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June 27, 2022

The Rosewood Box

By John Trindle

One upon a time, O Best Beloved, in England, there was a wondrous department store. You could find anything anyone anywhere ever wanted, and some things no one knew they wanted, but really did. Every year, the store sent catalogs out to the far corners of the world, where the pictures on the pages were quickly incorporated in the dreams of boys and girls and their parents.

The orders came in by mail and by telephone, from Paris and Cyprus and Tikrete, from Moscow and Beijing and Schenectady. The items would be collected by clerks in vests and visors, and sent to the Shipping Department. There, they would be boxed and gift-wrapped and covered in brown paper and twine, addressed and stacked, awaiting the truck.

In one corner of the Shipping Department was a set of shelves, packed full of things which didn't quite make it to the truck. If a clerk noticed a tear or a snag or a dollop of paint out of place, or dropped something onto the concrete floor, he would put it on this shelf and fetch another from the main shop floor. Every now and then, I suppose, these things would be sold at a discount or thrown away, but no one who worked in the store could remember the last time.

On this shelf was a box, made of rosewood, with ivory inlays. It was once a jewelry box, but had been dropped by a careless clerk. The hinge was bent, and some of the inlays had popped out. Most of the shelves and trays were long gone.

The box sat on the shelf, day after day, with the other broken things, watching as toys and clothes and books were wrapped and sent out into the world. The box dreamed that someday it too would see the world, Paris and Cyprus and Tikrete, Moscow and Beijing and even Schenectady. But the days wore on, and the shelf filled with damaged things, and the truck came and left without the Rosewood Box.

One day, an order arrived with a postmark from Malta. The items were gathered and sent down to the Shipping Department to be packed. There was a teddy bear, and a china doll, and Don Quixote on his horse Rocinante, and a shiny race car. The clerk was having a Good Clerk Day, and noticed that the normal shipping boxes, of heavy cardboard and covered with brown paper and string, were Not Right. No matter how he packed the toys, Don Quixote's lance would scratch the car or chip the doll or poke the bear in a less than dignified fashion. The cardboard might not be enough to protect the doll, especially if he marked the outside of the package "Fragile". Just as the clerk was ready to give up and call the Head Clerk, he spied the Rosewood Box sitting on the shelf. "Just the thing! The wood is strong, and these trays will help protect the toys from each other. I'm sure no one will miss this box, it's covered in dust."

With that the clerk packed the toys, wrapping them each carefully in tissue and placing them in the Rosewood Box. Then he wrapped the Rosewood Box in colorful paper, and then brown paper, and finally tied the package with twine. After addressing the package to Malta (and NOT marking it "Fragile") he loaded the Rosewood Box and all the other packages onto the truck. He closed the truck door and signaled to the driver, who drove away.

"At last," thought the Rosewood Box, "I am off for my adventure. I will see Paris and Cyprus and Tikrete, and Moscow and Beijing and perhaps even Schenectady!"

Well, Best Beloved, the Rosewood Box got its wish, more or less. The label the clerk had affixed had become a bit smudged, and the shipping company thought it said "Malaysia", not "Malta". So, the package went to Paris, and to Moscow, and to Beijing, stamped with a special stamp at each depot. In Beijing someone (who was presumably having a Good Clerk Day) noticed the error, and sent the package back toward Malta. It went through Tikrete and Cyprus, stamped with a special stamp each time, and finally arrived in Malta. The package was knocked about several times (though not as much as if it had been marked "Fragile") but the Rosewood Box was strong, and the teddy bear was unstabbed, and the china doll unchipped, and the race car unscratched, and Don Quixote's lance was still unbent.

The package was delivered, and the man who ordered the toys was somewhat amazed (since it was a month and a half after Christmas by this point). He looked at the twine, and he looked at the brown paper, with all the special stamps. Then he called his sister, to tell her that Christmas had finally arrived for his nieces and nephews.

When they came over, he carefully unknotted the twine, and carefully removed the brown paper (for his mother had raised him so). The children carefully untaped and removed the colorful paper from around the Rosewood Box (for indeed, THEIR mother had raised THEM so) and flung open the box. Each child knew his or her gift, since they were the Perfect Gifts from the most wondrous store, and their catalog was dog-eared from use. They ran off to play, and the adults looked at the Rosewood Box.

"Not your ordinary cardboard box!" muttered the sister.

"Nope", grunted the man, for he was indeed one of few words.

After a while, the man waved goodbye to his sister and his nieces and his nephews as they went back home. He put the brown paper and the twine and the colored paper, folded neatly, in a stack on a shelf in his room, and next to it he placed the Rosewood Box. And then he went on with his life.

The Rosewood Box was a bit sad by now. Yes, it had spent six weeks touring the world, and had seen Paris and Moscow and Beijing and Tikrete and Cyprus, and now Malta (but not Schenectady). It had valiantly protected the four toys from damage. It had been stamped with special stamps. But really, it had just seen the inside of some trucks and warehouses. And now it was stuck in the bedroom of a somewhat eccentric bachelor, back on a shelf, without even a dented Barrel of Monkeys to talk to.

The sadder the box got, the more it talked to itself. It talked about dreams it had about blue skies and blue seas, and the buildings and proud monuments and powerful men and tigers ...

This went on for a while, and eventually, in his sleep, the man heard the Rosewood Box. He didn't understand at first, but night after night he dreamed of skies and seas and tigers, and eventually he began to yearn for the same things. He wasn't so sure, actually, about the tigers.

Then one morning, he awoke with an idea. He got out of bed, and looked at the shelf with the brown paper with special stamps, and the twine, and the colored paper, and the Rosewood Box. He picked up the box, and turned it over and over. The Rosewood Box was cracked along its joints, and the hinge was nearly gone. Only a few of the ivory inlays were left. He took the Rosewood Box in both hands, and twisted.

The Rosewood Box awoke on the kitchen table, feeling ... different. The man stood over it with a rather intense squint. Next to the Rosewood Box on the table was a bottle of glue, and a roll of tape. In the man's pocket was a spool of ... string?

"What evil is this?" thought the Rosewood Box. "I feel a bit sick. My insides are fluttery and butterfly ... " The man tied the end of the string to the middle of the box. For the Rosewood Box now had a middle to which to tie strings! The man carried the box and the string outside, and across the narrow street to a field. The nieces and nephews were there waiting, and let out a shout of joy as they saw the man and what he carried. He ran, and dropped the Rosewood Box. It fell, and then, as the string pulled it, it rose high into the air!

Indeed, as you, O Best Beloved, have already guessed... the Rosewood Box was now a strong frame, covered with the brown paper with special stamps, and decorated with the brightly colored wrapping paper. Some of the wrapping paper made a tail, which swished behind the Rosewood Box as it zoomed up into the sky. It was a kite.

It looked down, and first saw the man in the field. And then it noticed a cliff by the field, dropping down to the blue Mediterranean Sea. The Box's insides got even more fluttery and butterfly. It looked up, and saw the blue skies, and down again to see the monuments and buildings of the town. The Rosewood Box swooped and fluttered, dove and danced, as the string held it against the wind. The faces of the nieces and nephews lit up as they clamored to take their turns.

The Rosewood Kite was happy. So was the man. Together, their hearts and souls soared over the island of Malta.

Article © John Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-04-07
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