supper for himself while Roger ate noisily from a bowl of dog food. It was only later, as he was half dozing in front of the fire, lulled by the comforting smell of warm fur emanating from Roger sleeping peacefully at his feet, that he remembered his earlier find.
......Rising and stretching, he went to the cupboard where his raincoat hung and retrieved the pendant. Resuming his chair, he took his first proper look at it. He saw now that it was made of silver, probably not very expensive, but a pretty article just the same. It was dirty from its immersion in the water, and he roughly cleaned it with his handkerchief, revealing an intricate floral pattern etched on its front. Turning it round in his hand and admiring the obvious artistry that had gone into its manufacture, he noticed the tiny catch at the top and realised what he held was a locket.
......He tried gently pressing the catch, but dust and dirt had clogged it and it refused to respond. He tried again, pressing more firmly, still without result. Overcome with a sudden strangely overwhelming curiosity to discover what was inside, he took the locket into his small kitchen and, with the aid of a mild mixture of water and washing liquid, cleaned it more thoroughly. He soon removed all the dirt and, after carefully rubbing it dry with a soft cloth, had the locket sparkling in the light. Now that he could see it more clearly, it was more striking than it had first appeared. The pattern on the front was more involved than he had thought, composed of tiny little intertwining flowers, leaves and stems etched in minute detail. The chain, which he had untangled, was finely and delicately wrought and, though it looked so fragile, was surprisingly strong. The clasp of the chain, however, was broken.
......He pressed the catch. This time, the locket sprung immediately open. It was further tribute to the skill of the locket's maker that it sealed so securely no water or dirt had penetrated inside it. Inside the lid, etched in a flowing script with the same precision as the design on the front, were the initials S D. It was to the content of the other half of the locket, however, that Clive's attention was drawn.
......Nestling in the base, protected by a transparent cover, was a colour photograph of the loveliest woman he had ever seen.
......Clive did not have a great deal to do with women. He had spent much of his younger years caring for his ailing parents; the time and opportunity for youthful dalliances with the opposite sex had passed him by. Even if it had not, it is doubtful he would have taken advantage of it; his almost chronic shyness being too much of a handicap. Now in his late thirties, Clive regarded women as a race apart, one that did not figure in his life. As such, to him they were far too intimidating to be given more than a passing interest. That is not to say he did not sometimes crave female company; he often found himself wondering what it would be like to share his life with someone for whom he cared, someone who cared equally for him. However, his timidity being such an insurmountable barrier, he had long ago settled himself to a single, though somewhat lonely, life.
......It came as something of a surprise then, that he found himself so taken with the photograph in the locket.
......If pressed, he would have found difficulty in explaining what attracted him so. He supposed that if he was to be honest, he probably had encountered women equally pretty as the one in the photograph, perhaps even more so. What he had not encountered, however, were the feelings gazing at the image brought to him.
......He was amazed to see that the hand that held the locket was trembling. How could a simple photograph affect him so? It was ridiculous. What was this strange sensation of warmth, this rapidly beating heart, this surging inside?
......In a daze, he returned to his chair in front of the fire, his eyes fixed on the locket. The photograph, though small and showing only the face of the woman, was clear in every detail. The eyes, so darkly brown as to be almost black, seemed to stare right back at him. They had a deep softness, a tranquil gentleness; yet there was sensuousness there too, an underlying passionateness. Clive sensed they belonged to a woman of both caring and intense nature. Her lips, slightly parted in a half-smile that suggested a mischievous sense of humour, were full and ripe. He could not resist speculating how soft they might be, how tender. Only her nose, which was perhaps a little over-large, marred the overall symmetry of a face that looked back at him framed by a rich abundance of black lustrous hair.
......Clive could not tear his eyes away from the photograph. Somehow it was if he knew her, had always known her. His mind gave her a body, a voice, a personality. He imagined himself talking with her, laughing with her, his shyness a thing of the past. How could he have believed that women were such frightening creatures, never to be approached? With her, he was complete, confident and assured, no longer bumbling and blushing. In his head, he built a life together for them both, a life that she had always been a part of and would for ever more be.
......This would never do. Here he was, conjuring up foolish fantasies of a woman he had never met, would probably never meet; making of himself someone he could never be. Until he found the locket, he had thought himself satisfied with his quiet, humdrum life. Now the photograph had woken a yearning loneliness he had not known existed in him. He had better put aside his silly daydreams and resign himself to the way things were.
......He closed the locket with a sigh, trying to shake off the aching longing churning inside him. Even though the picture of the woman was now hidden he could still see her in his mind, almost as clearly as if she were standing in front of him. He wanted to reach out to her, touch her.
