July 6, 2017

“The Mahogany Box,” a Short Story by Karen Trappett

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“The Mahogany Box,” a Short Story by Karen Trappett

The Mahogany Box

by Karen M Trappett

The movement sent waves across her belly, like little fish weaving and darting amongst the piers of a jetty, pushing gently up through the layers of her woollen skirt and reaching her gloved hands resting lightly on her lap. Holding her breath through the crest, she looked down and attempted to catch a glimpse of the creature currently using her body as a gymnasium. A soft smile made the corners of her mouth crinkle, and she felt the contours of her bump. Was that a foot, or a hand?

Crimson leaves glistened, moisture dripped onto her knitted hat and the shoulders of her coat. A bedraggled sparrow appeared to keenly observe her, then shivered. Hearing her little ones, she hopped to an inner branch and disappeared; thoughts of her warm nest were welcome. The dog nestled into the warmth of the familiar blue coat, poking his nose into its many folds. Dog biscuits, yum! He picked up the scent of the crumbs – sweet and pungent, never gone from her coat’s deep pockets. Her gloved hand reached down and caressed his head; he nuzzled into the scratchy mitten, loving her pink human scent.

“I know what you’re after, Fluffy, but I don’t have any today,” she said, scratching him affectionately. His ears drooped and he slumped down at her feet. Laughing, she said, “IT’s okay, boy, you can have some when we get home.” His ears pricked and he sat up, nestling his head back on her lap, swishing his tail like a wind-screen wiper. “I swear you know what I’m saying, Fluff; who’s a clever boy?” She smiled as she tousled his russet fur.

Looking ahead, the newly clipped lawn glistened; diamonds reflected tiny iridescent prisms of colour in the gentle afternoon sun. Denuded roses stood like the skeletal fingers of old women, towering above the rockery below, sprinkled in hues of forest green, wild violet and magnolia. This would be a beautiful place in summer.

People strolled through the gardens; a girl of four or five reached down and plucked a flower. The lady with her called out; she could not hear the words, but the girl did. She dropped like a stone, thrashing around on the wet grass. Her screams pierced the serenity. Eyes instantly peered towards the child, some laughing while others shook their heads as they walked away. The lady struggled to pick up the child, who arched her back suddenly, causing both to fall into a tangle of arms and legs on the sodden ground. The sudden urge to laugh came over her, but she managed to stifle it with a gloved hand.

She stood up, the skirt billowing out and clearly defining her curves, the coat enveloping all but the bump. Unsteady and awkward, she reached for the armrest and sighed. A pathway meandered through the gardens: pebbles, rocks and coarse gravel under foot, her sturdy boots crunched and squelched through the rain-covered path as she slowly walked toward the roses. Fluffy scampered around her, blissfully jumping in puddles and stalking unseen prey, but every so often he would keenly look at his human, as if sensing something hidden.

The stone seat was set within the semi-circular rose garden and she gladly sat, not caring if it was wet. Her chest heaved, her pulse ran; but the seat was sturdy and cooled her aching muscles and she welcomed her distance from the building. She could still see it before her, a long brick structure with glass windows from ceiling to floor. People moved behind the windows. A lady with a green hat appeared in one, then popped up in another. An old man with a broom-head for a moustache sat outside the main window, smoking his foul cigar, then went back inside. There was her battered old banana-yellow beetle. Everyone thought her mad to buy the car, but she loved Myrtle and, parked right near the front door, it waited for her.

A tall man in a black suit walked out of the building towards her. She quickly looked down at her lap and became very still, like a leaf on a windless day. Glossy black shoes walked into her vision. She quietly sighed and lifted her head to look at him. “Mrs Taylor, we are ready now, you only need to sign the paperwork.” He extended his hand towards her. “Let me help you.”

“Thank you, James.” He helped her to stand, then offering his arm, they slowly walked toward the building; Fluffy followed. Reaching the building, she said, “Stay next to Myrtle, Fluff.” Instantly understanding, the dog sprinted off towards the car. Reaching the archway, they entered.

The room was over-heated and stuffy. I just want this over she thought as she sank into the armchair. Mr broom-whiskers sat behind the antique desk, the package in front of him. James placed the documents on the table next to Mrs Taylor and handed her a pen. “There are only two places to sign,” said the old man, his broom bristling. She signed in the allotted spaces, handed the papers back, then stood uncertainly. James caught her arm.

“My condolences, Mrs Taylor, your husband was a fine man. When you are ready to choose a plot, please come back and see us.” The old man stood up, gave her the package and reached out his hand. She shook it weakly. “Thank you. I will let you know after the birth.”

The old man blurted, “Oh, congratulations, Mrs Taylor. Do you know the sex?”

James looked uncomfortably towards her. She stared at the old man and stammered, “Y-yes, it’s a girl.” Quickly picking up her husband’s ashes, she turned towards the doorway and left the room before they could detain her further.

Deeply breathing in the cool air, she reached Myrtle and the dog stood up as she approached. “Good boy.” Opening the door, Fluffy leapt in and looked out both windows before sitting quietly. Delicately sitting in her comfy old seat, she closed the door and sighed, turning to open the parcel. Setting the mahogany box down on the passenger’s side, she moved her hand across the polished wood.  What are we going to do without you, Peter? Thoughts slipped like eels through her mind; tears fell but were not wiped away; a heaviness ached.

The child quickened within her; panting until the pain subsided, she cupped her child with one hand and embraced her husband with the other. Taking a deep breath, she started the engine. Momentarily gazing ahead, she moved forward, turned onto the road, and headed home.

**

Karen M Trappett is a second year, full-time university student, studying for her Bachelor of Arts – Majors in Writing and Cultural Studies. Karen is happily married with three adult daughters, one of whom is married, one engaged and the youngest in Thailand attending University and volunteering with Compassion Australia. She says, “I have always loved to read and write, and enjoy writing stories that have meaning and emotion for the enjoyment of others. My life experiences have allowed me to put myself into my work.” Karen lives in Queensland, Australia.

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