“Let the stone tell you what it wants to be and allow it to become that thing,” the old man whispered. Isabel peered through the loupe and bent over her grandfather’s work table. She gazed intently at the diamond he was showing her.
“You see?” he commanded. “Study it well. Do you remember how it looked when I showed it to you last week and told you this one I would cut next?”
“A white pebble, a lump of salt?” Isabel had been tempted to taste it, but at ten, she knew better. She gave him back the loupe. She spent every afternoon after school in her grandfather’s little work space on 47th Street, way in the back of the third floor in one of the oldest buildings in the diamond district, while her mother gave piano lessons on the Bosendorfer in the apartment. The three of them lived together on West 76th Street, over a well-known funeral parlor.
Isabel watched her grandfather work at his bench, knowing that he mustn’t be disturbed unless he spoke to her first, knowing that his work was as delicate as brain surgery. She had been doing her history homework in the dim light at his old cluttered desk where his paperwork was stacked, waiting for the moment when her grandfather would stand up, take off his special magnifying headpiece with its lighted lens, stretch, turn off his work light, slowly stow his tools and then lock the tray of stones away in the clanking safe bolted to the floor under his workbench.
“Yes, that’s right,” he answered finally, after a pause so long she had turned back to the Battle of Gettysburg. “Like something unimportant you might bring home from the seashore. But its beauty was hidden. And now what do you see? It is revealed.” He spoke softly without looking up, as if he were taking to himself. “This is called an emerald cut. If you can let the properties of the diamond guide you, then you will have something wonderful. If you try to force it to be something it doesn’t want to be—pffft! It could shatter. Or it could resist you in a thousand other ways I will explain to you someday. Just remember that if you are wrong in your choice, then the stone will sulk and refuse to be what you want, because you are mistaken about its true nature. Then you have nothing.”
Walking to the subway, they passed brightly lit shop windows, one after the other, displaying nothing but bare blue velvet landscapes, empty red velvet stages, barren black velvet amphitheaters. Sometimes, on days they left a little early, Isabel would see hands reaching, reaching, reaching into the windows, taking away the precious merchandise to be locked up safely until the next day of business. She reached for her grandfather’s hand, and the rough calluses on his palm were like precious pebbles they carried home together.
“Diamond District” was originally published in Vestal Review and appears here by permission of Katharine Weber.