Diamonds, Love, and UFOS...
When struggling artist/shoe clerk Caddy Keyhoe stumbles across what may be a lost and untraceable diamond, her first reaction is down-to-earth: Maybe I can sell it. But how odd to be finding it in the gutter now, after last night’s dream of a UFO scattering bright gemstones. Research via Google leads her to the website of melancholy Alec Rix, semi-failed writer and newly-minted UFO authority—courtesy of his published interview with octogenarian Hatchell T. Beckham Sr., retired from farming and strangely eager to discredit the new crop circle on the Beckham property. The crop circle perpetrated by a neighborhood hoaxer. Or by those blazing diamond-shaped UFOs that just about everybody in Hopkins, South Carolina—except old Hatch—claims to have seen…?
As Caddy’s art career takes a magical turn for the stratosphere, Alec’s friendship with Hatch deepens through the old farmer’s tale of his long-lost family. Could there be a book in this? the blocked author has to wonder. But when pursuit of the story sends him blundering into radiant Caddy on the biggest night of her life, priorities immediately change. Because what can it really mean, to “follow a star”? And what does Hawaii have to do with it?
A feet-on-the-ground story with its head in the clouds, Diamonds In The Sky reports from the Unknown with quiet wit, endearing characters, and the speculation that love just might be forever—even if not all diamonds are.
Great Balls of Fire!
By Alec Rix
Special to The State
HOPKINS, S.C.— It was the barking of dogs that alerted residents of this rural community early yesterday morning to a vision most of them never expected to have, the sighting of several apparent UFOs.
“My husband went out to see what was up,” said Nancy Allison, 46, “and then called me. What looked like bright stars were zigging and zagging overhead, only bigger and way more brilliant than any kind of star. They stopped and started and moved so fast, we couldn’t keep track of them. But I’d say there were at least five in number. Not flat like saucers, either, more like headlights shining right into your eyes. I guess the whole thing lasted maybe ten minutes but in all that time and until they flew off, not one single sound could be heard. Except barking.”
“I couldn’t tell what I was seeing,” testified neighbor Brandon Funderburke, 19. “I was coming back from Denny's [Restaurant] along about four A.M. and pulled off the road up there on the hill to watch through my rifle's scope. Two of several had stopped over Mr. Hatch's place.” Funderburke indicated the nearby property of a neighbor. “And when I got a bead on one, you could tell it was smooth with no windows in it or anything. It had a pointy top, a pointy bottom, and the sides stuck out from it like a baseball diamond. It was shiny like a diamond, too. Then the grass in Mr. Hatch’s pasture flattened out underneath it. And I was all, like, ‘Whoa!’ ”
This rural section of lower Richland County, eleven miles from downtown Columbia, possesses little verifiable prior history of UFO sightings. Radio and television stations in the capital city received calls from eyewitnesses both during and after the event.
Speculation by one eyewitness leaned toward military operations at nearby Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter County. "What with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has to test secret weaponry," opined Jeffrey Allison, 48. "I just hope it scares al-Qaeda as much as it does bird dogs."
Air Force officials could not be reached for comment.
Retired farmer Hatchell T. Beckham Sr., 85, whose property lies beneath the reported phenomena, ponders the new pattern of flattened overgrowth in the disused field behind his equipment shed and barn. “It looks like it would if somebody’d been out there stomping it down,” he says of the circle, approximately seventy-five feet in diameter, “with a pretty good idea of what he was about, enough light and enough time. It was hard work, because weeds like this don’t want to lie flat. But I slept right through it all, whatever it was.”
Beckham reports himself skeptical of extraterrestrials, yet also skeptical of the abilities of supposed hoaxers. “That doesn't leave much,” he acknowledges. “Somebody knows the truth, but he sure ain’t me.”
“Hi, this is Alec Rix. You have reached my voicemail. Sorry, I'm unavailable. At the sound of the tone, please record your message.”
Hello, Mr. Rix… sure hope I'm doing this right… this is Hatchell Beckham? The crop circle man? That was a good article you wrote, I read every word of it. But look, if it's not too much trouble— please— could you maybe give me a call sometime at your convenience? My phone number is 253-8703, I'd sure appreciate it.
So here is Caddy Keyhoe, on the morning when she finds the diamond.
Almost forty years old, limping into work after being hit by a car, lower spine chronically achy from an ancient mattress plus ideopathic scoliosis— which frequently runs in families, she understands, yet Circe's posture had been the only straight thing about Circe. And dear old Roofie and Pop had both passed on to their heavenly rewards bowed forward, but not at all sideways.
Whenever she sees something interesting, she picks it up. No need to examine it right out here on the street, because whatever it is, it’ll do.
