S4: Pandora’s Box of the 20th Century

A thirteen-year old girl walks down the lonely city streets. She has straight brown hair that hangs around her face, shielding her face from the world. She is wearing old Wal-Mart clothes which are beginning to show their age. She has crystal clear blue eyes, but the other people in the streets do not notice them, because her eyes are downcast, staring at the pavement, that is quickly passing below her worn-out sneakers. Her mind is troubled. She has no desire to go back to her crummy apartment, which she shares with her mother. She thinks of her dad, who she has not heard from in eight years, and she enjoys imagining that he is living the white-collar life, and will come and rescue her some day. She knows this is not true, but she rather enjoys rehearsing the fantasy in her mind. She thinks of her brother who is rotting in jail. People expect her to follow the same path, after all it is only expected, for a girl from her neighborhood, with her family history, to end up either in prison, pregnant, or a crack head. She thinks of just ending it all. This has become a common thought, especially after Kelly’s death.

She passes an antique shop and on a whim goes in. She trudges thought the door, her eyes still hidden from the world. She looks around at all the beautiful objects on the shelves. There are silver hand mirrors, intricate brushes, and chromatic jewelry boxes, all of which she could never afford to buy. Her mind wonders from her problems for a moment, and she thinks of all the people who could have owned these possessions. She imagines their lives filled with happiness and glamour, and other wonderful traits that are void in her life. In the corner of the store she sees a gorgeous box, with glassy pink flowers on the outside. She opens it to find shiny red velvet covering the inside. There is a gold figurine built into the inner lid of the box. She looks at the price. $240! That is out of her price range by just a smidge. And suddenly she grabs the box and rushes out of the store.

Perhaps an alarm went off as she did that, perhaps she is chased, but she is oblivious to the matter. By the time her rundown sneakers stop running, she is blocks from the store. She finds a stoop to sit on. She examines her stolen treasure. This was her first robbery, but definitely not the last. She likes the rush. She examines her jewelry box. It is quite intricate. There is something mystical about it. She opens it to get a closer look at the inside, and decides that the red velvet would look good against her cheap jewelry. She glances at the figurine, and all of the sudden the figurine moves.

Startled by the movement, she almost drops the jewelry box. “Do not be alarmed,” the figurine says. “I am an enchanted jewelry box .” The girl stares at the figurine, with disbelief in her eyes. “What is your tale of woe” the figurine inquires? “Woe?” The girl seems more confused about this word than the talking figurine. “Your story of sadness,” the figurine explains. “How do you know I have a story of woe,” the girl asks suspiciously? “Because all the people who come into contact with me have a story of woe, that is the type of people I attract.” The girl glances at the box, and with the earnestness only a thirteen year old can produce, says “well I bet you have never heard a story as tragic as mine.” “Try me,”  answers the figurine. So the girl begins her story.

She tells the figurine how when she was five her parents got into huge a fight. Her dad had come home drunk as usual, slinging curse words at the furniture that got in his way. He had thrown her brother in the corner, and the girl had hidden under the magazine table. She had felt the wrath of her father, and was not looking forward to feeling it that night. In his drunkenness he attacked her mother, breaking her arm. The evening after that became fuzzy, and she remembers closing her ears to mute out the screaming. She falls asleep under the table. She wakes up the next morning to see the aftermath of the fight. Her mother has a broken arm, her brother has four stitches on his head, there are two broken lamps, a broken chair, but the greatest effect of all is that her dad is gone. She never saw him again after that night.

She tells the figurine how at age ten she accompanied her mother to the courthouse. Her brother was on trial for attempted murder. There had been a bad drug deal, her brother had a gun, there was screaming and shooting, and some kid ended up with only partial use of his arm. It was unintended, but what kind of help can one expect from lawyers appointed by the state. She watched them find her brother guilty of attempted murder. She remembers the disappointed look in her mother’s eyes. It was one of the few times her mother did not reek of alcohol, and all she could see in her mother’s face was disappointment. She remembers making a promise to herself to have a better life, but she sees this promise unreachable.

She tells the figurine how a year ago, Kelly, her best friend, got killed in a random shooting. Kelly, who helped her fight the lunch stealing bully in first grade, who went on a private excursion with her during the fourth grade field, and who knew her innermost secrets, was dead. She thought about Kelly all the time. Kelly’s death had killed any scraps of faith she had in god.

