The Horse Head Earrings

Venetia Favaloro’s old maid sister, Luisa, was furious when her mother died in 1925 and left the horse head earrings to Venetia.

Venetia was relieved when Luisa stopped speaking to her. Venetia, with many children and few lira, lacked energy for Luisa’s nattering. Venetia envisioned easier lives for her children. As her two prettiest daughters came of age, she mailed them to bridegrooms in shining America.

Upon Venetia’s death in 1946, each daughter received an envelope from Sicily. Nothing fancy, just keepsakes  that Venetia’s own mother had left to her. The onyx bracelet  went to Antonietta in New York. The horse head earrings, to Annuzziata in St. Louis.

When Luisa heard, she had a nephew drive her, at top speed, to the village telephone. She dialed Annuzziata in America. “I command you to send me those earrings. Mamma had promised them to me,” she said in Italian, crossing her fingers to excuse the bugia (fib).

“You shan’t have them,” Annuzziata replied.

Upon Annuzziata’s death in 1968, her daughter, Carlina, moved into the house. The phone rang right away.

“I want those horse head earrings with the garnet eyes,” someone warbled on the phone in broken English. “I simply must have them.”

“You mayn’t have them,” Carlina said, having been warned that Luisa would call. “Absolutely not.”

Carlina died in 1987. Carlina’s daughter, Samantha, and her family, moved into the house. The phone rang as she carried boxes in.

“I want those earrings,” someone at the other end hissed.  “I require them immediately.”

“Nope.  Ain’t happening, Luisa.” Samantha hung up.

In 2011, Samantha passed away. Her daughter, Amber, was clearing out the house when the phone rang.

“Horse head earrings,” the voice croaked. “Gimme.”

Amber had often repeated the horse head earring story in bars, causing everyone to howl with laughter. “Sure. Okay,” she said.

A nurse named Nina got on the phone and gave the address of a rest home near Sicily. Amber wrapped them and dropped them off at the post office the next day.

Three weeks later, Nurse Nina delivered the package to Luisa. She helped her tear off the brown parcel paper. Underneath, the box was beautifully gift-wrapped and tied with bright ribbons.

“Grazie! Grazie Dio! Finalmente!” Luisa snatched the package away, and began thanking the saints individually, in between wild whoops. When she progressed to wailing and pounding her wheelchair tray, Nurse Nina had to give her a sedative. Luisa was quite frail, as expected at 146 years old.

The old woman slipped into a deep sleep and from there into the next life, clutching the colorfully covered prize.

That’s what she was waiting for. The nurses agreed. After some deliberation, they decided to unwrap the package.

The earrings were ugly. Enormous dangling jackass heads with embellished nostrils and seedy red eyes.

They didn’t laugh until they cried yet.  Not next to the body.


Carly Berg’s stories appear or are forthcoming in PANK, Word Riot, Scissors and Spackle, and elsewhere. This story is based on a friend’s real life story about a horse head earrings dispute that has just completed its fourth generation. The real life earrings are just as ugly but the wantee has not yet been granted them.