My name is Konstantine Paradias and I am a legacy jeweler. My grandfather was a jeweler (back when he came to Athens by way of Smyrna in 1921, a year before the massacre). My father was a jeweler like his father, and now I am one in turn.
The times we live in don’t help with my chosen profession. Money is tight, and tensions run high. I live just a 30 minute walk from Athens’ city center. We don’t get it as bad as the businesses there do, but we still get to see the country slowly unravel just by stepping out the door. The Golden Dawn’s offices are situated across the street from my home. A few kilometers down the road, leftist political parties go at each other’s throats. Two streets over, accountants and tax collectors are at a Cold War stalemate.
My line of work deals with luxury items. In times like these, people tend to place overwhelming, near-mythical value to their personal treasures. Every now and then, I get an old lady with a faux gold brooch who is absolutely certain that what she has in her hand is 28-carat gold set with precious stones. Men in their 30s, in the throes of severe buyers’ remorse, cradle their 300-euros worth watches and coo to them like they were their own children. Women who have recently had their houses invaded by burglars tell tall tales about how and why it’s “the bloody immigrants’” fault, even as they waltz down the city center, weighed down by solid-gold chains.
These are the stories of people who, for one reason or another, decide to have their little meltdown, their personal existential crises while I am trying to repair their valuables. I put the Humpty-Dumpty watches together, put together their strings of pearls, worn-out with age. With every person I see each passing day, I learn a little bit more about what life in Greece used to be and what it is slowly becoming: a move from high-flying ludicrous spending with loaned money to skirting the edges of the gutter. Conspirators in the back rooms of Ministries for public servant tenure deals sealed with solid-silver tea sets, now reduced to howling shadows of their former selves.
It happened on a Saturday, an hour before closing time. It’s usually the time when every store owner is on high alert, but also weary from the entire workweek. People get desperate on the weekends, especially when money is tight. The honest ones will probably try and squeeze a few cents out of everything, just to pull through. The bad ones will try to swindle you right when you are at your weakest. And the crazies… the crazies run the streets.
I call her Cutie Wreck. She used to be beautiful once, I’m told. People knew her as one of those teenage girls that inspired dangerous thoughts in the back of married men’s minds and had the boys howling for her attention. Even now, the women liked to talk about how pretty she used to be… “pretty like a picture,” they’d say. I had never met her back then, but everyone seemed to know her, pine for her all through the final years of high school…
“Nobody is really aware of the particulars. ‘Terrible thing’ was all people would say about Cutie Wreck.”
Nobody is really aware of the particulars. “Terrible thing” was all people would say about Cutie Wreck. “Drugs,” the elders would mumble. “Streak of bad boyfriends long as your arm,” the neighbourhood spinstresses would hazard. The married men acted like they never knew her. Suddenly, nobody knew who Cutie Wreck quite was, or where she was from. All memory of her was pretty much wiped from the collective subconscious ever since they found her walking through the middle of the Avenue at rush hour in her pajamas, screaming abuser at cars, her menstrual blood flowing freely down her legs, making a mess in her shoes.
Cutie Wreck was once picked up by the local church, probably fed and clothed and cared for a while before she got back to walking down the middle of the street as motorbikes and cars sped by her. Then she went away again, when the police put her in a homeless shelter. Then an old woman, desperate for companionship, picked her up. In a week, Cutie Wreck would be back, treading asphalt as if nothing had changed.
She came to my store once, just as I was packing up for closing time. She slipped inside and stood right behind me. I didn’t hear a thing. When I turned around and saw her smiling at me, I jumped at the sight of her. Up close, you could trace the years that went by, see them etched out on every wrinkle on her face. A dedicated archaeologist with a plaster cast of her face could probably trace them back, and attempt to divine the bushy eyebrows, the glassy eyes radiating madness, the death’s head grin, and that odd half-moon scar on her cheek.
“Can I help you?” I asked, stifling down my terror. She just stared, nodding. I walked around her, placing my workbench between us. Moving with a languid, geologic pace, Cutie Wreck took out a battered little wristwatch from her front pocket. Big-brand imitation, or maybe it was the real deal. Hard to say, in its condition. It was a war veteran, just like her: spiderweb crack on the plexiglass, deep scratches on the bezel. The straps had seen better days, but they held on.
“Change battery,” she said. I checked for any other obvious damage before unclasping the back. The battery was missing. The inside was rusted in places, battered. It looked like a lost cause. “Got no money,” Cutie Wreck mumbled.
I did my best, anyway. Cleaned the battery as well as I could, even if the acid leakage had creeped in the plastic movement. I tried to reset the setting stem, even though it had been badly battered. When it didn’t start working again, I tried starting it up again manually. When it didn’t take, I checked its electronics. The quartz crystal was fried, useless.
“Nothing I can do, sorry.” I told her.
“I don’t have any money” she whined. “I don’t have any money!” she howled.
“I’m sorry, I can’t fix it, I can’t get it to work…”
“I don’t have any money! I don’t have any money!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. Just before stepping out the door, she kicked at one of my storefront cabinets, and cracked the glass. She ran out, screaming obscenities at me.
Cutie Wreck went away for a week. When she came back, she was with a seedy man. This was four months ago. Now, her belly is swollen and she looks happy. The man, not so much. She’s wearing the watch on her hand, broken and battered. I wonder how long it’s going to be, before she’s roaming down the lane again, screaming at cars.
Konstantine Paradias is a jeweler by profession and a writer by choice. His short stories have been published in the AE Canadian Science fiction review, World War Cthulhu and the BATTLE ROYALE Slambook by Haikasoru. His short story, “How You Ruined Everything” has been included in Tangent Online’s 2013 recommended SF reading list and his short story “The Grim” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.