WKB – Celtic Cross Flashback
[Jack] stood a hairsbreadth behind her, all the nerve endings closest to her firing and crackling, his fingers twitching to touch. Bending to the nape of her neck, he breathed in the scent of sweet almonds, bright citrus, and a dark musk that was utterly intoxicating. How desperately he wanted to touch her. To drag his nose along her nape sending a warm breath to tickle the fine hairs. To slide a hand down her arm and thread his fingers through hers. To take that last small step and press himself to her. Had he ever wanted to touch something so much that he knew he shouldn’t?
There it rested, mystical and mysterious, on its dark, quarter-sawn oak pedestal. His grandmother’s cherished Celtic cross. Carved from a single slab of Iona marble, shades of milky white, earthy olive, and brilliant emerald swirled serpentine and glowing as if it were alive when no one was looking. And young Jack was always looking.
You must never, ever touch it.
Mind you, skirt the pedestal far.
This is not merely a pretty cross. But a most rare carving from a sacred place. My most cherished possession. Some days I love it more than your grandda, more than your da.
If it were to break, if something were to happen to it, I would be very, very sad. You don’t want your gran to be sad, do ya?
Jack loved his gran and would never wish her to be sad. But the greater threat was made by his older brother Charlie and reinforced by his older brother Archie. Jamie, two years older than Jack, half believed it still.
Whatever you do, do not touch that cross. Legend has it that the druid who carved it will reach through the veil of time and drag you back with him.
Wide-eyed and unblinking, his mouth agape, little Jack had been struck dumb by the warning. He hadn’t any idea what a druid was, but a reaching hand, the veil of time, it sounded terrifying. When he had regained his wits, he went immediately to his grandmother for a denial. But she had merely smiled, slow and sly. He stayed clear of it ever since.
But whether it was the warning not to touch it or its unearthly beauty, Jack had become fixated on the cross. Smooth and shiny, it seemed to call to him each time he passed. Touch me.
He inched closer, listening for approaching footsteps. Little fingers grasped the pedestal. There it was. Only inches away. So close. It couldn’t really be touched by a pagan curse. Not a cross. Charlie and Archie were playing him for a fool.
He shook his head as he slowly slid a fingertip to the marble base, his heart beating in his throat. A thin film of air separated his finger from the base when he stopped and glanced around. Would his world be different if he touched it? Surely not. Holding his breath, he pressed a finger to the marble. It was cool. Hard. He waited, his breathing high and strained. Not cursed, he finally determined with a satisfied grin. What a dimwit he had been.
Pulling the cross from the pedestal, he held it in his hand, examining it with pride like a gift long his due. The circle, the intricate carving, the strange colors. It was truly beautiful. So mesmerized, he didn’t hear the footsteps approaching until it was too late. His mind froze and he only managed to hide the cross behind his back when his gran appeared.
Calculating eyes flicked to the bare pedestal. Then she fixed a veiled smile on him.
“What do ya have there, little lamb?” she asked in her weighted Ulster-Scots lilt.
“Nothing, Gran,” he replied reflexively.
She tipped her head as her smile widened. “Not nothing, John.” She paused, giving him a meaningful stare, waiting.
If he began to shake on the outside it was only because he was quaking on the inside. His grandma Cathleen appeared to be as sweet as syrup, but he knew from his brothers she had a devilish hard hand when angered and he didn’t wish to test the truth of it.
“Steady, lad.” She inched closer to him. “Steady now. We wouldn’t want you dropping it, now would we?”
Tentatively he shook his head as she reached around him and took the cross, replacing it on the pedestal. She might have stood glaring down at him. That was always effective. But instead she knelt on one knee, her hands manacles on his upper arms, and looked him right in the eye.
“You touched something you weren’t to touch. Then you had the audacity to lie right to my face.” She was making a sterling case for a harsh punishment, yet he was unbalanced by her gentle voice. “This isn’t like you.”
He gave a crisp, tight shake of his head.
“You follow the rules, don’t you, lad? Follow them to the letter.” She smiled knowingly. “People like that can get away with a lot because no one ever suspects them. But, mind you, be careful. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
© Catherine C. Heywood 2017