Precise and careful disarray gave the local antique shop a gentle charm. A quiet grace from another time. Among the artfully placed tiaras, inkwells, and hobo salt and pepper shakers was a lovely old purse. Black silk from the early 1950s. A clutch purse, intended for evenings. A hole was fashioned in the lower left corner, into which was sewn a watch. A man’s watch, too large for a woman’s wrist, and gold-toned like the tarnished asymmetrical clasp. Inside was imprinted “Majestic,” an interior pocket contained a bakelite comb unused still sealed in cellophane. The watch was askew, some of the stitching torn.
Mending the silk. Polishing and freeing the clasp. Finally repairing the watch, and sewing it tight only took an afternoon. I kept postcards in it. Postcards I had addressed to family and friends back home, only to find that I had nothing say. But my thoughts returned to the woman who must have bought it new, some fifty years ago. The woman who took one look and thought “that purse is me. That little black purse says who I am. It speaks of exciting new places to be and important unimaginable things to do.” All in a stylishly elegant, confident way.
I pictured her hair and her dress, the small careful jewelry she wore and the gleam in her eyes as she saw the future. She knew the purchase was extravagant but that could not be allowed to stand in her way. The future, her future, was too important to be denied.
I purchased the little purse thinking about the future as well. A different future than the previous owner to be sure. We were separated by so many years, yet we both sought inspiration and reassurance through this small hand bag with its built in wind-up watch. I started thinking of it as a prop. A visual clue to those around me as to my identity and outward intent.
It poked out of my laptop case, watch corner up, ticking confidently. The contents were a worthless mix. European coins I couldn’t spend. Expensive art pencils, when I could barely draw. My old lighter to remind me not to smoke. Le Sac Noir, as I called it, would inspire me to articulate and pursue my erratic gusher of elusive dreams. I planned writing stories that people would find memorable. Words that would stretch and weave our common humanity. Sentences that people would paraphrase for their friends to make a point. The words were all inside me. It was clarity and focus I needed to bring order to this mass of whirling thoughts.
I was keying on my Mac in the corner coffee shop, when I noticed a woman looking, then not looking, then looking at me. She had too short bangs and too square glasses. Smiling she motioned with a nod of her head and said.
“Hey, what’s with the purse?”
Before I could shrug or mumble, she had moved next to me.
“My names Giselle. So, that is a Majestic, right? Can I see? I love purses from the “50s. They were the right size,not like now.”
I tried to tell her my name was Victor, but by then she had moved closer and slid the purse from my case. Each of her fingers had at least two rings and not one
matched another. Neither the vending machine “Hello Kitty” ring nor the antique garnet on her left ring finger seemed a wedding band. By then she had the clasp open.
“Nice Korean War Zippo! You know, you shouldn’t smoke. Faber-Castell! OhI love those pencils! I wish I could draw, I mean really draw. I barely can. And look at this! Yours still has the comb! Hmm, I see your watch had been running slow. Well, I’ll just fix all that.”
I was in love. Then and there. The purse had found me my subject, inspiration, and – though I did not know it then – but my writing partner as well.
Week by week, and month by month we argued, discovered and loved, as we learned each other. Giselle’s drawings were awkward and childlike. Her paintings were a completely different matter. Years later a critic would describe her work as being “like fire-crackers on a roller coaster which sways at volcano’s edge”. And he was discussing her more mature work, not the wild brilliance of her earlier paintings. I wrote, and she painted what I wrote. She painted, and I wrote what she painted. I had imagined a novel. She had imagined a gallery. We did both get what we wanted, but certainly not what we had imagined. Almost two years after our “Majestic meeting” – as we came to call it – just in time for Giselle’s twenty-fifth birthday, we published.
Our first book was a graphic novel. There would be five more in the next four years. Then the movies which spun from the universe we had created, which was so densely populated by the role-playing game community. Time wove its net of magic in our lives. I remember the summer our kids started playing with the old purse. They used it for dress-up play at first, then it in tree-house tea-parties. At dinner one warm summer evening Giselle asked,
“So what do you have in Daddy’s old purse these days? A million ladybugs or just a big green frog”?
They just laughed, missing baby teeth made more obvious by mouths full of food.
“Mom! Its full of The Fey. Its full of The Faerie. Nothing a grown-up could ever possibly see.”
We both smiled, Giselle and I. The old purse still seemed to work just fine.
by Doug Mathewson