Diamonds are a girl's best friend - or are they?


Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

By Marilyn Chalkley

The diamond wasn’t as large as Carrie expected. Phil had been a big man, hefty muscled legs from a lifetime of running, big biceps from doing weights at the gym, a reddish veined complexion from too much good wine, and a laugh that was more like a roar. Not that the laugh would end up in his ashes, the carbon that created the diamond.

It seemed like a neat idea – if Phil who had died so unexpectedly, could be transformed into a diamond, she could keep an eye on him. He was such a slippery character she couldn’t quite believe he was dead. The Internet company was true to its word – the diamond came back in a small box, some weeks after she had sent off the ashes. Carrie didn’t trust anyone these days, but the company had come highly recommended by the Funeral Director, and by her friend Kylie who wore her dead husband on her wedding finger every day. ‘If I go broke, I can sell him,’ she said.

‘Do you think that’s ethical? I still haven’t decided.’

Carrie wasn’t sure she wanted Phil in a ring. It was too personal. He was a man to whom truth had no meaning – something she found out gradually, painfully. To wear him every day would be a constant reminder of the humiliation of being the poor little wife. ‘He told her he worked in the Department of Defence. He would drive off every day, come back in the evening. He’d say his job was top secret, couldn’t tell her a thing.’ Carrie imagined her friends gasping in delighted horror, whispering behind their hands. But that was later.

When she first met him Phil was such an entertaining companion, and he believed most of what he was telling her. That was why he was convincing. He created dreams. “Just got back from India. Gorgeous country! Stayed with a maharaja in a palace lined with gold leaf. I’ll take you there one day.’

But Carrie never did get to India. Soon after Phil proposed with a diamond ring Carrie’s jeweler quietly told her was a zirconia worth $3, he said the Maharaja had died in an epidemic of cholera that had devastated Jaipur. They got married the next year but had a low budget honeymoon on the Gold Coast.

With his brilliant degree and sparkling references Phil quickly got a job in the public service. Phil was proud of his degrees. He had them framed on the wall. An Honours degree in English from La Trobe and a PhD from Cambridge. It never occurred to Carrie that they were forgeries.

He turned to her one day early in their marriage, tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘That was Mum on the phone. I have to go to Melbourne. Dad has just had a heart attack. Better if you stay here, I’ll see to it all.’

He disappeared for two months. He took leave from work for a family crisis. He rang every now and again to assure her that his Dad was improving but he just needed to stay a little longer. It was then, she realized later, that he had established his second family. A wife, and then, two children, a boy and a girl. She met them at the funeral, but by that time, nothing surprised her. For weeks afterwards she mulled over the agony of finding another wife, brazenly sitting in the front row. She wore an armload of gold bangles and several chains round her neck, her pink breasts visibly heaving. A tart, thought Carrie angrily, glancing down at her own sober black suit.  Maybe it was the contrast that appealed to Phil? When the time came for the eulogy, Carrie thought the tart might run up to the lectern, to tell the world Phil had another wife. She held her breath. But wife number two just sat there sobbing, clutching onto the hands of her teenage children, Phil’s children.

Carrie had always hoped that sometime soon Phil would tell the truth. He had faked his work, and now it seemed he had faked his life. All those years she had thought he must be having an affair, but in fact he was commuting between his two families. Why didn’t he ask for a divorce? For that matter, why didn’t she? She had been betrayed, shouted at, abused for being a spoilsport. But he was fun, and at his best made her laugh. She found him slightly addictive, and sometimes frightening. What would he do if she did leave?  It scared her to think. He was a possessive man. He often threatened her - ‘I would jump off a cliff if you left.’ She wasn’t sure if that was true.

Carrie thought of truth as a slender white gumtree, reaching for the bluest of skies. It could be blown around but would always stand straight and tall. People believe everyone they know is like that gumtree, basically honest and truthful, but Carrie knew otherwise.  She had discovered that con-men and women, thieves and liars are always hiding behind a respectable front, ready to trip you up.

