The three irregular amber beads had been in the window for as long as I could remember. Golden chunks on a thin gold chain, they were hopelessly old and completely unattainable. The shop was painted black with a small three cornered tear in the faded front blind, but to me it was mysterious. I sometimes walked by with my Dad. Occasionally he’d stop and chat in the street, then I’d look through the door. There was a small side counter. I think I even went into the shop once, when we had our old clock repaired.
At the back, the doorway was obscured by a curtain of long, brown glass, bugle beads. I thought them unspeakably exotic. I imagined the sound they’d make if you walked through. I suspected there might be treasure on the other side.
Things came and went from the main window, but the display in the little side window never changed. There was only a couple of bits of dusty silver and the amber necklace, three lonely chunks on a bit of gold chain.
Looking back there was nothing special about those amber beads. They had trapped no Jurassic fly, nor were they glamorous, but I wanted them so badly.
I never mentioned it to anyone. What would have been the point. My father frowned upon jewellery, my mother would have said it was a waste of money and my big sister had a passion for startling fake pearls. All my friends wore crosses or little silver lockets, of the type you could open and show your boyfriend’s picture, hopefully.
At fourteen I got a Saturday job. For a while I worked in a sweet shop, but jumped at the chance of being a Saturday girl in Woolworths on the High Street. Once a week I was queen of the haberdashery counter. I sold needles, cottons, coloured tapes, embroidery silk, that sort of thing.
Every Saturday afternoon an old woman came and stole bits and pieces from my counter. Though terrified I’d be blamed, I never told. I knew what it was like to want something really badly. I knew, if left alone with that necklace, what I’d be tempted to do. Instead I saved.
One lunchtime, braving snooty disapproval, I asked the shopman the price. It was a huge sum. I think £5, but I can’t be sure. It was a while ago. I saved what I could in secret, checking that little side window when I walked past. The more I saved the more pressing was the need to own that necklace.
Eventually one Christmas, probably about six years after I first saw it and almost a year from when I’d checked the price, I had enough. I couldn’t wait for Saturday to come.
But a shock was waiting at the shop. The necklace was gone. There was a space in the window where it should have been. In alarm I went in, hoping it had just been moved, but no. It had been sold, the man said, just a few days before. Back out on the street I wanted to weep. It was a scruffy, down at heel street then, narrow and congested, just a few tatty shops including a corn chandlers, a café, chip shop and that seedy little jewellers.
It’s upmarket now, smart antique shops on both sides, traffic restricted to one way.
I’ve owned amber, jet, lapis lazuli. I’ve collected every type of exotic bead you could imagine. I make glass beads myself, but I’ve never wanted a necklace as much as I wanted that one.
Just three rough amber beads on a thin gold chain. Nothing special, but if I saw it now I’d still be thrilled.