A gay Orthodox boy in Australia is wearing my grandmother’s diamonds, under his everyday white shirts buttoned to the neck, against his skin like the fringes’ whisper of G-d. He is the fifth of twelve children, the third son and so statistically likely to take too much pleasure in the gabardine funk of the minyan, shoulder to shoulder muttering baritone prayers through soft curling beards.
When he needs it most, he touches the hard hidden facets where his thin collarbones meet, as many times a day as he fingers his new mustache, scruffy as outback grass. It’s his mezuzah, his counter-commandment that he writes on no doorposts and teaches no children.
My grandmother’s diamond heart has a hole its own shape in the middle. Sadness runs in my family like a vein. The gay Orthodox boy doesn’t know that his father, a rabbi in America, who speaks with a shtetl accent though he grew up in secular Illinois, was given the necklace by my mad mother, who stole it from me.
In my heart is a mine: black coal, pitiless exchange. The gay Orthodox boy’s mother knows a family in Australia whose daughter has been arranged to marry him when he turns eighteen. He must give her my grandmother’s diamonds in eleven months and two days.
My grandfather died one afternoon in the street, his heart defect unknown till then, strained by lifting trays of catered dishes. My grandmother broke apart like a wineglass under a groom’s heel. Like their daughter’s mind, then, and again later. My mother raged that she couldn’t keep me like the secret lover the gay Orthodox boy has never had, the warm-breathing twin he pretends gifted him this antique uncomfortable chain around his neck.
At the end of “Titanic” when old Rose tosses the priceless necklace into the sea, we’re meant to agree that a gesture to the dead is worth making the living’s quest futile. The gay Orthodox boy has read every commentary. He doesn’t know what flesh comforted the writers of Leviticus, no more than I know who gave my grandmother the diamonds she entrusted my mother to hold for me, for when I became what they expected, a woman.
By the time I was six, both my mother’s parents were dead, and now the necklace is gone, and the gay Orthodox boy does not exist. I only imagined him so my heart would soften around the sharp jewel of spoiled memory. But belief could be the chain on which the world dangles, the unseen gem that flames white in the Ark’s velvet void.