The necklace is real. The person wearing it? A fraud.
Fifteen sparkling diamond chips adorn the bridle of an 18-carat gold horse head, racing forever toward her heart when she puts it on.
Ah, she loved them, sure, the ponies. From a distance: a stable (pun intended) supporting cast member. She mucked stalls under close supervision. Learned the difference between hay (heavy, greenish, munchable) and straw (lighter, yellowish, a bedding product).
She helped at the races, sometimes even washing them down after, and walking them so they could “make their water”. But she never put equipment on them on her own, never drove them. To be completely honest? Their sheer size and power frightened the hell out of her.
And that was what he surely embraced. Size. Power.
“Mark my words,” he’d say, reaching for the calendar. (No smart phones then; always a calendar on the wall. A sentimental gal, she tended to pick Norman Rockwell.) “This horse will be the one to pay the mortgage.” And he would write it there, to give solidity to the dream.
When that horse didn’t – because of course “you can’t measure the size of their heart” he’d acknowledge, running a gentle hand along a yearling’s back, over its rump, down its tender legs at the fall sales – surely the next one would.
“You look, you buy, you bugger,” his father would say, concerned about precarious cash flows on the son’s behalf. But what true horse lover could stay away from the excitement of the fall sales? There was the preparation: studying catalogues, pedigrees. And the electric buzz in the air at the sale itself, the auctioneer’s encouraging prattle a constant soundtrack.
Her accounting and office managerial skills prepared her well for secretarial duties in this regard. While he chatted with grooms and poked and prodded, she took copious notes for him to study back at the hotel.
She’d learned to do this at the races too, while observing other good supporting cast members early in her horse career. Every race in the program was marked: who got away first, who got boxed in, all quarter-mile times and order of finish duly noted.
She did such a good job she even wrote about the ponies, interviewing people in the industry for various trade journals and pumping out press releases for the Ontario Sires Stakes program one season. (If she wasn’t sure what someone meant when they said something, she had a horse expert at home to clarify.)
He’d bought her fine jewellery over the years. You must understand. He was a salesman himself, trained by traditional salespeople of the Mad Men era. How did you show the world you were doing well? A fine car. Luxury goods for the wife. A fur. Pearls perhaps.
They were at their favourite standardbred horse race. The Little Brown Jug, Delaware, Ohio. There are bigger races with bigger purses. Ah, but this one, to them, was the creme de la creme. Known as the “fastest half-mile track in the world”, it has a small-town feel that the other jewels in the Triple Crown lack. They’d cruise down with friends and family, make bets, drink too much. She even wore a press pass for a couple of years, interviewed their heroes. (And there’s a fictional thriller that revolves around this horse race collecting dust in a drawer somewhere in her house.)
He purchased it at one of the fine jewellers trackside. It was a tad embarrassing, being gifted this tremendously expensive-looking piece while coated in that fine Delaware dirt, people looking on.
But she was the type who always wanted to look like she belonged. She wore the t-shirts of her kids’ various teams, bought horsey things – boots, belts, t-shirts – herself.
There was no way to know it would be the last jewellery purchase. No way to know that “mark my words” would be muted forever a couple of months later when his sudden death became the cataclysmic thing that paid the mortgage.
It was a home prone to break-ins. A couple of years after he died, thieves came while she was out for a quick lunch on a snowy day and left the gate open. Hilariously, she noted that the rock that got thrown through the front window to gain entry was the very same one that covered the house key – still sitting there – on the front window sill.
So many pieces he’d given her over the years – pearls, a Raymond Weil watch, the dolphin-wrapped black pearl from Tahiti – gone. The horse? Remains.
His expensive hobby is her expensive necklace. Solidity to a dream. Reminding her that although the failure of his own Texas-sized heart ended his dream of a big-hearted racehorse, it was the chasing of the dream that mattered.