Featured Essay   

Hope Diamond

by Ute Carson

 

   “It fits.” She pounded the left heel of her travel-weary brown shoes. In its hollow my grandmother had just buried a diamond-in-the-rough. A few days before, sitting on the steps of their ramshackle cottage near the diamond fields of the Namib Desert where my grandfather was an overseer, she had spotted an object in the sand. The African sun had reflected off its glittering surface.

   British freighters, anchored in the bay off Lüderitz, were ready to transport German settlers back home following the English takeover of South West Africa in 1919. The diamond mine workers had already been evacuated.

   Back in her native Germany my grandmother stored the shoes among other valuables in her closet. “You never know when we might need it,” she told my mother.

   A war later, fleeing invading Russian troops, my grandmother trekked westward. She wore her trusty worn African shoes.

   In the icy winter of 1946 I contracted diphtheria. Although I lived in a cocoon of familial love, infected children were forcibly quarantined in a provisional hospital by American authorities. “Have a heart,” my distraught mother pleaded, “we have never been apart.” She was summarily ushered out.

   I was delirious and barely aware of what was going on. I vaguely recall crying “Mutti” during nights of feverish demon-dreams as children around me died in droves. Once I threw my arms around a nurse, thinking she was my mother. Medicines were scarce and penicillin was available only on the black market. There was little hope for me.

   My grandmother made contact with a street-smart volunteer in the hospital’s storage room where CARE packages containing powdered milk and instant soup arrived from abroad.

   That night she pried off the left heel of her African shoes, lifted the diamond out and spit-polished it with her handkerchief. “Your time has come,” she whispered to it and then cloaked herself in a shabby gray coat. Under cover of darkness she descended into the underworld of our city where smugglers eagerly exchanged the precious stone for the new wonder drug. “Just in time,” sighed the doctor at the children’s ward. I soon recovered.

   I was left with fear of separation, a damaged heart valve, and an amazing story. My grandmother had to recount her adventure again and again. It was the ending that I envisioned with vivid imagination.

   “After being led through tunnels to a dimly lit shed, a bespectacled man examined the diamond under a magnifying glass and exclaimed: It’s real! He then reached up to a shelf behind him and pulled down a box with black lettering: PENICILLIN. He dismissed me abruptly, urging me to go quickly before we were found out.” My grandmother assured me that she had not been frightened until that moment. “But then I realized,” she confessed, “that I might be followed and robbed.” She hurried away, clutching the box of tablets to her chest, then stuffing them into her undergarments.

   “But where?” I asked with childish curiosity. “Close to my heart,” she murmured.

 

Letting Go

by Ute Carson

 

  In the wintery spring of 1945, World War II had ended but not the chaos and misery suffered by its survivors. My mother received notice that her husband had been killed. She sought solace in the arms of the messenger, got pregnant, and remarried. The couple moved south looking for work. I was five years old and left in the care of my maternal grandmother in the bombed-out city of Kassel.

  These were the happiest times of my war-torn childhood. I never wanted to leave my grandmother’s side. Days were spent gathering twigs and branches for our wood-burning stove, source of warmth and light. We filled baskets with the white flower heads of chamomile, then dried them for brewing tea. We collected sugar beets in the fields, cooked and stirred them into syrup, a delicious treat over our watery oatmeal. But the evenings were the best. Warmed and protected by my grandmother’s ample body we snuggled as she spun stories of imaginary places and events.

  Months later my mother called for me. My grandmother prepared me with allusions to a happy family life and as it turned out, I would thrive in my new environment.

  We arranged a meeting place where my stepfather waited in a horse-drawn wagon. The exchange was brief. I suddenly felt cramps in my stomach and barely had time to sling my arms around my beloved grandmother’s neck before I was hoisted onto the seat of the wagon. 

  That was the last time I saw my grandmother. She waved and then her hand covered her mouth as if to stifle a sob. She had to stay behind, war-weary and lonely, while I was ushered toward a fresh beginning. I still see her getting smaller and smaller, sinking into the shadow of the bright morning light.

 


 

Ute.jpgA writer from youth, German-born Ute Carson’s first story was published in 1977. Her story “The Fall” won the Grand Prize for Prose and was published in the anthology A Walk through My Garden. Her novel Colt Tailing was published in 2004 and was a finalist for the Peter Taylor Book Award Prize for the Novel and was followed by her second novel In Transit in 2008. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and magazines here and abroad and Carson’s poetry was featured on the televised Spoken Word Showcase 2009, 2010 and 2011 Channel Austin, TX. Her poetry collection Just a Few Feathers was published in 2011 and her chapbook Folding Washing in 2013. Her poem “A Tangled Nest of Moments” won second place in the Eleventh International Poetry Competition 2012. An advanced Certified Clinical hypnotist, Ute Carson resides in Austin, TX with her husband. They have three daughters, six grandchildren, a horse and a number of cats.

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