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Fiction Sad Mystery

“Amanda Meyer.” It’s carved in primitive chunks on the underside of the box. My name. Not my box.

It’s one of those ornately carved boxes you’d get for 50 cents at the gift shops in Chinatown, smelling of linseed oil and jasmine, or maybe rosewood? I examine all six sides. Petals radiate out on the top with unmatched mother-of-pearl chips embedded in the centre as the flower’s pistil and stamen. The sides are almost Celtic in their design: a ribbon of vine on either side of a continuous line of layered petals, each box corner decorated with the same random mother-of-pearl sex parts. On the bottom, my name, carved in upper-case sticks. There’s a faded inked heart below it. The ink has seeped into the lines of the wood like pixels on a bad screen. Below the heart, the “Made in China” stamp sits in solid black sans serif.

It must belong to some other Amanda Meyer. There are over 500 Amanda Meyer profiles on LinkedIn; 102 on Facebook. I looked it up one day. But that doesn’t explain why this box with my name on it ended up in a pile of junk I am sorting through for the Pinewood Falls Community Rummage Sale. We are in the community hall, setting up tables, going through the mounds of boxes and bags dropped off for donation over the past few months.

Of course, I open it up. I would have opened it regardless. It needs a price tag, so I need to see what condition the inside is in. Opening the box releases more of the sweet woody scent. It’s lined with cheap red velvet and has a round mirror glued to the inside of the lid. The mirror is chipped and silvery, and, judging by the glue job, was a child-inspired decoration. Not my mirror. It’s too small to see my whole reflection, instead, I see myself in pieces: smile lines in the troughs below my eyes; pinch lines stitched across the top and bottom of my lips; hairs reaching wildly out of my nostrils. Fractured and old. I snap the lid down to delete the aging mess in front of me. I am always shocked when I look in a mirror. Time has passed and yet inside I am still a child, wishing for a new bike, someone to play with or a baby brother.

I put a $2.00 sticker on the bottom and toss it aside, letting it fall on the “priced” pile with the other trinkets and ornaments: red rose tea figurines, brass candlesticks and seashell covered bowls. Leftovers of gifts and collections that no longer have meaning to the someones who let them go.

**

“Amanda?” I look up from the sale table I’m manning – mountains of baby clothes, slightly used sleepers, shirts and rompers lightly scented with Ivory Snow and spit-up. It’s Mary, pushing her way through the crowd. We’ve known each other since grade school. “You’ve left something in your box. I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to keep it.” She holds the open box out for me to see inside.

Sure enough, there’s a little locket pendant in there, no chain. It’s one of those cheap silver ones stamped filigree-like swirls and space inside for pictures. I look back to Mary and laugh. “It’s not my box! I know, I was a little weirded out when I saw my name on the bottom there.”

Mary looks at me, her brows lowered in concern. “It is your box, Amanda. Don’t you remember? Girl Scouts. We went to Chinatown and got to spend 50 cents at the gift shop. The box was 75. I lent you a quarter.”

I laugh. “Are you saying I owe you a quarter?”

Mary smiles and shakes her head. “No girl, I believe we’ve squared that debt up over the years.”

“Oh good,” I say, “because it’s not my box anyway.”

Mary lowers the box, looking inside. “What about the pendant?” she asks.

“Not my box. Not my pendant,” I say. “Besides, the box was empty when I priced it.”

Mary nods her head in the direction of a woman loaded with a baby carrier, complete with baby, and a stroller, complete with toddler. The woman is waving a handful of sleepers and a five-dollar bill at me. “Five for five?” she asks, confirming the price.

“Yes, indeedy,” I say, leaning toward her to check out the infant in her pouch. “Oh, my goodness, aren’t you so tiny!” I turn to the mother, “How old?”

Mom, with a deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes, responds, “Three weeks.”

I take in the toddler, who has what looks like a teething biscuit smeared within his grasp and am about to comment on how full her hands are, when another kid, maybe around four or five, comes up and tugs at her arm.

“Mom, can I have this?” she asks, holding up a rather mangled stuffed Basset Hound. “It’s only five cents!”

The mother rolls her eyes and fishes a nickel out of her jeans pocket, “Okay.” I take the nickel and the bill, and the four of them disappear into the crowd before I can offer them a bag.

“How adorable was that?” Mary, who is still standing by me with the box, asks.

“How can you say that?” I ask. “The poor woman looks exhausted.”

Mary loves kids. Me not so much. I had two. She had five. Mine were wonderful. Hers were hellions.

She offers up the box again. “The pendant was in the secret compartment,” Mary says. “Remember? That was what was so cool about the box. Why it cost so much.”

I put my hands on my hips and stand my full height, which is about three inches taller than Mary’s, give or take a heel. “How would I know about a secret compartment if it’s not my box?”

Mary looks hurt. Her shoulders slump. So do mine. I can be a bit of a bitch at times. “Okay,” I say, patiently, “what’s in the locket, then?”

“That’s just it, Amanda. It’s you inside the locket. And…” she stops like she doesn’t know how to complete the sentence. She puts the box down on a pile of hand-knit baby cardigans, and picks up the locket, popping it open with the button on the side. “See?” She hands it to me.

The locket holds two poorly-lit portrait photos. One is a woman, smiling, her hair cut in a long bob, her bangs pinned back with silver barrettes. The other is a man, presumably, with short dark hair slicked to the side. His face has been scratched out with one solid gouge, like a thumbnail ripped across it. My hands start to shake.

The woman looks like me, but younger. She could even be my mother. But the man? He’s no one to me. Never was. Not my father.

I snap the locket closed and drop it back in the box. “Not my box,” I say, turning away from her to mark the end of the conversation.

January 25, 2022 20:30

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6 comments

Hanae Livingston
17:07 Feb 04, 2022

This was stunning. In just two lines the entire story pivoted and took on new meaning. Agency is important part of healing.

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Jan Robertson
00:00 Feb 05, 2022

So very true. And thank you for your kind words.

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Graham Kinross
21:35 Jan 30, 2022

It’s amazing the secrets people keep. The way we think of parents and the lives they’ve had are two different things. Nice story.

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Chloe Longstreet
14:20 Jan 30, 2022

Wow. It's amazing how the mind can forget things it doesn't want to remember. Great story.

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Jan Robertson
19:35 Jan 30, 2022

Thanks so much. Memory can be so selective!

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Chloe Longstreet
10:03 Jan 31, 2022

Indeed it can. And you're welcome!

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