A Frame of Mother-of-Pearl
by Cat Rambo
Hattie Fender was spring-cleaning. It wasn't that the household particularly needed
it, but something about the day, the fair weather, the smell of plum blossom and
lily of the valley floating in the parlor window, had demanded sparkling windows
and the banishment of dust.
Some days she wondered if these duties simply served as distraction from the
endless progression of days, the days of her state, not widowed, but worse. She
fitted the minutia of housekeeping into a pattern to fill the hours, the ones she
didn't spend studying magic theory in order to keep her skills fresh.
Another woman might have sighed, moved by the thought, but Hattie considered it
pragmatically, abandoned it in favor of thinking over how many preserves were
left over from the long winter, and kept on with her duties.
She rubbed away the last bit of soot from the hood of a whale-oil lamp and moved
to dust the contents of the curio cabinet beneath the window.
Behind cloudy glass, keepsakes jostled in the cabinet's interior. When she was a
child, two decades earlier, her mother had hidden coins among the figurines for her
to find while cleaning. A fox with a penny in its paws, a Chinese maiden with
silver treasure beneath her base.
As Hattie lifted the dolphin-shaped latch and reached inside to take out a Spanish
dancing doll, a spark stung soft skin between thumb and forefinger. A briery spell,
full of ginger and bite.
She recoiled. Nursing her hand, she searched the cabinet with her eyes. A frame
pebbled with mother-of-pearl was missing. She knelt in a rustle of skirts to look
closer, careful not to touch the doors.
On the second shelf, movement at the back caught her eye. She peered past a
scrimshaw walrus. At first it was so still she thought herself mistaken. The gilded
scorpion, a Siamese souvenir, crouched on golden legs. Then it shifted. One claw
clacked. She closed the door as it rushed forward. The tail's tip skittered across the
glass in metallic complaint.
Her hand burned but she could not afford to have the creature slip away and sting
some other household member. She considered the drapes, but near the fireplace
was a horsehide glove used for handling logs. She drew it over her injured hand
and used the other to swing the door open.
China figurines scattered and crashed as she seized the scorpion. It squirmed
against the leather, trying to drive its metallic sting through it, but she held it so it
could get no room to swing.
Carrying it into the kitchen, she dropped it in an empty butter churn. It scuttled
across the container's floor, scraping its claws against the sides.
She stared down at it, thinking.