The invitation mocked me from my fridge. I had no choice but to go. So instead of spending a quiet Saturday night alone in my apartment, I was heading to my ex-husband’s newly remodeled Main Street colonial—once my own home—to join the Who’s Who of Turnbury to gather and celebrate the wonderful occasion of my ex-husband’s 50th birthday. It was expected that I’d attend. On his arm would be his lovely new wife, Janice and around his neck he’d wear the dull purple glass ball at the end of a gold chain that looked like a bulbous grape stuck to the front of his shirt. As a member of the town’s founding family, he wore the bauble—The Turner Trinket--with pride. Because as our town’s esteemed First Selectman, Walter Turner the tenth (or something like that) deserved to be honored. It wasn’t much to ask, was it? My son lucked out with the enviable excuse of a Senior class retreat (and also in not being named Walter) and couldn’t attend. I could have claimed illness or some other debilitating affliction, but in my tiny town, everyone would know the truth.
Such as it was.
The truth was that my husband quickly divorced me as soon as Janice showed up in his office off of the town green selling the latest in water filtration pumps. Once he saw her, he didn’t look back; not at me, not at our son. And, he bought the pumps. After they married, I had little recourse but to accept his measly divorce agreement; I didn’t have anywhere else to go. No family, no other means of income. Plus, I would get tarred and feathered if I took “his” son out of town. I was allowed to keep my store (in the building he leased to me) and live in the Lilliputian apartment above in which I could raise our son, keeping him nearby in case my ex got an urge to parent. The talk around the coffee shop praised him for providing so generously for me, you know, since I wasn’t even from here.
My own family didn’t arrive in town until the 1960s--newcomers. Grandpa had relocated from Hartford to “the country” in an attempt to address my mother’s errant ways. (Read: promiscuous.) He opened a hardware store, the one I still run. Sadly, the effort was wasted on Mom. She eked her way through high school, stayed in touch with her friends from Hartford and got pregnant. Within days after she delivered me, I was dropped with grandpa and grandma while Mom chased her destiny in California. Since nobody actually knew who my own father was (and nobody stepped up to claim me), I became the good girl that my grandparents always wanted. As high school sweethearts, I was the good girl Walter always wanted, too. Until I wasn’t anymore.
I know, I know. Why stay? I asked myself that every day. One reason is that this town was my whole life; my son’s too. It didn’t help that our beloved First Selectman Turner hailed from a long line of beloved First Selectmen. The whole clan was descended from the town founder, Walter Turner the first. Get it? Turn-er . . .Turn-bury? They named the whole damn town after themselves. In a year, my son would head off to college and then I’d be free to go--somewhere. For now, because my livelihood depended on it, I had to go to this stupid party, because if I didn’t, I would be the jerk. Not Walter. Never him.
No, he would be the self-satisfied town father accepting the adulation of his people while proudly sporting that stupid necklace. It was evidence of his entitlement in one ugly bead. That town relic, was—for some reason--the proof that the first Walter Turner was an actual passenger on the Mayflower. The bead was supposedly actual Venetian glass, one of a long-gone substantial collection, brought from Europe for trading, it’s mottled-blue shade replicated for every Turner residence in town. That empurpled bauble hangs from the neck of every selectman in every official portrait since 1695. When not being formally painted or worn for show, the relic rested in a white velvet lined box in a locked glass case beneath the aforementioned portraits. Incredible, but true.
I honestly don’t even know why I was on the invitation list. Probably because they figured I’d bring my son—our son—and when he couldn’t make it, it would be impolite to uninvite me. There were some social niceties that even Walter the tenth had to observe; I’m sure Janice would have been happy to cross my name off that list. Word around that same coffee shop was that she was kind of bossy, information I was only too happy to hear. But I still had to go.
I arrived at the party, nodded at Walter and Janice coming in from the garden, accepted a glass of bubbly and promised myself I’d stay less than an hour. I could handle one, possibly two, awkward conversations. I’d have one—probably two--glasses of champagne. Then I’d smile, toast, and leave. If I could make it that long. To steel myself, I popped outside for some fresh air. Stepping off the re-surfaced granite patio into the grass, my foot landed on something small and hard. I looked down. Lying in the grass as if it were no big deal was the Venetian bead, the broken gold chain coiled beside it. I scooped up the bead and held it tightly in my hand as the sound of clinking of glasses and congratulatory laughter floated out through the open windows. No one had seen me. I put it in my pocket.
It was time to go.