The Music Box
Mary Fallon Fleming
It was hot, terribly hot, too hot to do anything. Too hot to tend the tomatoes and roses. Too hot to sit on the creaky aged front porch with the peeling paint on the railings, waiting for a neighbor or old friend to come by. The ancient rocker on the porch sat empty. Old Sarah, who had breakfasted early and had already swept and cleaned the humble shanty where she lived, stood in the doorway and looked out at her huge oak tree where it was shady and must be pleasant. Two wicker chairs sat under the oak, enveloped by the shadow of enormous leafy branches and hanging Spanish moss.
Wait, she thought, a nice cold glass of sun tea, and I’ll be set to sit under the oak tree and read. She closed the door and went to the refrigerator. She took her bible from the book case. Its binding was nearly gone, and its pages were dog-eared and yellowed with time. She put the bible under her arm, and, with a big glass of tea, she walked through the tall summer grass to the wicker chairs sitting in the inviting shade of the mighty oak.
There now, I’ll just sit, she thought. The chairs had been painted white long ago. Now the paint was chipped, but the wicker was giving and comfortable. A breeze picked up and cooled her face. She took a draught of the tea, then bent over to set the mug in the grass.
Now what’s this? There was something under her chair, a small box. She pulled her spectacles out of the pocket of her house dress and put them on. What is it? Now she could see. She picked up the box from the high grass and set it in her lap. Why, it’s a music box. She opened it and a tiny pink ballerina began to dance to the tune of “Good-night Irene.” How wonderful. Who could have left it?
“Well, Sarah, how are you today?”
Sarah looked up, startled. “Oh, hi, Myrtle. I’m just fine. Have a seat. Look what I found under my chair.”
Myrtle took the box and opened it. “Mighty pretty, that’s for sure. Seems like you have a secret admirer.” She watched the ballerina twirling to the music until the music box needed to be rewound again. “Say, have you heard the news? They’re sending Tommy Brown to an institution.”
“What?” Sarah was incredulous. “Who? Why?”
Myrtle clucked with her tongue between her teeth. “His parents. After all, He’s nearly nine, and he’s never spoken a word. They’re sending him off to a boarding school where he can be with other boys just like him.”
“Why, that’s just too awful,” Sarah said. Little Tommy Brown. She remembered the many times he had come to her home for company, bearing fistfuls of wild flowers he had picked for her, or an occasional lizard or frog. She had always cherished their visits together. They didn’t need to talk. They communicated silently with smiles over fresh creamy milk and home-made cookies. No, it just couldn’t be true .
“That’s a real pretty music box you got there. I wonder who left it for you?” Myrtle said.
“I don’t know, and right now I can’t think about it,” Sarah said. “When are they taking him away?” She put the music box into the grass again, under her chair where she had found it.
“Today or tomorrow, I think,” Myrtle said.
“Oh, my heavens, then how will I say goodbye to him? They live too far away for me to be able to walk it in this heat,” she said. She paused. “Could you possibly drive me over there?”
“I’m real sorry, Sarah, but that old thing my brother left me won’t hardly start. I’ve been relying on Elizabeth next door to take me into town to do my grocery shopping. It’s just a good thing I have my own washer and dryer, or I would really be in a pickle,” Myrtle said.
“Well, all right then,” she said. She looked down at her worn shoes, feeling miserable. How must Tommy be feeling? It was too hard to bear. She wouldn’t even get to say goodbye.
“Please forgive me, but I’m afraid I can’t visit any longer,” Sarah said. “I’m going back to the house.” She picked up the bible from her lap and stood up to go.
“All right then,” Myrtle said. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”
“Oh, that’s all right. Of course it’s not your fault. But I feel so down now, I just want to shut myself away.”
“Okay. I’ll be by tomorrow to see how you’re doing. Goodbye,” she said.
She walked back to the house, crestfallen. The door creaked as she shut it behind her. She went to the sunken sofa and sat down, laying her bible carefully on the modest coffee table. Life could be hard.
Suddenly she heard frantic knocking at her front door. Who is it now? She thought. I’m not in the mood for a visitor. Grudgingly she got up to answer it.
“Tommy, Tommy!” she held out her arms to embrace him. He was all dressed up in a little navy suit, white shirt, and diminutive red tie. His hair was disheveled, and he was out of breath, and Sarah could see beads of moisture on his forehead.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were gone,” she said.
She wrapped her arms around him to hug him, but he twisted to get free. He reached into his coat pocket, and with his small, sweaty hands, he handed her the music box. His mouth opened. Sarah could see that he was struggling, struggling with the inner fiend that had kept him silent all these years. He lowered his pretty head. A new black SUV came slowly up the dirt driveway that led to Sarah’s porch.
“I—love—you,” he said slowly and painfully.
His father was at his side, pulling him away by the arm. “Do you know how long we’ve been looking for you? How could you run away like that, and just look at yourself,” he said. “Sorry, Sarah, but the boy’s going off to school today.” Holding his small charge by the hand, the father marched back to the car.
“No, no, no!” Sarah cried.
But the big black car turned around in the driveway, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust behind it as it drove away.