“Are you alright?” Julia asked me, as she sat across from me, warm in the west room of my small roman domus, or city house. I blinked twice, pulling my gaze away from her new bracelet and the other fine jewels around her neck and headdress. She had amethysts, pearls, gold. It all sparkled so softly in the evening sun.
“Of course I’m fine. Your bracelet really is stunning.” I shifted my weight so that I couldn’t feel the tears starting to form on the couch below. My hand strayed to the flat, faded pillow beside me.
My friend’s soft, red lips turned upward at the compliment and as she smoothed the wispy purple silk she wore draped over one shoulder.
“You know, dear,” she said with down cast eyes, “A woman in your status really should . . . peruse the shops. I hear the silk traders will be leaving soon and you won’t want to miss them.”
My two boys tumbled into the room, literally. The oldest playfully punched the other while the younger found leverage and kicked his brother off. As they rolled towards us my Julia pulled her feet under her, and pushed the hem of her brilliant white stola out of their muddy way.
Growing boys eat so much food. And they are always in need of taller clothing. I called my boys to my side and, still grinning, they slowly made their way over.
My friend laughed softly, “What will people say when you take your boys to court and you do not have any silk? And the new jewelry from Egypt is such the rage now. Really, Cornelia, lets you and I go shopping tomorrow morning. Leave the children with someone. You must see the silks I found this morning.”
While the oldest boy remained standing by my side, the younger sat next to me and looked up with his bright blue eyes.
“Mom,” he said, “I don’t like it when you wear silk.” I raised an eyebrow in question, but his grin only grew. “Because when you wear silk, I can’t do this!” and he threw his mud-caked arms around me, squeezing me tightly to him.
My friend raised a pampered hand to her mouth, but I only laughed as I tugged the older boy in, too. The three of us swayed on the tattered couch as both brothers tried to push the other off while keeping me in the middle.
The older brother one this time and the younger hit the floor with a low thud.
Among the snickers I raised my eyes back to my friend. “Julia,” I spoke with conviction, “Thank you, but I have as much finery as I could ever want, actually. These here.” I hugged my ambitious boys closer. “These do not tarnish nor do they care for the trends of the seasons. These are where I have placed my money, my time, and my life’s work. Julia . . .
“These are my jewels.”