......This was sheer madness. He placed the locket on the arm of the chair and determinedly took his eyes away from it. If he carried on like this, creating this turmoil for himself, he would make himself unwell. Forget her. Forget the locket.
......How could he, though? He could not keep the locket. Its owner would be missing it. He had to find her and return it. It was clear what had happened. Unaware that the clasp was broken, she had been walking along, perhaps hurrying to get out of the rain, and the locket had slipped from her neck unnoticed to fall into the gutter where it had lain until he came along. She would have discovered her loss later and now would be distressed by it. Clive was certain something so pretty must mean a lot to her.
......He must find her and give the locket back to her. It was strange that he did not know her, had never seen her. Kingsfield being so small, he knew most of the residents. Most of them came into his shop at some time or another. If he had seen her before he would not have forgotten. Perhaps she was new to the town or just passing through. The thing to do, he decided, was to make a notice describing the locket and where he had found it and stick it prominently in the shop window. He could also ask his customers as they came in if they knew whom the woman was.
......Then he could meet her and talk to her. Maybe then he could dare to ask her out. Imagine what it would be like to be with her, to hear her voice, her laugh. Imagine being close to her, touching her, feeling her warmth. If only ...
......There he went again. Drifting off into a fantasy world.
......He definitely must stop this foolishness.
......He was amazed to see by the clock on the mantelpiece how late it had become. Had he really spent so much time letting his imagination run away with itself? He had to be up early to sort and mark the newspapers ready for delivery. If he did not get himself off to bed, he would never be up in time.
......As Clive rose from the chair, Roger stirred and peered up at his master, an indulgent look in his wistful brown eyes. Seeing nothing amiss, he tucked his shaggy head between his paws and was immediately asleep again as if he had never been disturbed. Unaware that he had unconsciously picked up the locket, Clive switched off the light and went through into his bedroom.
......It was only as he began to undress ready for bed that he realised he still held the locket. Shaking his head at his absentmindedness, he placed the locket on his bedside table and continued his preparations. Climbing into bed, he could not resist one final look at the photograph before turning out the light. It was as if the woman's face looked back at him, as if the half-smile was for him. Who was she? Why did he believe their fates were intertwined?
......Chiding himself for being a romantic fool, he placed the locket back on the bedside table. Even so, he could not bring himself to close the locket, positioning it in such a way that the photograph faced him. As the darkness enfolded him, he could feel her eyes on him, watching him as he lay in his bed. When he finally drifted off to sleep, his mind was full of her, his dreams haunted by her.
......It came as no surprise to him then, that when his alarm clock shrilled demandingly he felt that he had not slept at all. Blearily, he reached out for the button to silence the strident sound, his eyes immediately coming into contact with the open locket. It was as if she had been there waiting to greet him, her little smile warm and welcoming. His dreams came flooding back to him and he lay back, letting their images carry him away.
......If it had not been for the loud rapping at the shop door downstairs and the thud of the morning newspapers arriving, he may have been lost in dreams a lot longer. He hurriedly dressed and went down into the shop. The bundles of newspapers, bound with string, were waiting for him in the doorway as usual.
......Outside, a heavy frost, the first of the winter, had frozen the previous day's rain. The road sparkled in the dawn light, an icy layer covering its surface. Clive carried the bundles into the shop, laid them on the counter and cut the strings. He then sorted out the newspapers and began to write his customer's addresses at the top of their front pages, ready for Peter, his delivery boy, to take on his round.
......The routine task cleared his thoughts somewhat of the woman, though occasionally he was tempted to take out the locket, which he had slipped into his trouser pocket, and to have just one look again at her picture. By an effort of will, however, he resisted the urge and carried on with the mundane chore. He was marking the last few newspapers when the telephone rang.
......It was Mrs Cartwright, Peter's mother. She was very sorry but her son had come down with a stomach bug the previous evening and was far too ill to deliver the newspapers that morning. She hoped that Clive would not be too inconvenienced, and felt sure that Peter would be well enough to resume his duties the next day.
......Clive thanked her and hung up the telephone. Now what was he to do? His customers would be waiting for their morning newspapers to drop through their letterboxes, and he was too conscientious to let them down. It was too late to organise an alternative. The only thing for it was to deliver the newspapers himself. There was not enough time to deliver them by foot; he would have to open the shop in a little over an hour. He would have to use the car.