She tells the figurine about her present life. How she comes home to a disastrous apartment to find her mom passed out half the time. Her mom does not hit her, but she does not do much else. She drinks away all their welfare checks. She hates going home and finding her mom passed out on the couch reeking of whisky. She hates cleaning up the throw up from the night before. She hates going to sleep at night hearing the sirens outside, worrying that she will have the same fate as Kelly. She hates her school life. People make fun of her, her shabby clothes, her flat chest, her plain hair, and her inability to think of good comebacks. She has no self-confidence to talk to boys, and other girls intimidate her. She eats lunch alone. She misses Kelly, because with Kelly school was bearable, but now she prefers it less than her detestable home. She hates her life. She thinks of all the horrible events that have happened, and feels that she undoubtedly will have the same destiny as her mother. She no longer sees the silver lining in the clouds. She tells the figurine that she has plans of killing herself. Hanging by belt. She read somewhere it was an effective method. She has given up all hope on life, and is merely waiting for the day when she will no longer be too cowardly to end it all.

The figurine listens without any interruptions. “Have you ever heard a story as tragic as mine,” the girl asks. “I have,”  answers the figurine. And with those words, the figurine starts its story.

“The first time the jewelry box was opened was over a hundred years ago. The first person to lay eyes on it was a beautiful Spanish maiden. She had lovely black locks, and soft brown eyes, which were filled with kindness. An Italian cellist, who had cohabited her as well as Madrid, had given it to her. She had gotten more extravagant gifts from wealthier suitors, but this gift meant more to her, for she knew how much her lover had saved to buy it. He was a poor man, but she loved him greatly. He understood something deep inside of her, something she was unable to explain. They would walk the streets in the late afternoons and have sweet conversations that varied from politics to the best way to cook potatoes. And on the nights she was able to sneak out, they would make love passionately. She knew she could never marry him, for she was of high nobility, and he was a commoner with no money. However, she could not say goodbye to him.”

“They had an ardent affair. And this jewelry box, which he had spent weeks saving for, represented their undying love. He begged her to leave her family, to run off and get married to him. He could not promise her riches, but he could promise her a life of happiness. She toyed with the idea, but deep down she knew it would never happen. She had been raised a certain way, she had certain expectations to fulfill, and she could not abandon her family and her traditions. So when a rich noble suitor came around, one whose company she did not detest, she agreed to marry him. Her Italian lover, pleaded with her, but she would not concede. She was a lady, and ladies often have to make sacrifices. On the morning after her wedding the papers held a story of an Italian cellist who hung himself in his room.”

“She was left heartbroken and devastated, blaming herself for his death. However, aside from the jewelry box, he left her another gift, a seed inside her womb. She gave birth to his daughter, who she named Emily. Although she proceeded to have four more children with her husband, Emily remained her favorite. It was with her that she spent all of her free time; it was with her she did all the motherly duties, instead of having the nannies take care of them. Emily was her pride and joy. She looked different from the other children; she had a deep tan, a strong Italian nose, and her father’s face engraved in her. If her husband noticed these features, or was suspicious about all the attention she gave her first-born, he was quiet about it. He was a good man, who loved her, perhaps not as passionately, but he wanted her to have a good life. At the age of ten Emily got tuberculosis and died.”

“It came as a sudden shock to everyone. Her mother could not handle it. She felt god was punishing her, for following society’s rules and not her heart. The only piece she had left of her lover was gone. She decided to follow in his footsteps and hang herself. As she was preparing her trip into the next life, she heard crying in the other room. It was her four-year-old son, who the nannies had left unattended. As she rushed to calm him of his fears, she realized that she was a mother of four others. She realized, that her husband, although not as sensational as her Italian lover, was a good man who loved her. More importantly, over the years, she had learned to love him. She realized that she loved the other children, and the life she was living; perhaps Emily’s death was god’s way of telling her not to hang on to the past. Though she knew Emily would always be in her heart, she realized it was time to let go of her past, and to embrace the life she had made for herself. She decided to get rid of the jewelry box, for if she was going to start a new life, she should not hang on to old possessions. She donated the jewelry box to a church charity.”