As Carrie sat in the paneled courtroom, cringing and embarrassed when Phil was charged with forging a job reference from the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, she almost snorted aloud when Phil put his hand on the bible and swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead of taking the reference on face value, like most people, it turned out that a diligent ‘People and Culture’ worker had rung to check. ‘He never gives references,’ the EA to the Secretary of PM&C, told the P&C worker, a squat woman in a polyester suit, who reported the exchange in the witness box. Carrie let the acronyms wash over her, her face scarlet with shame. A first offence, Phil got community service and a dressing down from the magistrate. After that he was more careful.

As far as Phil was concerned, the discovery of his forged reference was just a slip up. Carrie was constantly surprised how little people checked references and credentials, or even court records, how seldom they googled a name. Phil soon got a job managing contracts at a university in Melbourne, built on his considerable and well documented experience in the US.  They put a deposit down on a dear little two-bedroom weatherboard with a white picket fence in Clifton Hill, conveniently near the station and close to Merrie Creek, where Carrie liked to walk. It helped her to stop thinking about why she had ended up with a conman as a husband. And how he had never been to the US.  But maybe now he was in a good job he would stop forging things? She hoped, deceiving herself, unable to leave the warmth of his arm curled round her in the evenings, his big laugh, his stare with narrowed eyes as he told her another incredible story. And unable to face his anger: sudden, explosive, with a hard hand that slapped her face, a foot prone to kicking her. But nothing too painful, she lied to herself.

Phil begged her to stay. ‘I need you darl. We have fun together don’t we? And think what we can do with the money from this job, and yours.’ Carrie was working as a chef in a popular organic café in Brunswick St, daytimes only, which was civilized in the hospitality business. Her beetroot and walnut salad with plum and ponzu dressing was especially popular.

Phil never worried. He always did like money, and luxury, which is why he soon found the money in contracts wasn’t enough. Carrie knew he had invested in some real estate up in Queensland. ‘By the water, they’re going to build on it, we just need a few more investors.’

Carrie had never heard of a Ponzi scheme, and with her slight grasp on maths she wanted to believe Phil when he said it was the opportunity of a lifetime and they couldn’t lose. She hosted a dinner party for close acquaintances, and when they got to dessert, a luscious chocolate cake, Phil did the hard sell. (‘We’ll soften them up with that cake of yours, they will be swooning over the dinner and good wine, so hopefully they will swoon over the investment opportunity,’) Phil told her.

‘Then when we’re rich I’ll buy you a real sparkly-arkly diamond ring.’

She’d believe that when she saw it. She felt his plans might just work OK because they had invested in the scheme too.  She didn’t realise that their return was to be funded out of the next lot of investors in a dream house by the water. ‘It’s such a good opportunity with a high-yield investment, you can’t lose on this one. We’ve already bought two blocks,’ Phil told the dinner guests.

The scheme ran successfully for almost a year until an investigative reporter found out the land was too swampy ever to be built on. Raiding wallets, breaking hearts was the headline. Carrie rushed home the day the story broke, having been unable to get onto Phil all day, unlocked the front door, and almost fell over a large suitcase in the hall.

Phil was red-faced and blustering. She could tell he had been drinking. ‘How was I to know that fucking land was a swamp? We’re in the shit darl, I’m off for a while. Better you don’t know where I am. There’s the cab.’ He grabbed the case, slamming the door as he left. He didn’t even kiss her goodbye.

Carrie sat down heavily on the sofa, her head in her hands as she sobbed, the tears oozing through her fingers, her heart beating loud in her chest. The phone was ringing in the hall. It stopped then started again. Soon there were twenty messages, angry messages on the phone from all the friends who had bought shares. There was no way she could face anyone after this. She went to pour herself a whisky and found the bottle gone. With Phil. What a shit he is, she thought angrily. There was a half-drunk bottle of red wine in the pantry. She threw her head back to drain it.

She marched down the hall into the bedroom – there were drawers pulled out, piles of clothes on the floor, a chair turned over. The phone was still ringing. She lay on the bed, pulling a blanket over her head, then threw it back, walked into the hall, and yanked the phone out of its socket, mid ring. She switched off her mobile. Twenty-six messages! She returned to the bed and pulled the slightly scratchy blanket over her head again, stifled and comforted by the warm wool smell. The prickly fabric felt like a penance. She lay there, curled up, cocooned, her arms wrapped round her knees, for hours, eyes tight shut, wondering what to do next.

