Time seemed to drag to infinity as I waited for Sarah. The clock ticked loudly.
I clutched the locket in my hand and opened and closed it with my thumb. Finally, I heard a noise outside the front door of my tiny apartment. I went to the door and opened it.
“About time you showed up. You’re half an hour late. I need to get up early to-“ I stopped talking. The person standing in front of me was not Sarah… or at least, not Sarah as I had seen her before.
Usually neat as a pin, Sarah’s clothes were torn, her hair in tangles, and there was dirt on her face except where tears had streaked it clean. As soon as she saw me, she started to cry.
“I can’t take the locket back, Avery,” she sobbed.
This shocked me a little. I couldn’t keep the thing myself. Wearing any sort of finery at the factory, where we worked, was not only against the rules, it was dangerous. Leaning into the machines like we did, it was easy enough for a girl to get a necklace or long hair pulled into the machine, and the rest of her with it. Leaving it at my sad apartment, however, was also out of the question. The door’s lock had been missing since I took the place and I had a good idea that my neighbor was a kleptomaniac.
“What happened, Sarah?” I asked with concern, guiding her to the sagging couch in the middle of the room.
It took her a few seconds to get ahold of herself. “I was walking home from work and I took the back way; I didn’t want to walk through the protest on Park. I was about halfway when someone came up behind me and grabbed me. I couldn’t see them at first, but she told me to give her the locket and I could tell by her voice that it was Kathleen. I had asked her to take care of the locket before I asked you, and she told me no.”
“But… why would she attack you?” I asked. I knew Kathleen- she worked six people down the row and was always dutiful and quiet.
New tears trickled down Sarah’s face. “She said she needed to trade it for money- that her sister Elizabeth was sick. I told her I didn’t have it, but she didn’t believe me and tried to convince me to give it up. I can’t take it back, Avery, I can’t. I want to help Kathleen, but that locket’s all I have.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes as I tried to think. I couldn’t believe the lengths mouse-like Kathleen had taken to get some cash, but we all needed it for one reason or another. I didn’t want to keep the locket myself, but Sarah wouldn’t take it back.
Finally, I got up and motioned my friend to do the same. “Help me.” She followed me over to the woodstove on the other side of the room. It wasn’t lit this time of year, so I instructed her to help me push it away from the wall. We couldn’t move it far, but I didn’t need much room to carry out my plan. I took my small knife- the one I used to cut the threads at the factory- from my pocket and used it to cut a small square in the cheap drywall. I took the square out and set the locket inside, replacing the piece of wall. Sarah started to cry again as we pushed the stove back into place.