The Heart of the Head of the Geisha

Today, I spent most of the day on my mother’s bedroom floor, surrounding ourselves with the jewelery accumulated over years and generations, ostensibly to sort it. In actuality, it was a way to wander down a glittering I-can’t-believe-I-ever-wore-that memory lane strewn with lariats, clip on earrings, and other assorted oddities long out of date. The kitsch from my estranged grandmother, saints upon saints upon Jesuses (jesux?) that grimaced in crucifixion upon gaudy Italian gold filigrees. As I recoiled reflexively from a previously-unremembered small jewelery box that contained my baby teeth (my mother’s a dental assistant with a weird idea of nostalgia, not a serial killer. I think.) I saw a tiny wooden face peeking out from under it.

I pulled out the little quarter-sized face and held it aloft from a dainty chain. I thought it might be from my parents’ semi-native Hawaii, as it looked to be made from Koa wood, I asked my mom. It was my Grandmother’s, she said, turning to sort some earrings. My grandmother, the straight-laced super-paranoid roman catholic, owning this smiling geisha that dangled in my fingers? All of her jewelery I’d ever known previously had all been of suffering saints, or appropriately hideous 60s and 70s costume jewelery that was almost painful to look at for long periods of time. What the hell, then, was this doing in here?

I turned it over in my hand, where an unknown kanji character was delicately carved in red. I puzzled over how fat the piece was, given the relatively shallow carving. It also felt deceptively light for being so large, and so I squinted at it, examining. The chain looped through the back in an odd way, and two long lines scored the back. Suddenly breathlessly excited, all of my geeky pre-teen years of cramming Nancy Drew novels suddenly came into play in one macguyver-like moment. A little tap confirmed the piece, which had traveled through my prudish church-loving maternal family for decades upon decades, was hollow. My mom, re-affirming her black sheep status from said family, immediately leaned closer and said her money was on a tiny stash of black tar heroin.

A few jiggles, feeding the chain through the top, gentle pressure and the end of a paperclip eventually prised open the back of the pendant, which slid open to reveal an inner cavity. I puzzled a moment over the miniature carving in the heart of it, wondering what on earth I was looking at. I saw waves and a strange geometric shape pop into their TRUE form in record time, thanks to a mind that stays in the gutter for a living. I started laughing so hard my eyes teared up and I fell sideways onto the floor, nearly speechless with laughter.

Inside this face, this secret-harboring woman that lurked in grandma’s jewelery box undiscovered for upwards of thirty years, was something truly amazing. In  the heart of the head of the geisha, there was a tiny, perfect, carved woman bending over, her bright pink vagina proudly on display.

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