On the final notes, those finals ‘da’s, the room burst into laughter and appreciative clapping. Mrs. Costello-Masters led the company in the more traditional version of ‘Happy Birthday’, and finally, Zara cut the bright white cake. The indigo goggles still rested on her head and, at the same time, the fragile tissue-paper gift was still held within her hands, despite them being occupied with the knife too. Zara was exhilaratingly exhausted.
A cheer went round as the stainless steel slid into the soft icing, and the slices of sponge were passed from hand to hand until everybody gathered had a piece to nibble on. Zara felt scrutiny from one of the occupants, but she turned to see nobody looking but her little sister. Lynnette blushed at being caught out at her peeking, but her expression was not one of deep envy or even unhappiness, she was just watching Zara with a child’s curiosity. Being the youngest by five years had put less of a strain on to Lynnie than it had Peter; both her parents were still young and, although there was not much chance of another child, they still had a ‘lust for life’, a less than prudent attitude, and steady, abounding love, and Lynnie had no reason to be pulled into adulthood quicker than she could blink.
Lynnette may have been looking, but she was not staring or demanding the present be opened. Zara caught her sister’s eye, and smiled, happy for Lynnie’s sense of patience and justice.
Secretly, having tucked the parcel behind her bright, cartooned paper plate, Zara tore through the rose paper, making perforations with her short, sparkling cerise nails.
A tiny, but elaborately decorated, necklace fell into Zara’s lap. She picked up the dainty thing and studied it at eye-level, ignoring the rest of the world which rushed past, as though she were being held in her own bubble.
The links of the chain seemed to be made of sturdy silver, and in the centre hung a time-glass, half the size of Zara’s thumb, and made of fine glass or sparkling crystal. The frame that held the edges of the time-piece to the chain was made of simple, black dyed wood, sturdy but also light and durable; what really captured Zara’s interest were the grains of sand that slid back and forth when she tilted the container. Those sands were not only one colour, not simply two either (whoever designed the gift had been someone with an interest in flair), but three individual shades.
As Zara observed the blend of colours, she noticed that it was as though Lynnette had prised the rainbow from the sky and cut it into chunks of colour. The red sands made up the majority of the second-glass’ residents. It probably was their natural colour, Zara assumed, as she had seen many pictures of distant lands in which sat a-hundred-feet-tall dunes of sand, amber and sunburnt, as though they had been tarnished by many years of fallen enemies’ blood.
Next, sandwiched between the orange-red and the last, lime-green colour, was a small strip of bright yellow, the kind naturally found on beaches across the Big Sea, the kind that is fire to touch and a cold torch in the night. There weren’t much of those yellow sands, but they gleamed the brightest of all.
Also, how silky the sands swiftly moved! They didn’t look as though they were really tiny particles of ground-up glass. Then again, Zara noticed, at first nothing looked like it actually was. Even real life fooled.
She gestured Lynnette forward and, after wiping stray crumbs from around her mouth, gathered the young girl into a gripping hug.
“Thank you,” she whispered into her ear.
A knock at the front door broke the girls apart, and tore Zara from her reverie on the states of true life. The room seemed to spin back into life again as noise erupted, and Zara slipped the locket down her top into the space near her heart. The jewels seemed to thrum on connection.
Phillip and Peter entered the busy kitchen, having been let in by Zara’s father, and gave their congratulations to Zara, just words without her presents yet. The latter smiled more broadly even though the room was filling up to a bustling point of bursting.