When I was a baby in my cradle, or so the story goes, my father gathered up his love for me and fashioned a chalice of burnished gold. He swaddled the chalice in a skein of silk shipped all the way from China and bedded it down in a drawer in his wardrobe where he used to store his cufflinks and bowties. He locked the drawer with a silver key which he dangled from a string around his neck, beneath his shirt, inches from his heart. When it was done, my father smiled, stood back and watched me grow.
I was about five when my father told me the story of the golden chalice: old enough to write my name and do up the buttons on my dress but still too young to venture to the sweet shop alone. “May I see it?” The prospect of the chalice nestling in its silken shroud sent my body tingling from the ribbon in my hair to the buckle on my shoes. “Wait a while,” said my father. “Small hands and sticky fingers could rub away the sheen.”
That summer I fell sick, and no doctor could fathom the cause or cure. My mother carried me, in sweat-stained pyjamas, into her bed. “Don’t tell your father,” she said, taking a tiny key from her purse. She unlocked the drawer in the mahogany wardrobe and unfurled a bundle of turquoise silk. The sun, streaming through the latticed window, bounced off the golden goblet to light up my cheeks. “You can touch it if you like,” she said, but I shook my head and banished my hands beneath the quilt where they could do no harm.
As soon as I was well again, I went to visit my friend. We poured pretend tea from a plastic teapot and served it to our dolls. “When you were a baby,” I said, “did your father melt down his love to make you a cup of gold?” My friend shook her pigtails. Her envy warmed my heart.
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