Marty was a Jewel
By: Walter Giersbach

My Aunt Edith, up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, is a funny woman. By that I don't mean ha–ha funny, but whimsical. Waggish and droll. Uncle Marty, she'd say, was on the road so much he should have bought stock in a highway.

Marty was what they call a jobber who represented denim manufacturers. He called himself the Denim Demon, wholesaling Levis, bluejeans, dungarees. Pants, vests, jackets — anything made out of denim.

Toward the end of a weeks–long trip some years ago he called Edith and said he'd grown a mustache. My cousin Bobby was still a little kid, so she bundled him up to meet his daddy's train when it pulled into Grand Central Terminal. With a sudden flight of fancy, she'd taken some of Bobby's hair trimmings and made a mustache that she pasted on his face with spirit gum.

She greeted the train at the station as Marty in his new mustache stepped down.

"Edith, what d'you mean putting that thing on an innocent baby!" were his first words.

"Well, Marty, it's been some time since we've seen you. I didn't know if you'd recognize your baby with his mustache."

"Not that long!" he snorted.

Just like that, she began giggling. As quickly as it had come, his glare died and they both began laughing at his outburst. See, that's what love does for you, even if you're both married.

Edith and Marty would occasionally shout at each other — in the street, at the market, wherever — and then they'd make up ten minutes later. They were like a kid's wooden paddle and rubber ball. Love was the rubber band that snapped them back together each tine. Slap–slap–slap all the time. Paddle ball, I thought when Aunt Edith called me from Riverdale.

"Your Uncle Marty is dead, Jake," she said.  "He's gone and I need someone to advise me what to do.  Can you come up?"

The rubber band had just snapped.

Marty was on the road when he died. Literally. Hit by a truck as he walked out of a store in Little Rock.  Bobby was in the Army trying to stay out of trouble and I was the nearest relative.  I said I'd come immediately.

I was in my office in midtown Manhattan where I edit Laundry & Dry Cleaning Today, a trade journal. I tell hard–working New Americans from India and the Caribbean how to defeat spots in worsted's and put new life in suede. Thinking of Marty, I glanced at the bulletin board in my office where I'd stuck a press release that crossed my desk.  An outfit had a technique for turning people into diamonds.  Why that news came to me at my magazine I don't know, but I'd hung it up so I could think about it later.  Now was a good time to think.

The release said this technique offered immortality.  After all, people are just carbon molecules.  This company simply refines a person's ashes — once they're dead, of course — and turns him or her into graphite.  The graphite is put into a huge vise under a million pounds of pressure, heated to 3,500 degrees and — presto! — you're a diamond.

This didn't seem to be too far into the realm of the unbelievable.  They say diamonds are forever, so Edith could secure Marty's memory while keeping him close to her.

I took the train up to Edith's condo at 252nd Street in Riverdale, plopping down in the living room across from her with a mixture of apprehension and expectation.  Death isn't a good conversation starter.  She slurped her tea while I nursed a glass of Dewar's from the bottle Marty kept in the closet.

Pretty quickly, she got around to discussing what she called "the arrangements."

"What'll I do, Jake? Something fitting should be done after the funeral. It's the right thing to do. God forbid the cleaning lady gets carried away seeing his ashes."

"Aunt Edith, burial or interment costs about five thousand.  Let me suggest another idea."

I took out the news release from my office and she leaned forward to hear every word.

"If Uncle Marty was a diamond," I said, "you'd always have him in your hand.  In fact, he'd be worth more dead than alive — about $2,300 for a quarter carat and $15,000 for a full one carat.  Anyway, that's in the ballpark of funeral costs."

She picked at some imaginary lint on the chair and began figuring her options.  "I think about half a carat," she said.  "Marty wasn't very big when he was alive.  He wore a size 40 regular."

The next day she called the memorials salesman, who was quick to admit the diamonds aren't flawless.  Edith told him Marty had some anger issues and flawless would be too much to expect. Two weeks later, Marty's ashes were sent up from Little Rock.  After the funeral service, Edith shipped him off to the giant pressure cooker in Illinois.

I was out of town myself, handling an event for advertisers.  When I got back, I apologized that I was unable to be at the funeral and I asked Edith how everything had gone.

She snuffled, and then swore like my old platoon sergeant.  Finally, she wheezed to a stop.  It seems the Little Rock funeral parlor called and said they still had Marty's ashes and didn't know who was in the box she'd received for the funeral.  Two days later, she got "Marty" back in a little velvet box.  He was set in a plain gold band.

"I pondered this awhile, and you know, Jake, I tried to say even if it isn't Marty, it makes a nice memorial.  After he was cremated, well, ashes are just ashes. It's the memories that count."

I uh–huhed sympathetically.

"Then," she continued, "on my way out of Gristede's market a few days later, I went next door to the jewelry store.  I asked the man to appraise Marty.  Of course, I didn't identify exactly who the ring was.  Well, he sniffed and said, ‘Madam, this is a cubic zirconium.'"

That made Edith doubly disconcerted.  Not only wasn't it Marty, he wasn't even a diamond.

"Aunt Edith, look at it this way," I told her. "Only you know the truth — and who's to doubt you?"

Her eyes got all squinty.  "Are you just young or are you stupid, Jake?  You give up too easy.  I called the Little Rock funeral parlor and demanded my money back or said I'd tell the New York Post how they make bodies disappear.  And I told Little Rock to send Marty up immediately so I could keep an eye on him right here in the Bronx.

"Further, I'm keeping the ring.  It sparkles if you hold it in the sun.  And,"  she almost winked, "Marty always liked a good joke."

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