Today I have an extract to share from Chapter 4 of The Jeweller for my stop on the blog tour, courtesy of Julia Forster. The book was written by Caryl Lewis, published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press on 19 September 2019, and translated by Gwen Davies.
Before we get to the extract, here’s what the book is about…
“A moving, quirky, and gorgeously written meditation on the haunting afterlife of the objects we leave behind. There is a lapidary beauty hidden in almost every sentence.” Tristan Hughes
Mari supplements her modest trade as a market stall holder with the wares she acquires from clearing the houses of the dead. She lives alone in a tiny cottage by the shore, apart from a monkey that she keeps in a cage, surrounding herself with the lives of others, combing through letters she has gleaned, putting up photographs of strangers on her small mantelpiece.
But Mari is looking for something beyond saleable goods for her stall. As she works on cutting a perfect emerald, she inches closer to a discovery that will transform her life and throw her relationships with old friends into relief. To move forward she must shed her life of things past and start again. How she does so is both surprising and shocking…
On Good Friday, Mari was struggling with the stall doors. Tiredness leached through her body – especially her arms – after her work the previous night. She hoped someone might help, but Gwyn hadn’t arrived yet and Mo was in full flow over at the bakery. Mari flushed at the idea of asking a stranger. Two young women walked past. She tried to make the doors give way, tugging sharply, and started to sweat. Lately the weakness settled on her like sea mist, taking all morning to lift. She made sure no one had noticed her. She was about to give up. Resting her head against the doors, her face was red with strain. Every day she felt fatigue shake her harder like a rag doll, and yet her nerves were on edge.
“Mari?” Dafydd’s quiet voice.
His white coat was all bloody from chopping up meat; the knife he was holding was wet. Mari stepped aside and let him solve her problem with one hand. She tried not to catch his eye in case he saw how close she was to tears.
“Thanks,” she cleared her throat. She hurried to open the inner door just as Dafydd bent to pick up her box. Their heads nearly touched.
“Watch out, or you’ll get blood on it,” she said, taking it from him and setting it on the counter.
Mari was ferreting in the box. “No.”
He got a bag of flesh out of his pocket. “Look, these are for Nanw.”
“Bring them over later.”
“I can’t come tonight, but don’t forget to give them to her.”
Mari slipped out the jewellery trays as usual. The gems were sparkling, humming like bees, their corners pricking her fingers.
“Well, can’t be helped,” she said.
“But I’ll come over soon.”
“That’s enough porkies.”
They heard a man’s polite cough. Dafydd stepped back and hovered nearby. It was a couple entwined, his hands caked with black. Her young skin seemed polished, and at her hairline there was blonde down. The middle-aged man squeezed her arm until white bands appeared around it. Dafydd looked them up and down.
“Time to choose, then,” the man said. The girl’s eyes flitted from ring to ring, no idea where to start. “I’ll pay cash,” he added.
“We’ve just got engaged,” she said as if in apology. Mari dipped her head, still setting out her wares. One thing a ring can do is hold you to a promise. But that sort of promise was far too heavy for this girl’s slight shoulders. After years of being longed for, loved and flaunted by other owners, the jewels shared Mari’s company a while before finding a new home. She expected one of them to choose this girl. Competing for her favour, their angles ogled: the gems shone keenly, mean. Dafydd was watching the girl eye the polished facets.
“This one, I think,” she said at last. A diamond ring whose impressive dazzle made up for its size.
“Will you wear it now?”
The girl glanced at her fiancé. “Hm, I might lose it.”
“What’s the point of buying it then? You got it, baby, you should flaunt it!”
He put down his money on the counter while Mari wrote out a receipt and rooted around for a box. She could tell he was not used to waiting, so she took her time. Dafydd was shuffling from one foot to the other.
“Do you know why a diamond sparkles?” Mari held captive her audience of three. The girl slipped the ring on, slipped the ring off. “It’s because any light that gets in splits into a prism.” Dafydd had taken a step closer. “It bounces off walls in there, dances; it catches fire.” The girl was half-smiling as she gawked at her finger. “It’s like a house for the jewel. But if those walls aren’t smooth, or if that home isn’t ready and there’s no welcome, then… that gem will break its heart and hide away that flicker. The light is lost…” The girl’s expression clouded. Mari scored the receipt into a fold with her nail and gave it to the man. He plucked it from her with a frown. “Congratulations!”
The girl twisted around as the man tried to tug her away. Mari did not blanch at the dark look Dafydd gave her.
If that leaves you wanting more, the book can be purchased here.