Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Writing

Livia’s Jewelry Box

Write…Edit…Publish holds a flash fiction contest the third Wednesday of every second month. This month, the theme is jewel box. Click the button for the full list of participants.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve worked in flash, so I know this might not be my strongest work. I edited a lot of dialogue out of this story to keep the focus on the theme.

Wordcount 925: MPA

Livia Rachel Kovács gazed into a large jewelry store window on Fifth Avenue as cold air whipped at her face. There, on display among the dazzling diamonds, sparkling sapphires, radiant rubies, enticing emeralds, gorgeous garnets, and amazing amethysts were a dozen jewelry boxes, each one more ornate than the next. The most simple were made of fine woods, while the fanciest were gold and encrusted with gemstones. Some had miniature pictures on the sides or tops. The richness of the choice overwhelmed Livia, who couldn’t decide which one she wanted most.

Livia transferred her fancy Jumeau doll Ambrózia to her other arm. “Miri, can I have a jewelry box for a Chanukah present, or a belated bat mitzvah present?  My twelfth birthday came and went without any special ceremony or acknowledgment, and that little bag isn’t good enough anymore. I’m too old to be happy with that.”

Livia’s oldest surviving sister, Mirjam, looked away from the windows of a bookstore several buildings down. “You want a jewelry box more than actual jewelry?  I’ll be happy to buy you anything you want for the rest of your life, but a meaningful purchase is never impulsive. For all you know, you might find another jewelry box you like even more on another day, or something else entirely.”

“We might not come back across the river to New York for a long time, and these jewelry boxes could all be gone by then. You promised to buy me a jewelry box if I grew up. That bag isn’t big enough for all the earrings I want.” Livia pulled the door open. “If it’s too expensive, we can ask to reserve it or arrange to pay a little at a time.”

Mirjam followed her into the store, where an even wider selection of jewelry boxes awaited.

“Madame, my sister should like to buy jewelry box,” Mirjam called to the nearest salesgirl. “Not most expensive, but not most cheap either.”

“I want big.” Livia held her hands apart both lengthwise and widthwise.

“Nothing too plain. My sister deserves more than a basic wooden box.”

The salesgirl brought Livia an increasingly fancy array of jewelry boxes. Livia looked longingly at the most upscale, with gold she assumed must be a very high carat, expensive gemstones, luxurious metals like platinum, and intricate miniature artworks. Working-class girls, let alone new immigrants living on the charity of distant cousins, could only look at such treasures and wish to own them. The jewelry her family had buried during the war and recovered afterwards might be worth a few hundred dollars, not thousands. Their lack of jewelry boxes also spoke to how these treasures were regarded. Kovács women had never had the kinds of extensive jewelry collections high-society matrons boasted, and thus could realistically expect to only need simple cloth bags to store it.

“I want this.” Livia pointed to a cherrywood jewelry box with two doors which opened up to reveal four doors on each side, like a miniature bureau. Each knob was a small pearl, in a rainbow of colors instead of the expected, standard white, ivory, or cream, ringed by tiny diamonds. The outside doors were stained glass, calling to mind the pretty windows of the Esperantist Carmelite church where Livia and her little brother Daniel had attended school during the most precarious year of their lives.

“Nothing fancier?” the salesgirl asked.

“This one. Please excuse me for not knowing good enough English to explain every reason I want this.”

“We just came to America last month,” Mirjam said. “We’re learning fast. I already know eleven other languages fluently. After I master English, I want to learn perhaps ten other languages.”

The salesgirl took the jewelry box to the counter and wrapped it in white tissue paper. While Mirjam counted out the $5 pricetag, the salesgirl noticed Livia’s teardrop-shaped azurite-malachite French hook earrings.

“Girls in Europe have real pierced ears?”

“They certainly do,” Mirjam said. “These earrings have at least two hundred years. Our grandmother gave them to Rahi before she and our baby brother miraculously escaped a terrible train.”