She woke up angry. It was just before sunrise, she could tell from the lightening sky, and her throat was dry. She got up and pulled on an outsize cardigan of Phil’s and wrapped it round her. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror, her blonde hair spiky, her blue eyes red rimmed, her skin blotchy. How dare he abandon her? Words came to her, scoundrel, rascal, blackguard, rapscallion, old-fashioned words that didn’t adequately describe how she felt betrayed. Maybe shit, prick, and utter fuckwitted bastard would do? She went to the kitchen and filled the kettle and waited while it started to boil, her fingers drumming on the cheap Formica bench top. She looked out of the kitchen window at the little paved backyard, an uncared-for parsley plant drooping in a black plastic pot. Her instinct was to run. Her upbringing told her to ring all the people, the investors, but what would she tell them? There is no money? Phil’s bolted?

She ran. To London. Dual nationality was convenient sometimes.

Carrie didn’t hear from Phil for two years. They were two years when she constantly lived in fear of a call from the police, when her normally voluptuous figure became thin, almost scraggy. She rented a tiny basement flat and worked in a South Ken café which specialized in organic food, and her beetroot and walnut salad with plum and ponzu dressing was popular with the Brits as well. She diversified into desserts, reflecting that she had to get some sweetness into her life somehow. Her hazelnut meringue with apricot filling was a hit, especially when it was served with clotted cream from contented cows in Devon.

On her thirtieth birthday, she received a card with a Brazilian postmark care of her father, which he dutifully forwarded.

It was typical Phil, breezy as if nothing had happened.

Hi Darl, Happy Birthday! Am thinking of going back to Oz, face the music. I’m sick of life on the run. Would love to have your support. Ring me. A number was scrawled underneath the note.

Carrie sat on the bed in her damp basement flat with the card in her hand, turning it round and round. It occurred to her that conmen never face the music. What was he up to?

‘He’s a scoundrel, but he’s my scoundrel,’ she whispered.

Carrie rang the number the next day. The musical tone that indicated it was an international call, then a few clicks. Then a long ring. Then Phil’s voice. ‘Hello?’

‘It’s me,’ said Carrie.

‘Hello darl,’ Phil boomed.

‘Where are you?’ said Carrie

‘Sao Paulo. It’s hot. I don’t like the heat. And I miss you darl.’

Carrie wasn’t sure she missed Phil, so she stayed silent. The she burst out:

‘Phil, you just pissed off without a word. Then silence. Two whole years!’

‘Darl, it was better for you. Have the police chased you?’

‘No. But I’m here, in the UK.’

‘And still no police? Well there you are. QED.’

Carrie sighed. She could never win against Phil.She started to pack her bag, tempted by sunshine and the talk of love.

He came into Sydney on a fake Brazilian passport. ‘They do good ones there,’ he told her. She mused that he had added identity fraud to his list of talents. They moved to Ashfield. ‘No-one knows us there, so we might be able to get ahead. I can’t live without you darl. You’re everything to me.’ He gave her a smacking kiss on the lips and embraced her in a bearlike hug.

Carrie could work anywhere, especially now her expertise in dramatic organic cakes, made out of unusual ingredients such as red kidney beans and beetroot with a hint of ponzu was well known. She soon got a job in one of Balmain’s trendier vegan cafes.

A few weeks later, Phil was triumphant. Waving a letter in the air he said ‘I have a job in Defence! Special Operations.’

‘Under your false name?’ said Carrie.

‘Shh!’ He smiled. ‘Darl, don’t you see - When I’ve got a few months’ salary under my belt I’ll buy you a sparkly-arkly diamond ring to thank you for putting up with me.’

Carrie was used to empty promises and doubted she would ever see the oft promised ring.  Phil went off to work each day, dressed in a suit (one of the few civilians he claimed) and occasionally she would pick him up at the Victoria Barracks if they were going out for a meal in Paddington.

But something was not right. His answers were too glib, and she never got to meet his colleagues. ‘Oh darl, they’re as dull as a cardboard box, you don’t want to meet them. You’d pass out from boredom. Believe me.’ She didn’t.

