A Pair of Cuff Links
He finds it wedged in the corner of a stair, nestled on carpet as thick as velvet, like the jewelry he's seen in display cases: small and gold, a single cuff link. He has another scavenged cuff link stashed in the cigar box hidden under his bed, but this one looks different. While the first was also gold but plain and square, this one is shaped like a shoe lace knot.
He picks it up, letting it slip into the hollow of his small hand, balancing its weight against the briefest twinge of guilt. He doubts anyone will bother to claim it. In such a large hotel that sees hundreds of visitors a day, the owner is probably long gone.
And he needs this cuff link, because he has a plan. The next time he wears his one good suit, he will yank off the homely buttons, cut a slit in each of the cuffs of his shirt sleeves and push the shiny links through the makeshift holes. They won't be a matched set but then, he's only ten so it will be all right.
"Napoleon!" his mother calls in a harsh whisper from a swinging metal door which leads to the dirty, chaotic parts of the hotel that the guests never see. "Where have you been? I have an errand for you to run."
She is beautiful his mother, and if it were not for the circles under her eyes and the care-worn turn of her full-lipped mouth, she would be more beautiful than any movie star.
"I'm coming," he says, dropping the cuff link into his pocket. Though she speaks in French, he replies in English because she often complains that his accent is as bad as his father's. If he showed the cuff link to her, she would make him surrender it, and he would obey because he knows she loves him more than she loves his father, a man who cares too little and drinks too much. And he loves her in return because she is his shelter, his refuge, his rock, in an uncertain world.
She wipes her hands, red and raw from dishwashing, against her second-best apron, and looks around furtively, black eyes flashing. Come," she says, motioning. "Into the kitchen. Before you are seen."
She always says this and even though she's explained it to him, he still doesn't understand why. "We should be out there," he protested once, to no avail. "Grandpapa is rich."
"And we are poor," she answered shortly and that was that. He knew not to press her. He is accustomed to her temper, but he fears her silences.
Before he goes, however, he takes a moment to scan the ornate dining room, filled with people who do not wash dishes or run errands, who can lose a piece of expensive jewelry without too much concern over the cost. Someday he won't need to be invisible. Someday, he'll move among them.
And when he does, his cuff links will match.