“The next person to open the box was a young priest. The priest loved god. He was a slave to beauty, and he noticed beauty in things other people took for granted. A lone butterfly on a flower, rain bouncing against the oak trees, the way shadows fell in the evening, and every other minor point of beauty the world offered. He wanted to serve the painter of these creations. And while an artist would find a master, he found god. He thanked him every day for allowing such beauty to be formed. He spread god’s word of love and beauty through out, and he was truly content. “

“Until a young maiden entered his church. She was a beauty, a classic rose. During mass he would concentrate on the shape of her lips as he read from the bible. At night he would remember the way her hair curled at the end, and with those thoughts he would go to sleep. When she went to confession, he stared at the intensity of her green eyes. He had never been with a woman, and although he had desires, his love for god had subdued them. But when he was around her, god would disappear, and not only lust, but admiration would also appear. He knew he was wrong, he knew she was a human filled with sin and imperfection, but he was blind to it. She came to talk to him in private one day, and she told him she was in love with him, and although she knew it was wrong to love a man of the cloth, she was drawn to him.”

“An affair started. Their relationships consisted of pure lust; he knew little of her, just her name, and that she had not been promised to any man. Conversation had no room in their affair, and their bodies were quick to silence any spark of colloquy. Every night the priest prayed for forgiveness. He knew he was wrong, but he could not give up his lover. She became his obsession. Every morning he would wake up, thinking not of his creator but of her. And when he looked at a sacred painting of the baby Jesus, and imagined his lover holding Jesus instead of Madonna, he knew the affair had to end. Yet he could not end it, and he realized he had disappointed god. God had given him such beauty and he had betrayed him.”

‘”He knew suicide was an iniquity, but he felt perhaps he had already failed god’s test so he should hurry on with the punishment. He wrote many drafts of farewell letters that he would give to his beloved. He had set a date for his death.

Walking down the rusty streets, he saw an old homeless woman sitting in the shadows. She pulled at his coat, ‘father’ she said in a sarcastic tone ‘how can you still believe in god when you see the horrid events that surround us.’ The young priest answered ‘it is not the sadness that god provides but the happiness. Every bit of life you enjoy, despite the despicable events that life is filled with, is because of God.’ The woman grunted at his answer, not using words to dignify it; however, as the priest walked away his words were ringing in his ears.”

“He realized that his affair, though not approved by the human judgment of morality, could not be completely disapproved of by god. For it was god who created pleasure, and he was just putting into use of all of god’s resources. Now he realized that he would perhaps have to end the affair, or stop being a priest, but no matter what his decision was, god would always be on his side. God was not there to punish him, but he was there to be his guide. He decided to share some of god’s beauty with the old homeless woman. He went back and gave her the jewelry box.”

“The old homeless woman admired the jewelry box. It would bring her plenty of money in food and booze. But before selling the jewelry box, she opened it and shared her story . She was not always poor ,and although she was never rich, she had lived rather decently. Her bad luck started when her husband died. He left with her debt and two small children to support. She was an orphan, and her husband’s family were not in an economic position to help her out. She found a job working in a factory to support her children. She would come home tired, in a wretched mood, denouncing any signs of love her children would show for her.  She began drinking to fill the emptiness in her heart. She was a good provider; she made sure her children had clothes to wear, food to eat, and textbooks to take to school, but she became emotionally absent. She did not know about the bully that picked on her son, or the favorite music of her darling little girl. She must have done horrible deeds in her past life, because her daughter developed cancer. She deteriorated into dust.”

“This sobered up the woman. She felt blessed, for at least she still had her son. She became not only his provider, but also his mother. She learned about his preferences, his desires, his  and his future goals. He was much like his father, in his humor and sense of ambition, but he had an affinity towards alcohol, which she feared he got from her. He grew up to be a handsome young man, popular with the ladies. He began courting a lovely girl from a better side of town. She remembered with a smile the day he came running home, late for dinner, screaming she said yes, she said yes! He decided to get an education, and he helped make ends meet by working at a local tavern. She missed her daughter and husband terribly, but she had her son, and he was her pride and joy.”

“One night, there was a knock on her door. It was a police officer. She did not remember much after the screaming, and she was not even sure if the screaming came from her. It was as if she was not attached to her body anymore. His body was not in recognizable form. It was grotesquely scarred by the burns he had suffered from when the tavern caught on fire. It was a humble funeral filled with crying, and after his death she completely gave up on life. “

“She became an alcoholic roaming the streets. When money was short she slept with men. She was not a beauty, and the men she got were hairy, sleazy pigs. She did not care, as long as she would have money to drink herself into a stupor. Life had lost all meaning for her. She was killing herself slowly. The jewelry box looked expensive, and hopefully it would  keep her supplied for weeks in bread and booze. She was in a sober frame of mind as she walked the streets observing and loathing the happy families.”

