by Alexis Haight
My fingers would smell like my dad’s toolbox after I rubbed the hard edges of the old necklace’s cut Mercury dime pendant. Mercury’s profile, complete with an aquiline nose and a winged helmet, had been painstakingly carved from the coin, leaving only the thin, serrated circle framing it. The head, pressed against the skin of my fingers, would stare off to the left with a pert little smile. Any moment, I would think, he will turn towards me and smirk about some secret mischief. I’d pick at the miniscule letters that haloed his head: L-I-B-E-R-T-Y, and at the puny ‘1941’ tucked under the bust’s neck, wondering if he was on the verge of laughing because he just tattled to Juno about Jupiter’s latest girlfriend, or if he stole another herd of Apollo’s cows—without getting caught this time. The back of the coin didn’t offer any clues. I could make out a Roman column with some branches growing up behind it, but it was cut off by the outline of Mercury’s head. There were also some letters, “E-PLURIB/ UNUM,” but that was just the U. S. motto that was on all dimes (minus a few excised letters). It wasn’t anything that would help me decode Mercury.
I’d also try to imagine what the tool looked like that could have cut such precise edges, tight around Mercury’s nose, helmet, and the letters of ‘liberty’. Did a jeweler wearing magnifying googles pinch the dime with a pair of tweezers and saw away at it with a tiny knife, the way my father sliced strips of steak for my little sister, carefully avoiding the gristle? Or, did he fit the coin into a custom-built frame and turn it about under a whirring jigsaw? However it had been done, the technology had to be old. The necklace had belonged to my grandmother years before my mom got it. The coin even looked ancient. I suppose it must have been the color of the Silver Surfer at one point, like other dimes—a sharp, icy mirror-glass steel—but now the pendant more closely resembled a dulled hematite, a couple shades darker than its flat, close-linked chain.
Come to think of it, I didn’t know quite how my mom got the necklace in the first place. Before she died, my father’s mother made it clear how much she hated my mom, usually by consistently forgetting her birthday and neglecting to get her any Christmas gifts. The spirit of the feud seemed to live on because even though my mom gave me the necklace, she said I could only wear it ‘casually’. For a fancy family dinner where I need to look ‘nice’, I would have drop the necklace on my dresser, where the coin would clink against the surface dejectedly, chain skittering on top of it like an abandoned snake.
But later, at the dinner, when I licked my roll’s clotted cream topping off my finger, I’d taste salt and see Mercury’s dull, blackened smile.
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Alexis Haight is a second year graduate student in UTSA’s M. A. program. Her poem “My Sister Could Talk to Butterflies” appeared in Voices de La Luna, and she has published penny fictions with Haunted Waters Press. Alexis is also an editor for UTSA’s literary journal Sagebrush Review.