It was the sound it made that first attracted me. Not quite a jingle, more substantial than that, more seductive. It was the sound of cocktail hour. A sound that winked 'look at me'. The sound of the kind of jewellery that does your flirting for you.
She sat down opposite me, in her early sixties, slim, full make-up, too jet black hair swept back in a French roll, Grace Kelly bag. A woman stuck in another era. Where petticoats and suspenders were just underwear. She needed to soften her make-up, lighten her hair. The colours of her thirties hardened her face now, which was beautiful in the way French woman are beautiful. Because they believe they are.
She looked up at me, clear green eyes, defiant, wise.
I smiled as she sat, placing her coffee perfectly, straightening the napkin to an exact right angle to her left. The bag, also in the golden mean position, no sugar, she sipped, silently. Inhaling a long breath over that first hit of caffeine. It is a doozy. Never another like it. Jingle jingle.
In holiday mood, I was chatty.
"I love your bracelet. I smiled.
She looked startled at the sound of my voice, but the desired effect of the bracelet pleased her.
"It looks like you've been collecting the charms for a long time. I added.
"Yes, well, most of them were gifts, from my husband.
The romance of her life with one man on her wrist. I noticed the heart charm, burnished butter yellow of the gold, it's surface plumply smooth. It looked full of love.
She sipped her coffee the way a bird drinks, eyes always lifting, scanning around her. Am I safe. Keep an eye out.
I thought to stop talking, that she was a nervous, private person, but instead she picked up the heart between red varnished nails and said,
"The bracelet was my wedding gift from him. With just this heart attached.
We both look at the laden seam of charms, no links of bracelet visible, the weight of their marriage jingling before us.
Then like a Greek fisherman with his worry beads, she fingered through the charms of her life. A laconic rosary repeated many times before.
The Eiffel tower from their honeymoon. The baby pram when she told him she was expecting, the horseshoe when she sat her driving test. The tiny polka dot bikini from their first trip to Cannes, the Buddha from their time in Indonesia.
"He was a diplomat, she said, in that 'of course you realise' tone. She continued.
"The baby's dummy for when our daughter was born, the horse for the lessons he bought me, the four leaf clover to make me get back on when I had fallen off. We both laugh lightly at this.
"Did it work? I asked.
"Oh yes, she said, her voice hardening, "it's always important to get right back on.
She sipped her coffee, the bracelet left for a moment, her resentment hanging mid air like a gas.
"When he gave me this one, I should have known but, I admit, it took a while to sink in. She was holding a tiny iron.
"Men never understand that the gift they give is about how they see you, do they? She asked me, continuing before I could answer, "It beggars belief that they remain unaware of that simple fact. She shook her head and sipped some coffee.
"When he gave me this iron, I felt a crashing disappointment, like my heart was breaking. It took me days to put my finger on it, and then as he sat eating his toast and marmalade, not looking at me, not listening to me, I knew. I knew it was over. In toast and marmalade and a tiny iron. The romance of our marriage, the honeymoon, all of it. And of course, I knew, it was only a matter of time.
I sat spellbound as she lifted the house charm.
"His gift to me of our first home here, our seafront cottage in Cornwall. The gift of the first of his affairs.
I freeze in the way you do when you're not quite sure if you've heard right and don't want to risk asking as perhaps they'll say it again.
"I beg your pardon?
"His affairs. The other women. She said it so matter-of-factly, her nose turning up in disgust.
She shrugged, putting her cup precisely back in it's saucer, "So he went abroad, and I stayed here in Cornwall. Painting, my soul saved by all the beauty and receiving charms through the post. It's how I knew there was a new woman. A new charm would arrive."
She passed over the Greek owl, the Statue of Liberty, the red-enamelled Big apple.
"We had no sex life to speak of if and when he came home, she lifted the Russian cross charm, "Apparently I was his Madonna. She sighed.
"It was AIDS you know. They wrote pneumonia on the death certificate, but he had AIDS. From, those other women.
She let her wrist drop. A final jingle, a different sound.
"I could have confronted him when he gave me the iron I suppose", shaking her head, looking down at her arm. "Fought for our life together, but it could have ended badly. Losing everything. It just wasn't done, a woman alone, no income. It just wasn't done.
She looked directly at me.
"And anyway, what use is half-full charm bracelet?