Everyone loves a bit of competition. It’s human nature.
Back in my first year of university, between hectic deadlines and frequent nights out, I decided to submit one of my writing pieces to a competition on campus.
It was not something I had much faith in winning, especially as it was the first time I’d ever entered my own writing into a contest before. My scepticism was greatly misplaced, however, because I checked my emails one night to discover that I’d won.
I was very much in shock.
It was only a very minor competition with just a few handfuls of entrants mind you, but the sense of accomplishment was greater than it had been in a while that day. It gave me a confidence boost that I really needed after a year of adjusting to creative writing at a degree level.
I bring this up because I was looking back at some of my old writing today and I thought it would be a good piece to post on here.
The piece is entitled Music Box and is only a short work of fiction with just over 900 words.
I was inspired to write it, unsurprisingly, by listening to music boxes, and I wanted my story to reflect the often bittersweet melody they create in both its content and the way the narrative flows.
I would say more about it but I feel the story can speak for itself.
I hope you all like it. It’s a piece that I still look back on proudly, and it’s probably one of the last works of fiction I’ve written that I feel truly pleased with (after I found my strengths were greater in poetry and script).
I’ve not edited it for posting here because I wanted to keep it in the same state it was when I first wrote it. With that in mind I apologise if there are any grammatical mistakes, or if some of my phrasing doesn’t read brilliantly to anyone. My writing style has obviously developed in the 2 1/2 years that have passed since this idea was first conceived.
Anyone, enough rambling! I present to you my Music Box.
Under the darkened sky a music box weeps in silence. No longer does it sing the tune of a thousand smiles, the framework battered and bruised, the mechanism rusty and broken. It lies in the mud, half-buried, wholly forgotten, where the children once laughed, and where now only the ghosts of the past leave a sound.
No-one ever notices it, this relic that lasted a lifetime.
It sits unwanted where they no longer pass through, discarded in the shade of an old oak. Beneath the crumpled tree, amongst the dying leaves, the only music left to hear is the patter of rain against its wooden case. The box is no more than an empty shell crying out with the tears of a hundred memories, wanting little more than to play its song one final time.
Through many hands it was passed over, generation to generation, from the distant past to the passing present. So few remain that knew its sound, but the music is never lost. All the long nights filled with thoughts of those forgotten friends play out to the tune of the music box. The excitement and the laughter, with the handle gripped tight against sweaty palms – remembered like it was only yesterday.
The man who once treasured the box most, still thinks of it every day. A father and a husband, who told stories rooted deep in the most ridiculous of fantasies, where dragons roamed and heroes reigned. He gifted the box to his daughter when she was born, and for years he would play it every night, always telling a new tale to the same old song. She would watch as the box opened and the tiny dancer rose up, so full of grace, so full of life, twirling to a tune softer than any she had ever heard before. It would leap up and fall back with the sweet melody to the delighted laughs of the girl, so very young and innocent to the reality around her. She would watch it spin effortlessly as she listened to the tales told by her father of how the dancer had come to be, believing that life would always be like this.
When she’d turned seven, things started to change.
Still her father would tell his tales of the dancer, but they were never as exciting, and for two years this carried on. The stories became shorter, less imaginative, her father always rushing through to the end without care for the music. Some nights she was simply left alone. It had made no sense to her at the time.
Then she’d turned nine.
Days after her birthday, the girl’s mother had collapsed from a sickness her father had been keeping secret. For three months she told stories at her mother’s bedside, hoping to make her better the way her father’s stories had always done for her. She’d thought it was working, then one night the bed was empty. Her stories hadn’t been good enough.
Months passed and the box grew cold. The stories had ceased and the music silenced, replaced by the empty cries of a widower’s tears. Every night the girl would lie awake and listen to the sound of her father’s heartbreak, trying herself to refrain from breaking down with him. Each time she would fall asleep by his door and wake in her own bed, as if it were all nothing more than a dream.
Opening his door one night, she spoke up and said:
‘The first note makes me sad.’
He’d dried his eyes and asked her what she meant, and she’d answered, never once taking her eyes off the box that had gathered dust on the windowsill.
‘Mummy said that when you hear the first note you know there will always be a last one. Mummy’s song has finished so now the music’s stopped playing.’
All that filled the room was the silence in her words.
From then on she would go to his room every night. Hesitantly, she would take the box into her hands and start playing the music that had been quiet for so long. When the song ended, she would turn to her father and smile the best she could manage. She would sit on the bed with him and in her arms she would cradle his shoulders, burying her face into his neck. In the softest voice she would start to hum the song of the music box. It wasn’t until she heard her father’s tears that she would stop, and remind him:
‘This box will always hold her song.’
When the girl grew older and left home, she returned the box to her father’s care. Since that night so many years ago the song had never stopped, and for hours he would watch the dancer twirl up and down in the moonlight. In his eyes that was her, never ageing, never growing; forever dancing to the song that had ended too soon.
Ten years later, he opened the music box one last time. He carried it for miles, until he found an old park by the river that looked out onto the city. Sitting in the shade of an old oak, he closed his eyes and listened. The music was still as beautiful as the day he’d first heard it, only now it was the tune to so many new memories.
When the song reached its end he wept for hours until the sun fell behind the buildings.
It was time to finally let go.