“My name is Livia now,” Livia reminded her. “My first and middle names changed places. I stopped being Rahi four and a half years ago.”

“I remember you as Rahi,” Mirjam told her in Hungarian. “I can’t magically adjust to your new identity overnight, though I’ll happily call you whatever you want. It’s a miracle you survived, no matter what name you prefer.”

The salesgirl put the wrapped jewelry box into a white bag stamped with the store’s blue logo, and Livia carried it out of the building. After years of waiting, Livia finally had a pretty box to store her jewelry collection, which hopefully would get larger and larger as she continued growing older.

***

That night, when she was back in Newark, Livia opened her top bureau drawer and took out the cloth bag embroidered with her birth initials, R.L.K. She shook out the emerald French hook earrings her ears had been pierced with, a parrot brooch, several costume rings, a charm bracelet, a necklace with a frog pendant, and the amethyst ring her grandmother had wanted Daniel to give his future bride.

All the jewelry but the amethyst ring had been buried in a metal container in the Kovács backyard the first night of Passover 1944. So many people had lost irreplaceable possessions, but these pieces of jewelry had survived intact and now had a safe place to call home, just like the girl who’d started life as Ráhel Lívia.

Author:

I started reading at three (my first book was Grimm's Fairy Tales, the uncensored adult version), started writing at four, started writing book-length things at eleven, and have been a writer ever since. I predominantly write historical fiction family sagas/series. I primarily write about young people, since I was a young person myself when I became a serious writer and didn't know how to write about adults as main characters. I only write in a contemporary setting if the books naturally go into the modern era over the course of the decades-long stories being told over many books. I've always been drawn to books, films, music, fashions, et al, from bygone eras, and have never really been too much into modern things. If something or someone has appeal for all time, it'll still be there to be discovered after the initial to-do has died down. For example, my second-favorite writer enjoyed a huge burst of popularity in the Sixties and Seventies, but he wrote his books from 1904-43, and his books still resonate today, even after he's no longer such a fad. Quality lasts for all time.

23 thoughts on “Livia’s Jewelry Box

  1. Very moving. I really liked the restrained allusion to the Holocaust, the weaving in of the disturbing history without being explicit. Also the cultural dissimilarities are invoked delicately – through the dialogue, and the ear-piercing. The flash is all the more effective because of the light touch. The word Rahel – in Arabic it would signify a departure, journey… wondering if this would be the same in modern Hebrew.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This story gave me goosebumps. Your descriptions were vivid, and I can only imagine some of the horrors these girls have been through. I’m glad she can now have a jewelry box and think about growing older when so many of her loved ones could not.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi CarrieAnne – such an interesting reminder about refugee history and how much has been lost for some people. You really have hauled us into the sisters’ story and what will happen next, yet more back story too … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful! I reviewed a couple of books set in World War II Europe back in March. Your story reminds me of these books and the terrible things people endured at the hands of corrupt and evil individuals.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A touching and emotional story of history and triumph over great struggle. The subtleties of war and escape are not overlooked and the depiction of culture and traditions are relatable across the board. One does not have to be a survivalist or refugee to get this story, but for those who are, this story honors them well. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Ursula? Carrie Ann? I’m swallowing. The emotion is so deep reading this story which reads like a true tale. So well done. So emotive. So poignant, thinking of all those who weren’t as lucky as Ráhel Lívia., aka Livia. I would have liked a deeper reaction from the salesgirl, or are you saying she didn’t understand what Livia and her sister were implying? One of my very favorite stories so far. Beautiful use of the prompt. I see in your sidebar you write historicals. It shows.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Greetings.
    Growing up, my sister was friends with a girl whose parents survived the Holocaust. They showed my sister the numbers tatoed on their arms. Every story I read about the survivors reminds me of these people. I can understand how a jewelry box represented freedom to Livia. Poignant and well written.
    Nancy

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Powerful.
    I really enjoy historical fiction, and from a young age, I’ve been drawn to Holocaust-based stories set during WWII. You packed so much into 925 words. Well done!

    Like

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