......Clive did not drive much, apart from occasional visits to the wholesaler's for fresh stocks for the shop, he seldom ventured far in the car. He had never really got to grips with driving, and was as timid behind the wheel as in most other areas of his life. Having no other option, Clive reluctantly went out to the garage at the side of the shop and loaded the newspapers, neatly sorted into order of delivery, into the car.
......On an impulse he could not explain, as he climbed into the driving seat he reached into his pocket and took out the locket. Seated at the wheel, he pressed the tiny catch, revealing the photograph once more. Was it his imagination, or did he detect a sadness hidden deep in the woman's soft brown eyes? Did her semi-smiling lips mask an inner melancholy? Perhaps she was alone as he, as bereft of companionship? Was she searching for someone gentle, someone loving and caring - someone like Clive?
......Clive realised he was allowing himself to become foolishly maudlin again, but somehow, this morning he did not care. All at once, he resolved that he was going to find the woman and get to know her. He would never rest, never be satisfied again until he did. As soon as he got back he would prepare the notice advertising the locket, he would quiz every customer that came into the shop. Before then though, he had the newspapers to deliver. He placed the locket, still open, on the dashboard, the photograph looking up at him, and reached out to start the car.
......The car was old, it had belonged to his father and Clive had never got round to replacing it. He knew it was long overdue for servicing but, as he used it so infrequently, he had kept putting it off. His first four attempts to start the engine met with no response, it refused even to turn over. Frustratedly, he tried again, hoping that the car had not chosen this particular morning to finally give up on him. To his relief, this time the engine coughed, sputtered, then came grudgingly to life.
......Cautiously, Clive backed out of the garage and onto the road. Aware of the ice crunching under the tyres, he drove as carefully as he knew how to his first destination, the Henderson's on Potter Lane.
......By the time he turned onto Samson Street, he had delivered only half of the newspapers and was beginning to feel slightly panicked that he would not be back to open the shop at his usual time. Driving a little beyond his skill in the icy conditions, he approached the steep downward slope of the street faster than he would normally have done.
......Everything seemed to happen all at once then. As he precariously reached the halfway point of the hill, struggling with the wheel to keep the car in a straight line, he saw the figure of a woman walking towards him. She was walking at the very edge of the pavement, head bowed, as if she was searching for something. Hearing his approach, she glanced up.
......Clive was astounded. He looked down at the photograph in the locket on the dashboard in front of him, then back up. It was her! There was no doubt about it. The same dark hair, the same mouth, the same nose and eyes. It was the woman in the locket. Only more beautiful in reality.
......However, her expression was far from the same as in the photograph. No half-smiling face looked back at him; instead, her face was contorted by shock. Clive could not understand why she looked that way until he suddenly realised he was veering off the road and heading straight at her. So surprised at seeing the woman whose image he carried in his head as well as in the locket, his concentration had abandoned control of the car.
Desperately, he fought the car, striving with all his strength to turn the wheel. He stamped his foot on the brake, but in his panic, his foot hit the wrong pedal. Unaware he was pressing the accelerator, he pushed down hard. The car surged forward joltingly.
......The woman stood immobile, her eyes wide and frightened, staring straight back at him, her lips moving as if she was trying to shout out to him. Why did she not move? It was as if she was transfixed, as if she was waiting for him to hit her.
......"Get out of the way," he shouted, but it was too late. With a thud so solid and heavy, a distant part of his mind was amazed that it could be the result of impact with something so frail as a human body, the front of the car slammed into her. His last sight of her was as she was thrown onto her back, then the car bounced twice as the front and rear wheels ran over her.
......Shocked at what he had done, Clive almost relinquished control of the car entirely. Dazedly, he became conscious that he was still speeding at an alarming rate and a lamppost was rushing towards him. With a strength born of fear, he forced the wheel round and steered the car back onto the road, scraping the lamppost with the front wing.
......He careered on down the hill; only then realising his foot was on the accelerator. The car sped onwards as he fumbled to find the brake. His mind stunned, without thinking, he trod heavily down on the brake. It was his final mistake.
......The car abruptly skidded and slewed around on the icy road, completely out of his control. Samson Street bends sharply at the bottom of the hill; the car, however, gaining momentum and sliding along on locked wheels, raced inexorably forward.
......The last thing Clive Franson was ever aware of was the wall surrounding the park looming in front of him and the deafening crash of the car smashing into it. Then his body was thrown forward and his head hit the dashboard with terrific force.
......Early the next day, the distributor's van pulled up in front of the newsagent's shop and the driver deposited the bundles of morning newspapers in the doorway. After rapping at the door, he climbed back into the van and pulled away.
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