• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 04
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The Cameo

He had given her the cameo brooch on their wedding day, pinning it at her throat, piercing the fabric of her wedding dress with its high-necked lace ruffle, his hands not yet roughened and reddened by decades of clutching a spade, a pitchfork, a horse's rein. It had been a warm day, the clouds heavy and low over the church's pointed cross, and she had been embarrassed by the sweat that trickled beneath her white dress; hot from the weather, and from the eyes on her, and from something else too, not yet recognised.

It was my mother's brooch, he had told her. She knew it to be true from the photo of his mother he kept in the ornate and oval frame that stood on their mantelpiece. In the studio portrait, the cameo brooch was pinned at the neck of his mother's black bombazine dress, beneath a face that stared out so stern and severe that she could never picture her dead mother-in-law as anything other than cross and in black and white, although according to her husband the woman in the photo had been a happy soul who had smiled often and sang to him and favoured bright colours.

It belonged to my mother, he had said, and one day it will belong to our daughters too.

But the daughters had died, one after the other. Born pink and plump with a piercing scream that matched her own, each one grew pale and pinched and pitiful. They slipped out of her arms and into the churchyard to join the grandmother they had never met, while she wore the cameo brooch at the neck of her black linen dress.


The Cameo

After one too many she had given up. So there would be no sons to take on the farm, no son-in-laws to change the farm's name.

She had loved him, the day he had given her the cameo brooch. She had marveled at how neatly she could cup the back of his head in her palm, pulling his face towards her own, bliss in the press of his lips against hers. Now the back of his head was exposed through his thinning hair but should she attempt it, she knew it would still fit in her palm, her palm now scabbed with callouses, dry and chapped with work. Despite it all, she loved him still.