“She noticed one family whose son had wandered off. He was about four, and was aimlessly walking down the central street. A car was rushing by, instinct overtook her, and she ran and pulled the kid out of the way. His parents ran to their son, and words of gratitude were spilling out of their mouths. She observed the rejoicing. She realized she gave three people a chance at happiness. She knew that it was too late for her, because she lost everything she held dear, but other people still had a chance at a joyous life. At that moment she decided to dedicate her useless existence to helping people achieve happiness. She decided that she would use most of the money gotten from the jewelry box to help people, and a little bit of it for booze. “

“She sold the box to a nicely dressed newly wed couple. The couple had little use for the box. They were a happy family. However, when their eldest son decided to move to America, the mother gave him the box as a parting gift. The son happily went into the land of opportunities. However, the land of opportunities, became unconquerable. He got laid off the job he had been offered, and since he was young and inexperienced, he could not find another.

“He threw away his dignity to go work as a waiter in a shabby restaurant. He was alone in America, and he had not made any friends. He came home every night; miserable, alone, and tired from his thankless jobs. He did not want to move back to Spain, for coming home would mean admitting failure, and he was determined to make it in the land of opportunities. He knew many people shared his predicament. He, however, had never experienced failure.”

“ He had grown up in a fairly well to do family. He graduated in the top ten percent of his class and had been voted most amiable. He also had an affinity for languages, or so he thought. In America nobody understood his English. His life became pointless and worthless, and thought of home often.”

“He thought of what he had given up, to move to America He missed his best friend with whom he had the most intriguing adventures . He missed his parents and although he had never gotten along with his brother, he had begun to miss him too.”

“He remembered one summer night when he was at a park with his former girlfriend. As they were sitting on the monkey bars, he looked at the stars, and dreamed of a better life. One where jobs were easily found, and where his paycheck would not be plagued by taxes. He told her of this thought, of moving to America. He expected her to laugh at him, to call him a foolish dreamer, as she had done when she had heard many of his other ideas. However, she looked at him with her big brown eyes, and told him that she knew he could achieve anything, and that he could conquer America with his hands tied behind his back. They broke up later, but he always remembered her speech to him that night, and it was the memory of that speech that motivated him to move across the globe. However, he had lived in America for almost two years, and he had achieved nothing aside from finding new ways to kill cockroaches in his apartment. He sadly laughed at the image of his former girlfriend seeing the useless existence he was leading.”

“His depression was on his shoulders like a pile of heavy coal. He thought of killing himself. He played with the idea every day until one day he went out and bought a gun. He sat in his apartment, staring at the gun.He was a decisive fellow, but he could not muster enough courage to push the trigger. All of the sudden the phone rang. It was his coworker. He had been working double shifts so his coworker could spend time with his newly born granddaughter. The coworker had called to thank him, and to invite him to dinner with the family. After the conversation, he felt a little better. He was still depressed at being a failure, but he realized someone in this cold vast country knew of his existence. Although this did not solve his problems, he decided to give life another chance, after all opportunities could happen at any moment. He sold the jewelry box a few days later to buy some decent clothes.”

The figurine finished its story. The girl sits there thinking. “But you don’t know the conclusion of any of those people’s lives, “ she said. “They could have all killed themselves a few weeks later.” “Your right ” the figurine agreed ,“but when they last talked to me they were filled with desire for a better life. Perhaps they killed themselves, or perhaps they didn’t, but at that moment they were willing to give life another try, and it is that moment that counts.”

The girl closes the box. Her woes are still on her mind. However, after hearing those stories, she has a new outlook on like, She still has her share of problems, but she is determined to have a better life. She could get good grades, get a decent job, and get out of the neighborhood that had held her family down for generations. She could sell this box and use part of the money to help with the rent, and another part perhaps to get herself some decent clothes. Maybe these thoughts were unachievable dreams. Perhaps she would fall into the same downward spiral her mom had fallen in, the spiral society envisioned for her. However, the people who stood nearby,  saw a thirteen year-old girl walking down the street, her crystal clear blue eyes staring ahead, brimming with hope.

This entry was posted in short story and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.