This has been reverberating in my mind for the last two weeks or so, an excerpt from Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club:
And then Second Wife walked toward me, smiling, her fur coat gleaming with every step. She stared, as if she were examining me, as if she recognized me. Finally she smiled and patted my head. And then with a swift, graceful movement of her small hands, she removed her long pearly strand and put it around my neck.
This was the most beautiful piece of jewelry I had ever touched. It was designed in the Western Style, a long strand, each bead the same size and of an identical pinkish tone, with a heavy brooch of ornate silver to clasp the ends together.
My mother immediately protested: “This is too much for a small child. She will break it. She will lose it.”
But Second Wife simply said to me: “Such a pretty girl needs something to put the light on her face.”
I could see by the way my mother shrank back and became quiet that she was angry. She did not like Second Wife. I had to be careful how I showed my feelings: not to let my mother think Second Wife had won me over. Yet I had this reckless feeling. I was overjoyed that Second Wife had shown me this special favor.
“Thank you, Big Mother,” I said to Second Wife. And I was looking down to avoid showing her my face, but still I could not help smiling.
When my mother and I had tea in her room later than afternoon, I knew she was angry.
“Be careful, An-Mei,” she said. “What you hear is not genuine. She makes clouds with one hand, rain with the other. She is trying to trick you, so you will do anything for her.”
I sat quietly, trying to not listen to my mother. I was thinking how much mother complained, that perhaps all of her unhappiness sprang forth from her complaints. I was thinking how I should not listen to her.
“Give the necklace to me,” she said suddenly.
I looked at her without moving.
“You do not believe me, so you must give me the necklace I will not let her buy you for such a cheap price.”
And when I still did not move, she stood up and walked over, and lifted that necklace off. And before I could cry to stop her, she put the necklace under her shoes and stepped on it. When she put it on the table, I saw what she had done. This necklace that almost bought my heart and mind now had one bead of crushed glass.
Later she removed that broken bead and knotted the space together so the necklace looked whole again. She told me to wear the necklace every day for one week so I would remember how easy it is to lose myself to something false. And after I wore those fake pearls long enough to learn this lesson, she let me take them off. Then she opened a box, and turned to me: “Now can you recognize what is true?” And I nodded.
She put something my hand. It was a heavy ring of watery blue sapphire, with a star in its center so pure I never ceased to look at that ring with wonder.