The Box

Once upon a time, there lived a peculiar little girl with an equally peculiar imagination.  While the other little girls sat in playgrounds, creating long chains of little girl Chinese Dragons, putting bows and bits of flowers into the hair of the little girl before them, this peculiar little girl dug her feet into the mud and looked up into the big, bright sun.  She heard that doing this would make her go blind, and she always wanted a puppy of her own.  For no matter how desperately she begged, her parents told her that the only way they would bring such a “mangy beast” into their perfectly arranged, perfectly pristine house was if God himself were to strike her blind on the spot. Service dogs, they asserted, were cleaner and smarter.  Almost like a person.

This is only partly true.

When the little girl grew up to be a giant 8 year old, she began collecting things.  Strange things.  Of course, she was required by her mother to keep all of her Birthday cards, Christmas cards, Easter cards, and the generally boring paraphernalia gifted to her by her Great Aunt, six blue-haired grandmothers, and one pepper-haired grandfather.  She kept these things in a hamper where the clothes were supposed to live, and arranged her clothes on the floor in a perfectly styled mess.  The clothes she didn’t wear, the very special clothes she loved the best, she hid away in cracks and corners, keeping them safe for her grandchildren to enjoy.  Then she began to hide her spoons, her floppy disks, her brightly colored stickers of kittens and baskets.  She hid her pillow, her toothbrushes, her Barbie doll heads and one brightly colored rainbow yo-yo.  She asked the hairdresser to give her back her hair.  She hid that, too.  Until finally, the walls in her room were so full of her secret treasures, the whole house sunk into the ground and she never saw any of it ever again.

This is, also, only partly true.

This peculiar little girl lived to become a slightly less peculiar young woman, who found a job, adopted a few cats and a dog (finally!), killed a few house plants, married a nice young man and settled beside the ocean to live a very loving, very un-peculiar life of predictable stability.  Together, they raised three lovely, yet quite ordinary children who grew to be as equally un-peculiar as their two loving, yet quite ordinary parents.

And the time flew by.

Many years later, on a dreary, rain sodden Sunday afternoon, in this very un-peculiar home on the water, sat four very bored, very curious young people.  They had read all of their books.  Twice.  They had finished all of their homework.  They had watched all of their shows.  And now, with all of the dishes washed, the beds made, the mail sorted, and the board games played, there was nothing more to do but sit and stare at each other in a most peculiar fashion.   Their grandmother had become quite ill, and for the past five years, she lay bound to her bed, never taking her eyes off of the ocean as it ebbed and flowed, never moving, never talking.   All about her stretched a tangle of thin, beige strings, leading like tentacles throughout the house in a maze of connections to every cupboard and every nook of every room.  Fastened to the end of each string lived a simple brass bell that, when tugged, would alert the family of the old woman’s needs and desires. On this particularly gray afternoon, their grandfather had left the children alone to run his Sunday errands, and instructed them to remain inside, taking care to listen for the quiet, usual song the bells. 

If they had been doing anything else, if the sun were out or their shows had not been watched, if they were not sitting in their little peculiar circle in silence, they would not have heard it. 

A bell, muffled by the wood floor and their huddled bodies, sang to them a sweet, unfamiliar tune.  They placed their ears to the floor and listened.  How could it be that a bell was ringing beneath them??  What could possibly be needed that lived under the house?  Methodically, like a well-trained army, they worked in unison to find the source of the sound, tapping vigorously on the old wood to find the hollowed spot.  A small divot in the floorboard greeted their excitement, and with all of their little person might, they pushed and pulled to uncover the ever-quickening jingle of the bell.  The floorboard gave way, and everything turned quiet and still.  Inside the dusty hole, there stretched a vibrant red string, tied elegantly to the end of a small, yet quite extraordinary gold bell.  Beyond the string sat a box.  It was a very peculiar box; like nothing they’d ever seen.  Words and numbers scrolled along the edges and danced upon the cracking surfaces; each scratched out making it impossible for them to decipher a meaning.   And of course, like any other curious child struck by the affliction of unbearable boredom would, they opened it.

Inside, they found their grandmother.  Or somebody that looked an awful lot like their grandmother, but it couldn’t be…could it?  This woman looked far too peculiar to be their stone still grandmother.  Framing her smiling teeth was painted a grin of fire red lipstick, which followed her upturned impish nose, which followed two blazing green eyes; so wet and alive.  On her head, she wore an enormously absurd red hat, and in her arm, there snuggled a fluffy, orange vixen.  It couldn’t be her, their grandmother wouldn’t dream of picking up, let along owning a wild fox!

Underneath this photo they found a mountain of buried letters, trinkets, Barbie doll heads and one rainbow yo-yo.  They found old toothbrushes, locks of fine blond hair and postcards from old Spanish lovers.  For one hour, they sifted through this woman’s life, filled with magic and intrigue, trying to piece together why something like this box would end up in such an ordinary house, such an ordinary life as the one around them! 

Upstairs, their grandmother, still looking out over the ocean, turned her dewy green eyes to the bright, burning glare of the sun, and smiled.