Body Parts Jewelry Store Man
“I’ll take five diamond earrings,” the lady from the fourth encampment north said.
“Five pairs of diamond earrings?” I asked.
“Yes, five pairs, and I want them all fingertip.”
“Comin’ right up, ma’am, five pairs of fingertip diamond earrings. I’m going to close early today.” She smiled and handed me her payment in units.
* * *
I don’t have many days like that anymore. But when I first opened my jewelry store, I had sales like that all the time. My store was all the buzz around town and beyond. Not just because I sold body parts, which might have alarmed some people from the old world, but because the pieces were in such demand. I’m not sure how the fad started, but I had what they wanted, and it kept food on the table and paid the bills.
Things were different after nations fell and the world became a twisted mass of hair, steel, concrete, torn skirts, arm casts, and garbage. You survived under a code of ethics, using judgement instead of devices. People lived and died on the honor system. Some people bartered. Some people stole. If you were lucky, you found your way into a town or encampment, and they let you stay.
I’m fortunate to live in a small town that offers protection and a way to make a living. We have all the basic necessities here, even running water and sewer. No full-blown electrical grid, but we have battery charging stations on the outskirts of town run by windmills and a few solar panels. Our downtown isn’t considered “ritzy” by new-world standards, but it’s nice. The hotspot is a saloon-like establishment on the corner of Main and Maple. You can get food and a cold drink, but you have to pay extra for ice cubes. Sometimes they have live acoustic music. We also have a cannery and jerky-making joint. You can bring in most meats, and they’ll season, dry, and smoke them however you want. Jill’s Trading Company is on the main strip as well, next to the watering hole. Her place is similar to a pawn shop; you can buy, sell, or trade just about anything there.
Except for body parts jewelry. I’d known Jill since we were kids and we had an unwritten agreement that she’d leave the body parts jewelry market to me. I always appreciated her generosity. She didn’t have to do that. She could have easily sold jewelry in her store and left me high and dry. With most other ways to make a living taken, I probably would have had to move to another town.
I think the reason she ceded jewelry to me was she just didn’t get it and thought it would never turn a profit. “Who would want to wear other people’s fingers and ears?” she’d ask. I thought the same thing at first, but there are folks out there with plenty of units or something to trade, and that’s what they wanted, so that’s what I gave ’em.
When I’m pressed about my business and how it ever became a big thing, like Jill did at first, I show them a photograph I keep behind the counter. My Great-grandpa gave it to me when I was a kid. He fought in a war called “The Vietnam Conflict,” but most of the time he just referred to it as “Nam.” The picture is of him and his battle buddies, dressed in their BDUs with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. They’re all smiling except the guy on the far right. He has that look in his eyes like he’d been in the jungle too long. A necklace of human ears dangles over his tattooed, perspiration-glazed chest. Great-grandpa said they were from the guy’s hand-to-hand-combat kills. He’d taken them off his victims with his Ka-Bar, dried them, and strung them on paratrooper cord. They were his trophies; proof of days in the bush. They were also a warning that he was someone to be reckoned with.
I suspect that’s what most of my customers are after. It’s dangerous out there, especially when food or necessities become scarce and crime picks up. When you wear body-parts jewelry, people take you seriously. An elegant piece, with fancy polished stones or diamonds, shows you’re all business: you have the means to acquire it, and the guts to flaunt it.
Jill, for example, had some rough customers occasionally. When she finally bought into the idea of wearing my stuff, I gave her one of my best pieces, no charge. It was a meaty five-finger necklace, different skin colors, big knuckles. I can’t imagine the size of the guys those fingers came from. Needless to say, no one ever gave her any crap when she wore it.
Necklaces with just one or two parts were the most popular, usually a combination of fingers or toes. Ears were desirable as well, of course. They were worn just like in Great-grandpa’s photograph, but my pieces were done in style with high-quality leather straps or precious-metal chains, and quality clasps that could withstand a good yanking. Noses were expensive. They usually shriveled too much when I cured them, so I had to insert extra cartilage, if I had any, or retrofit with hard plastic pieces. Otherwise, they looked like overly shriveled prunes.I had other pieces as well. In addition to fingertip earrings, I’d do toetip earrings, armbands or wristbands made of earlobes strung together if I couldn’t use the whole ear, and sometimes rings made of whatever I had left over. Every once in a while someone would bring in pieces of skin. I’d take them, but they didn’t fetch much in return. I needed a lot to double-up and put together a belt or something useful, so it usually sat in the shop for months until I could collect enough to make a piece.
I had a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy with my body parts providers and customers. I didn’t want to know where the pieces came from, and in turn, if I knew I didn’t want to tell customers. Almost every part came from an outside seller, but occasionally I took some myself.
Customers were usually cordial and no one hardly ever gave me any trouble considering my line of work. Occasionally, however, someone would stroll in from one of the uppity encampments on the coast, or they’d just rub me the wrong way. I had a gent come in the other day looking for something for his wife. He yapped a lot and asked too many questions despite my Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy posted right behind the register. I’m always willing to negotiate but he low-balled me on some desirable nose pieces. I was polite and told him I couldn’t let them go for what he was offering. He growled through his neatly trimmed beard and smirked.
He strolled around the shop for a while and then made some cannibal crack, like “What do they do with the rest of the bodies, eat them?” I forced a chuckle even though it wasn’t funny. He held his hand too close to my face, tapped his wedding ring, and said, “I need platinum.” At the time I had only sterling silver and white gold, which he said just wasn’t extravagant enough for his wife’s tastes. Then he mumbled that he might check out the Trading Company to see if they had anything. So I told him I had some special pieces I just completed in the basement of the shop, where I cured and put everything together before bringing it up to the showroom. He said he wanted to take a look.
I usually don’t take customers downstairs unless things are just right. There’s a long, rickety stairway with a single incandescent bulb dangling about halfway down that drains the shop’s battery more than I’d like. I wouldn’t want anyone to trip on those stairs on their way down. Most of the basement is unfinished two-by-fours and not presentable to customers, anyway. But no one else was in the shop that day, and I was a little low on inventory. You see, guys like this always seem to come around at the right time. And even though this fellow had piano fingers, he had a striking complexion and the most remarkable, plump lips.
* * *
About the Author
Michael Carter is a short fiction and creative nonfiction writer from the Western United States. He’s also ghostwriter in the legal profession, a Space Camp Alum, and a volcanic eruption survivor. He enjoys fly fishing and wandering remote wilderness areas with no cell service. You can find him online at michaelcarter.ink and @mcmichaelcarter.