The Music Box

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone giving or receiving a gift.... view prompt


Funny Contemporary Fiction

I don’t know what you expected me to say to her, Jonathan.

She is very excited about this new chapter of her life. A divorce is never easy, but a third divorce? Which is to say nothing about all the separations. She and Kasta separated four or five times before they finally made it official, and every time she’d kick him out, along would come a new vocation.

Our daughter is a hobbyist who fancies herself a professional--that’s the trouble. It’s gotten so bad I now veer her in the direction of labeling herself an “artist” even though she’s nothing of the sort. It doesn’t matter, because she rebukes any suggestion of what she does as creative. For some reason, she assumes that anything creative is infused with whimsy and good humor, and she wants anything that springs forth from her mind to be pragmatic and objectively valuable.

First it was spoons. All those hideous spoons she made that did everything but hold soup or any other liquid, for that matter.

“Winnie,” I would say to her, bisque all down the front of my blouse, “Why are there holes in this spoon you’ve given me?”

Then she would go on a tirade about how we accept that certain things have to be such-and-such a way. She wanted to know why I was entertaining such limited thinking? I agree that it’s important to think outside the box, but even boxes shouldn’t have holes in them. Winifred commissioned two thousand of those spoons and only two of them--one to me and one that I bought for our maid. She promptly threw it in the trash when she thought I wasn’t looking, and I don’t even blame her.

After the spoons with holes in them came the playing cards without numbers, the fly swatters without handles, the rocking horses on cement blocks, the coasters that left marks on the coffee table, the flammable oven mitts, the umbrellas that dissolved in water, the non-stick pan that stuck to the stove, and the suitcase that had to be sewn shut every time you used it.

Each time she’d come up with one of these monstrosities, who had to foot the bill for production, distribution, and the inevitable therapy sessions when it all went up in flames? She’d swear that her entrepreneur days were over, and then as soon as her heart was re-broken, I’d get that itchy feeling up and down my back signalling to me that our daughter was back to her tinkering. When she came up with bicycles for dogs, I thought I had seen it all, but Jonathan, this time, she has truly outdone herself.

While Winnie makes it a habit to forget my birthday each and every year, it appears that this year, she was only too happy to use the opportunity it presented to gift me her latest contraption.

A music box.

Do not get your hopes up, Jonathan. It may look lovely on the outside, but I haven’t opened it for you yet. Do not let the soft blue and elegant gold edge fool you, nor the gorgeous font “To Mother” is written in, or the pearl doves in each of the corners. I will confess that I, too, allowed hope to spring, only to witness as it was shot down by this--

Do you hear it, Jonathan?

Do you hear that cacophony?

That, you see, is the sound of our daughter screaming.

Oh, never fear. She’s not in harm’s way. She’s in no danger. This isn’t some elaborate ransom note sent by kidnappers. After all, anyone kidnapping Winnie would be prone to return her after one or two hours of her stories about her semester abroad in Yugoslavia.

No, this was intentional. Your daughter gave me, her mother, a music box that plays no music. A music box that serves as a kind of trap, so that just when the emotion is welling up in me, I raise the lid, only to be bombarded with shrieking that shattered both my earrings.

I was so confused, Jonathan. I called up Winnie immediately and asked her what the meaning of this was, and she told me that she had reinvented the music box.

“But Winnie,” I said, “There is no music. You can’t refer to it as a music box, when there isn’t any music. You’d have to call it a wailing box or a screeching box or a Torment Your Mother box, but in no way could what I’m listening to ever be described as music.”

She informed me that I was narrowing myself again. That I was restricting my ability to understand that music isn’t only meant to soothe. It’s meant to disrupt and destroy. She wanted the sound of her screaming to obliterate something in me.

Mission accomplished!

I asked her how she even managed to make such a horrendous noise. I’ve heard her scream before--once when she was eight and stubbed her toe and once when she was fourteen and didn’t get cast as Tess in her high school production of Working Girl.

She told me that the scream was manufactured by a man she’d met--one she already hopes to marry one day--an old friend from her days in Yugoslavia. A director of cinema, who brought her into his studio, and instructed her to think about her mother. Once she was done thinking, he put a microphone in front of her and told her to let out whatever had been building inside her. What came out was a sound so disturbing I had to take both my purple pill and my pink pill before ringing up our only child to ask her why she was trying to kill me.

Imagine my surprise when, instead of the explanation I was owed, I was met with this meandering story about auteurs and deep-seated trauma and the trout-fishing expedition they’re going on next year. Meanwhile, the maid had come in and innocently opened the music box I had left on the dining room table only to be met with Winnie’s long-simmering resentment. She passed out on my brand new rug, and I had to send the chauffeur to buy smelling salts, because of course, the cook never restocks his supply even though I, myself, faint often either at the sight of blood or taste of leeks.

I assigned the box to that room in the basement where we keep photos of your mother and all that unnecessary golfing equipment. It shall never see the light of day again if I have my way. As it is, I can still hear that scream ricocheting through the halls whenever I lay my head down to sleep or get up in the night to make sure the butler isn’t stealing anything from the pantry.

Winnie has produced a ghost and it lives with us now. It’s here--most likely forever.

She wanted me to hear her after what she felt was a lifetime of me not listening. She had to bring about a sound so seismic, it would leave an ethereal impression. One that cannot be turned off or shut away, because it resides in memory like happiness or the jingle used in a pharmaceutical drug commercial.

All her life she’s seen people and things and feelings and promises come and go, come and go. Nothing she’s ever created has been able to put a stop to all that loss. So now, she’s surrendered to it. She’s documented it. All that expression surrounding that loss and aimed at me, because wasn’t I the first real loss? Wasn’t I the person who gave up on her first? Wasn’t I the first love of her life and the first who stopped loving her back?

There was nothing she could say to me about it, and without speech, there’s either silence or music. You can’t put silence in a box.

In that way, maybe the scream was music.

Maybe that’s what Winnie was trying to say.

Perhaps that’s what she wanted me to understand.

Well, my darling.

Mission accomplished.

November 26, 2021 23:25

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Josephine Curry
15:00 Feb 28, 2022

Spent my breakfast reading some of your stories - what a joy!


Story Time
17:06 Feb 28, 2022

I miss you, Josephine <3


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Shea West
06:14 Dec 06, 2021

This made me think of the screaming mail the kids in Harry Potter would get from home. Just utter shouting and screeching at the kid in front of all their friends 🤣 Bless Winnie's heart! I laughed out loud at all of the inventions, flammable oven mitts and suitcase needing to be sewed shut. You're a master of the sarcastic wit!


Story Time
19:30 Dec 06, 2021

Thank you, Shea!


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Peter Phoenix
09:13 Dec 03, 2021

Good one, I really like it.


Story Time
17:58 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you Peter.


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21:09 Dec 02, 2021

Winnie and her inventions. What a character. Enjoyed!!


Story Time
21:12 Dec 02, 2021

Thank you Mary.


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Suma Jayachandar
04:05 Nov 27, 2021

Kevin, This is so hilarious and profound at the same time. Great story!


Story Time
18:47 Nov 27, 2021

Thank you, Suma


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