Austrian crystal is what she thinks, dropping it into her tote bag, then fumbling for her store keys, fingers gritty from the filth.
The rebranding of rhinestone, I get it. "Fake" now becomes "faux", except with a much higher price tag.
Damn, I should've gone into advertising.
All the lights are off inside, and in the darkness of the stockroom she bangs her injured leg against a shipping carton as she makes for the alarm system control box. Roman is determined to cut down on energy expenses. Caddy believes the store’s a little less likely to be robbed if at least a few lights are left on overnight out front, but Roman says that’s what he’s got this burglar alarm system for.
Washing down her Aleve with the cold diet soda, she examines the swelling below her knee and readies herself for anything. It’s probably safe to say that whatever else happens today, the worst might possibly be over.
Her first customers are two nuns, brown-skinned elderly women wearing short veils that most other orders have abandoned. The older one walks with a cane and can barely make her way from the doorway to a chair without her companion's help.
"Sister Clothilde's been to the podiatrist," explains the younger while Caddy stoops to untie bulbous oxfords. Revealing astounding bunions, hammertoes, gnarled little wide feet stuffed into too-small shoes for fifty years and here's what happens. "Said what she needed is something called 'Birkenstocks'. He gave us your address."
Sister Clothilde's eyes can be felt on Caddy's dark brown updo as she wields her foot measurer, tattoos fully visible on both arms: Tarot card above the Sacred Heart (Caddy isn't Catholic but likes Jesus) on her right, a mandala radiant as a star above a recent fleur-de-lis on her left, flowers and rainbows in the mix. "What is a Birkenstock, anyway?"
"This." Caddy gropes for the display shelf behind her, the Aleve kicking in.
Reluctant arthritic hands accept the sandal as if it’s boobytrapped. "Man man man, I can't wear anything like that, it's so hard in the bottom . . . !"
"Well, yes ma'am, it's pretty firm." Sigh. "Firm support. Look, you don't have to try anything on if you don't want to."
"Maybe you ought to, though, Sister," urges the junior nun, "so at least when you go back to the doctor, you can say you did."
"Well. You’ve got a point, Sister Agnes."
"And I'm not on commission," agrees Caddy, "so it's not going to break my heart if you try them but don't buy them, okay?"
Sister Clothilde snorts, a papery whistle. "Me and these old feet. What I'm going to do with these old feet of mine?"
Caddy brings out a pair of black sandals that strap around the heel. "For extra security," she says as she buckles them up. “Most of the others are backless, you notice… Which is good, if you get hit by a car… ”
"Why in the world does he want me in anything like these?" Sister's body language says she's been asked to run a marathon in swim fins.
"Your toes," answers the younger one. "Your toes. You need some room for your toes."
“Man! I'm sorry, baby,” Sister Clothilde apologizes, “but I just can't wear anything like this! But thank you for your time."
"And we came all this way in a taxi, too," whines Sister Agnes. "For nothing. Twelve dollars."
Well, sometimes things aren't all Caddy's fault. "You know, Sister Clothilde, if you prefer to stick with the type of shoes you've been used to, it might do you well next time to look for a full size larger than what you've been wearing." The truth: a tiny little weapon I sometimes fire. "Because I measured you for a size eight when your toes were fully extended, but what you're wearing now is a size seven. So that might be one of the reasons you have those bad bunions… "
"What?" Hard of hearing, too.
"She says your shoes are too small!" Sister Agnes repeats, louder.
"No no! Too big, size eight! Can't keep 'em on my feet!"
"Well… " Okay. I tried. Too bad. Go ahead and continue to cripple yourself.
"It's all heredity anyway, baby. My mother had bunions."
Your mother was a woman. Women do the dumbest things against their own self-interest.
Only two sales are made after the nuns leave, and Caddy’s pretty sure that one of them will be returned.
Business is slow these days. Very scary. She needs this job, because her real career is... Well, it isn’t.
M. A. Harper, a southern farmer's daughter, was once a free-lance commercial artist. But upon her discovery that no picture is always worth 1,000 words, she took the 1,000-word option and ran with it. Her published works include novels, children's plays, nonfiction articles and the online FAINT GLOW BLOG. Fascinated by those thin places where reality seems to give way into something Other, her fiction can be described as Supernatural Lite. Among past and present pursuits are palmistry, skydiving and metaphysics. A guilty pleasure is NFL football and her day jobs have included shoe seller, New York City window dresser, department store sales clerk and legal office receptionist. Her favorite night job was as off-Off-Broadway stage manager for many productions at La MaMa. She currently lives in New Orleans. If asked to define herself in one word, she'll say "interested".
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