Her taxi turned right on Rue de Verneuil and lurched half a block and stopped abruptly. Since her luggage had been lost, she simply paid the driver, and stepped out onto her first Parisian street in over sixteen years. An unnatural feeling of excitement filled her feet, then her chest and she had the urge to jump or skip or clap, perhaps even all at once. This was her third country since November yet it was Paris that made her feel free the most. The last time she’d been here she’d been a wife only concerned with the feelings and happiness of her husband. Or unhappiness as it had been then.
“Bonjour Mademoiselle Everett!” the concierge warmly greeted her, stepping out from behind a petite but elegant desk to attend to her. She explained that the airlines were going to send her luggage once it was found but that for now she was just going to bed. His eyebrows shot up in surprise and he quickly suggested “a little wine to take with you?” to her. Without waiting for her response, he went to a small glass cupboard and took out a half bottle of white wine. She instinctively started to say no, then stopped herself. Edward wasn’t upstairs. There was no one to frown darkly at her.
“Oh, well, perhaps, a glass would help after traveling” she offered him as she took the bottle and started towards the tiny elevator. It seemed everything was made for a small person but then the hotel was 300 years old. Maybe they weren’t as tall as her back then.
The concierge pressed the button for her and explained they were renovating but had put her in the top floor with a lovely view. She maneuvered into the small elevator and said “Merci!” as she slid the tiny door shut. The elevator had a kind of carpet or upholstery on it and would, for some, be highly claustrophobic due to its diminutive size. Edward would hate this place she thought to herself.
She already loved it.
It was 4 am Paris time. She opened her very French style window and looked down the street. As far as her eyes could see, there were Haussmann style roofs, fairytale grays and blues and flourishes of an era when a woman like her would have been out on the street and not in a beautiful suite in one of the nicest areas of Paris.
She kicked off her shoes, shrugged out of her dress and crawled from the bottom of the bed to the top. She hugged the downy pillow and giggled into it. At long last, she could be with one of her greatest loves.
She found herself in Dary’s, one of the oldest antique jewelry shops in Paris. There were two elderly ladies sitting at what looked to be a desk older than the shop smoking. A younger, elegant woman came down some narrow stairs to greet her.
“Bonjour Mademoiselle! How can I help you?”
Prue felt a little disappointed that it was so obvious she wasn’t French.
“Bonjour! I am just interested to see what you have, perhaps earrings, Art Deco era?”
The woman nodded vigorously and disappeared up the narrow staircase again. The two older women spoke to one another in French rapidly and assessed her like they were looking through magnifying lenses. They seemed to Prue like two old crows sifting over a shiny object, except she wasn’t a shiny object, she was a person. She smiled warmly at them and one stood up and came around speaking in French as she moved towards one of the cases. She pulled out a red velvet tray of rings. Prue shook her head and said “Non, non, I have a ring!” and showed her wedding ring. The woman took her hand and pulled it up to her crackled, softly sagging skin and peered at it, turning Prue’s hand in either direction. She looked up into her eyes for a moment and said in a thick gravely voice, “Aimez-vous cette bague, je ne crois pas?
Prue shook her head and looked up at the younger woman who was now descending the staircase and who spoke in english to her. “Do not listen to my mother, she is only trying to get that ring off of your finger!” She carried two small boxes and placed them in front of her on the glass case.
The old woman leaned into the younger woman’s face and barked, “Vous n’avez aucune idée de ce dont vous parlez, ne soyez pas si arrogant Cecile!” Prue stepped back, not wanting to be between them, and the younger woman reached out to bring her back towards the case.
“Please, my mother is…” She shook her head and whispered something quietly in her mother’s ear and her mother shuffled back towards the desk in the back.
“What did she say?” Prue asked quietly.
“She thinks you don’t want your ring and that you are better off without it. She’s a bit, not so right in the head I think you say?”
From the back the woman shouted, “Vous êtes celui qui est un malade mental!”
“But…I think she is right.” Prue looked down at her ring and twisted the diamond towards her. It was a 2.5 carat Princess cut diamond with a heavy diamond band. When Edward had bought her it she had been overwhelmed with its worth because inside, she didn’t feel worthy of wearing such a ring. She never once questioned whether she liked it or not. She felt lucky to have been given it at all. Yet, over the years she came to resent its weight, its square, unyielding shape, the message it sent wherever she went, that she was somehow branded by this small gesture of movement every moment of every day as the light hit her finger and refracted a life that was not shining or happy or Princess like at all. She found herself taking it off more and more and liking its absence, and more importantly, the space that absence gave her in her life.
She slipped it off and placed it on the counter. The mother shot up her head and arched her eyebrows and waved her hand in the air as though she had won a fight. She chuckled and her partner in crime smiled and and gave a small slap of the desk to confirm the decision.
“Mademoiselle, you should think about this, non?” Cecile looked into her eyes but Prue felt certain.
“Oui, your mother, she is absolutely right. I am unhappy, and I’ve…I’m not with my husband now. Why keep it? It only ever meant I was obligated, not loved. “ She fought down tears and the mother came around from behind the desk.
She gently took one of the boxes Cecile had brought down and brought out a pair of drop earrings and held one of them next to Prue’s ears. Prue looked at their reflection and felt herself giggling with the mother whose eyes shone with mischief. She fully understood what Prue was doing and she was thankful for it. Who could explain in simple english what she was experiencing anyway?
The earrings cascaded down in a series of tiny round diamonds that dropped delicately into a perfect oval diamond framed by two Art Deco style swirls that were made up of a series of smaller diamonds. They were platinum which Prue liked. They were perfect.
“Are you sure Mademoiselle?” Cecile asked gently. Then all three of them looked together into the mirror as Prue put both earrings on and admired them.
“Yes, absolutely, I am sure.”
Walking down the rue Saint-Honoré, Prue felt a lightness in her limbs, her face, her hair, her skin; she wanted to shout and could barely contain herself to walking and not skipping. This must be a kind of euphoria that follows selling a wedding ring worth over fifty thousand dollars she had worn for over twenty years. She looked down at the worn space on her finger now naked and took a deep breath. Oh my god she thought to herself, what have I done?
There is no turning back. She had just burned the bridge to her life. To Edward. Forever. He would never, ever forgive her. This she knew for certain.
And yet she was ecstatic. It was the first time she had no identity other than her own fingerprints, laughter, movement, passport–she was vulnerable, completely open, free and lost all at the same moment. She ignored the impassioned plea of her inner self begging her to go back to the shop, begging her not to cast off from the secure shore of her married life. Instead, she bought herself a pain au chocolat (her second of the day) and watched busy Parisians bustling along, biking or walking, their scarves tossed nonchalantly around them, holding their baguettes and chatting amiably, hands entwined on their way back to their homes to prepare for a Saturday night meal. She held a piece of chocolate on her tongue and just let it melt very slowly. The spring sunshine filled the narrow street and she let her freedom settle into her fingers as she pulled the tiny box closer to her on the table. She would go to the Riviera and wear these earrings to dinner she promised herself. She wouldn’t care what she looked like or that she ate alone. Only how they felt, their delicate weight dangling freely, bought by years of sadness, worn with inexplicable joy.