Opening the Box

Rachel continued to stare at the key for a few moments. That morning, when she sat down with the heavy book, which still lay on her lap, it had been her intent to discover what the book held in its pages but the key made her even more curious.

Rachel had never looked in the drawers of her father’s desk, at least not in recent years. She did not know of the existence of the box he mentioned in his letter. The rising excitement all through her body persuaded her to stand, go over to the desk and set the book down. She had waited how many years to open that book. She and the book often had stared at each other. What secrets could it contain after all this time? Waiting another short while would do no harm. The box, she had never seen, and did not know, even, of its existence before today. What her father said about it was at least as tantalizing as what he said about the book she had been holding.

Rachel sat down in the chair behind the desk and looked at the drawer which must be the one containing the box. She wondered if any of the other drawers held secrets. He used to keep his stamp collection in a compartment under the centre of the desk. She wondered what was in that compartment now. She pulled her thoughts back. She was just letting herself be distracted. She must pursue the key’s purpose today.

She turned toward the lower right drawer of the desk and gently, but excitedly and with some apprehension, pulled it open. There was the box. Two very worn leather straps crossed the top of the box. She was surprised at the box’s size. It filled the largest of the desk’s drawers. There was just room for her to put her fingers between each of the smooth wooden sides of the drawer and the sides of the box.

She stood to lift the box out. It looked heavy. The top of the box was dark wood worn along the edges. She dared not lift it by the old straps when she did not know their strength and the box’s weight. She also was concerned that the box itself might be fragile. Her father intimated, in his letter, that it could be quite old. She pushed the chair back so that she had room to squat beside the open drawer to pick up the box. She needed to take it out of the drawer to open it as she found the leather straps were tight to the wood, when she pulled gently up on them, and she could not see the lock for the key.

As Rachel squatted to lift the box out, she was reminded of the day she climbed the ladder and brought down the mirrorbook and read it while her parents were out for the afternoon. Ptolemy had been with her that afternoon. She sighed at the memory of his constant presence. I loved that cat so much, she thought.

Rachel moved around to get her hands lined up just right so that the box would lift clear of the sides of the drawer easily. The box was heavy but not overly so. She could have lifted it safely while seated in the chair. She put it on the desktop beside the book in which she had found her father’s letter.

The box’s edges were chipped here and there. The thick grain of the wood showed through the dark stain that had been applied to it. The joints showed that a skilled cabinet-maker had made it. Aside from the leather straps, there were no markings or adornments. While well made, the intent had been utilitarian.

She turned the box so that the side with the lock was facing her. She unbuckled each of the straps. The silver-coloured buckles were an inch across and well-worn as were the leather straps. She could feel her heart pounding. She had no idea what to expect. She had not anticipated the adventure she had on the day when she read the mirrorbook. Opening the box might generate more exploring or surprises. Or the contents could be quite dull. Her father’s letter suggested that it would be interesting, at least. She doubted it would be dull. She took one last look at the key as if to ask, “What do you know? What do you hold? Who will I be when I open the box you hold?”

Rachel put the key in the lock and turned it. She could hear and feel the lock turn inside the box’s wall. She drew a deep breath and lifted the lid. On top were neat piles of paper. Her eye was drawn immediately to a pale pink fold of papers bound with faded pink ribbon. Rather than examine more of the box’s contents right then, she lifted out the packet. It looked like it might contain letters. To read letters could be so engrossing. And informative or mysterious.

Rachel pulled up the desk chair and sat down. She carefully untied the ribbon which held the papers together. A heavy paper was folded around whatever was inside. She folded back the outer pink paper. Inside was a small pile of unbound pages. The top one bore one line of handwriting. It said, Island Poems.

Rachel gasped. Were these poems of her father’s? No, the handwriting was not his. Looking closely at the handwriting, she thought it had been done with a dip pen. The letters, making up the title, each were drawn carefully and artfully.

Immediately, Rachel had so many questions. Whose poems were these? Was this part of the inheritance her father had mentioned? She wished she knew more but she was a good detective. She would have to do her best sleuthing as she explored what she had found.

Using the fingers of both hands to barely touch the edges of the rather thick paper, Rachel lifted the title page and set it aside. She could see instantly, from the layout of the writing on the next page, that it bore a handwritten poem. She picked up each of the next two pages just as carefully as she had the first. These pages also appeared to contain poems. The title page truly had pointed the way to the contents. Certain words caught her eye. The word “Earth” was capitalized mid-line and she saw the words, muse and moths. She did not see any date or any signature on these first pages. Perhaps there were initials somewhere. She flipped over the whole pile of loose pages. She saw no indicators on the back of the bottom page in the pile. She looked at the writing side of the bottom page. Again, there were no indications of provenance or authorship.

Rachel decided she might as well begin at the beginning. She turned the pile back over so it lay as she had found it. She set the pages she had removed back on the pile except for the second one which she took in her hand. She began to read the first of the Island Poems.

Note to reader: The Island Poems will appear individually in subsequent posts. They will be tagged as Island Poems so that it is easy to find them and they will be collected on a separate page, under “Poetry in Series”, once there are two or three available for reading. Rachel has to read them first, of course!

The Mirrorbook can be found here.

Rachel’s father’s letter can be found here.

The Opening of the Old Wooden Box continues here.  

The Series of stories related to the Opening of the Old Wooden box appear here.