NOVEL EXTRACT: The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis

Prose: The Jeweller by Caryl Lewis
Translated from Welsh by Gwen Davies

'In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy....'

Mari opened her eyes. Down on her knees, she saw shapes forming in the dark. There came that fluttering sound again. At the little window, day was close; the wind’s thin breath a cloud on the glass. A flutter, like fingers leafing through pages. She got up to look. Against the cold glass, a butterfly beat a muted prayer for escape. Her pupils got darker, helping her penetrate the grey.

When she was a little girl they’d say butterflies were just leaves reincarnated. She’d mulled it over then, her mood lifted on a fancy of fortunes befalling a girl in a world where one small leaf can bloom all colours, sprout wings, up sticks and up up away into the sunset. She shivered.

The noise had awoken Nanw, who stretched out lazily. Mari went over and chattered to her softly to keep her calm. The sea was breathing in the distance, dark against the growing light, and seagulls were being flung across the air like litter. The butterfly nagged gently like an old flame. Should she let it outside, it was sure to die, weak and failing as it was already from a winter in the cottage. But it was desperate to be let go.

Nanw sat up, enchanted by the ragged wings. Mari caught it at the corner of the glass, cupping her hands around it as though she were offering communion. She nudged open the sash with her elbow, the wings pulsing weakly on her palm. She stretched her arms out and a gust snatched the insect away across the garden. Now you could hear the ringing of wind in the rigging of boats below. Fear crept through her.. She banged the window shut and drew the loose folds of her nightie around her. She gazed into the gloom, the butterfly’s powder a gold dust on her fingertips.

'Amen,' she whispered.

Nanw was mimicking her by leaning against her cage’s grid, arms clutched round her body. The weak light glowed silver in Mari’s hair and ruby across the dark face of the monkey.

The chill had crept up Mari’s spine so she fetched a cardigan and hooked it over her shoulders. She let the cat into the bedroom to keep Nanw company while Mari had her breakfast.

The cottage was nestled on a remote road above the sea, surrounded by crooked trees. Opposite the low doorway, across the road, was an old stile marking the way down to the beach. The three small rooms were filled with clutter. Mari’s treasures choked the narrow kitchen passage, and antique clothes hung along each wall. Papers were piled all anyhow, while the thick walls were so badly affected by damp that she had to keep a fire going in the bedroom.

She went barefoot along the lino to the kitchen and lowered an egg on a spoon into a saucepanful of water. She dried the spoon in her nightie, thrusting it into some cranny of an old wireless needing technical TLC after Nanw broke the aerial in a fit of temper. Mari listened to the radio’s far-off voices as she made herself a cup of tea. She left the teabag steaming on the sink.

She waited for the egg to rap out in morse code that it was ready, and she sat down to eat in the early hours. Mari finished her egg, leaving the shell rocking on the table.

She put on two pairs of socks in the bedroom, pushing her petticoat into the top of her trousers. Tying her money bag around her waist, she hid it under rolls of jumper. She threw some nuts over to Nanw who set to cracking them, eager for the next one even before she’d had the first. Years ago the monkey would have gone with her mistress: she had been good for business. But times had changed; one nip and a customer would play hell. Mari crouched to say goodbye, stroking her little black hands, while Nanw tried to filch the bracelets chiming around Mari’s wrists. The cat half-woke and whipped its tail in envy.

'Stay here now, sweetie; the cat’ll keep you company.'

Mari stood up, letting go of the hands which curved back around the bars. Nanw turned her big eyes on her. Mari shut the door and went into the front room. She rummaged among the teddies in the toychest and found a deep leather box. She held it tight against her chest like a child and carried it out carefully to the car, locking the door behind her.

Squalls stifled the sound of the engine starting up. The clock’s staccato said quarter to five. Dry leaves and rubbish were being blown about the garden. From her cell, Nanw saw the car depart, and she glanced out into the garden at a small colourful leaf clutching at blades of grass. The cat began to purr.







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