She became increasingly suspicious. She took the day off work, got into her car quietly and discretely, and followed him through Sydney’s nightmarish traffic. Instead of heading into the city, on Parramatta Rd he turned off at Annandale, a suburb of stone Victorian houses and renovated worker’s cottages. He pulled up outside a small house with a garden full of roses, and walked up the front path, then veered off round the back. Carrie couldn’t see what he was doing from her position further down the road, but after fifteen minutes or so she knocked on the front door, heart beating fast, thinking she might confront a girlfriend.

A tiny woman with wispy white hair answered the door, leaving the chain on and peering through the gap. ‘Can I help you?” she said in a cracked voice.

‘Hello,’ said Carrie with a cheerfulness she didn’t feel. ‘I just wanted to talk to Phil.’

‘Phil? Oh you mean Bill?  He’s around the back in the shed.’The old woman lowered her voice. ‘He doesn’t like being disturbed. I’m not sure he would want to see you.’

‘I’m his wife,’ said Carrie.

‘Oh no, he hasn’t got a wife, poor man. He’s a widower. Says he gets very lonely, out there writing his novel. I’m not allowed to go in, says if he gets interrupted he loses the flow. So I’m not sure who you are. You don’t look like a ghost.’ She cackled and slammed the door.

Phil was no writer. Carrie was furious. She drove home, almost unable to see the road through her tears and her anger. It was one lie too many.

The truth was tacky, and he told her about it that night, bit by bit, when she confronted him. Screamed at him. Yelled at him. Threatened to walk out unless he told her. He sat down heavily. ‘Ok, OK, ‘he said. ‘Keep your fucking hair on.’

On arrival he would change into shorts and a T-shirt. He paid the tiny rent in cash. Always cash. In the peace of Norah’s back garden he would scam other old ladies, sell them tickets to cruises that didn’t exist, create websites that sold tickets to the opera, except the tickets weren’t real.  He would go online and court lonely men, pretending to be a beautiful babe with glossy black hair and a desperate need for money for an airfare, or cash to visit her old mum in Europe. He had a range of photos of attractive but realistic women he used. With names like CherryBlossom, DaisyBell, Lilibet. He would promise to love the lonely man forever, and then disappear. ‘It pays well,’ he said.

It was the end, for Carrie. Now he was just pathetic. Had it come to this? Scamming old ladies, and lonely old men?

A terrible rage rose in her and she grabbed the car keys and a few clothes. He tried to bar the door, but by this time he had drunk a whole lot of whisky, and she ducked under his arm. Her life was wasted, the last ten years were wasted, what on earth had she seen in him? He chased her down the garden path, tried to stop her opening the gate, yelled ‘You bloody bitch. Is this what I get for coming back to get you?’ But he was too drunk, she wrenched it out of his hand, and he slipped and fell. She got away. Just.

Two months later, when Phil’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff she wept. No, she told the police. She hadn’t seen him for ages. He was a conman, she said, going nowhere. Yes, he was depressed. He had often threatened to throw himself off a cliff, especially after she left him. He would ring her, but she changed her number. Yes, he had always liked whisky, and he was prone to heavy drinking and walks at midnight along the cliffs. But it was unlikely he had tripped. He had often threatened to kill himself. And of course he had no friends left to comfort him.  So sad. She sighed.

As soon as his body was released she had Phil cremated. Unfortunately the tart came to the cremation, after the funeral, and wailed loudly. Carrie handed her a hankie, as the second wife’s was reduced to a small ball of damp fluff in her fist.

Within days the ashes were in the mail, and the diamond was returned quite quickly. She took it to her favorite jeweler, and they designed an elegant ring. She wore it often. She would whisper to the shimmering stone ‘it’s your fault. You taught me to be a con-woman. Now after all these years I’ve got my sparkly-arkly diamond ring. It was the only way.’

Sometimes revenge can be perfectly executed, she thought. The sweetest revenge is that nobody knows. And when that scream echoes at night – she just turns up the music and he is blasted away by Rihanna singing, ‘Shine bright like a diamond.’