Saranata

Roxy loved browsing in antique shops. Next to surfing the web for vintage memorabilia, it was her favourite thing to do. During her lunch breaks she would often walk the two-and-a-half blocks to Addison’s Antiques to see if any new items had appeared on the shelves since her last visit, perhaps from an estate sale or from one of the regular buying trips that Mr. Addison’s daughter made to far-off places.

Roxy didn’t spend much; she had no desire to own expensive pieces, mostly due to the fact that she couldn’t afford them. Often coming away with some small knick-knack, a piece of cheap jewellery, or a vintage Valentine’s card, was all she needed to brighten her day.

“You’re the easiest person in the world to buy for,” her mother would say, when birthdays and Christmases rolled around. “As long as it’s old and pretty, you’re so easily pleased.” And she was right. Roxy loved anything old. She would spend hours looking through old photograph albums and scrapbooks, buying old greeting cards and postcards to stick in her own scrapbook. She loved listening to her mother’s vinyl records on her replica vintage record player, and baking cakes and puddings from her grandmother’s handwritten recipe books. She would cut pretty lace and motifs from discarded clothes, and she had a vintage biscuit tin filled with old buttons.

Today, Roxy had had a particularly stressful morning, chasing up debtors, and dealing with clients’ unreasonable demands. But as ever, she remained polite and cheerful. Glancing through the window at the gloomy day outside, she hoped that the rain pelting the window, and the wind that drove it, would abate before lunchtime. But as midday drew nearer, the weather showed no sign of improving and threatened to destroy any hopes she might have had of escaping the office for an hour. The day stretched ahead of her like a long, straight road with no end in sight, until finally she decided to brave the weather and venture outside.

Buttoning her coat, Roxy stepped from the office building and opened her umbrella. The wind instantly attempted to whip it from her hands, so that she was forced to fold it away, and instead, pull up the hood of her raincoat. Struggling to shield herself against the rain that pelted down at an almost horizontal angle, and the wind, which drove the rain against her face like icy needles, she struggled along the two-and-a-half blocks to Addison’s Antiques.

Stepping inside the shop, she closed the door behind her. The musty smell of the old objects, and the feeling of stepping back in time, had an instant calming effect on her. Brushing the raindrops from her face, she quickly sought out the small heater in the centre of the room, from which radiated a comforting warmth.

Old Mr. Addison looked up from his stool behind the counter. “Hello, Roxy. You’re the first customer I’ve had in a while. The weather seems to be keeping people at home today.”

Roxy smiled at him. “I needed a change of scenery. Have you got anything new in?”

Mr. Addison rose slowly to his feet. “I do actually. A gentleman came in yesterday with a rather lovely object that you might be interested in. I haven’t even had time to put it on the shelf yet.” He disappeared through a door behind him, returning moments later with a box. “It’s Victorian,” he said, placing it on the counter.

Roxy sucked in her breath as her gaze fell on the jewellery box. Made of solid rosewood, its lid was covered with luxurious Victorian fabric adorned with angels.

“It’s lovely,” she breathed. She picked it up and studied it. Turning it over, she saw that it had a key. “A music box!” she exclaimed in delight. As she turned the key, a haunting melody began to play. “I don’t think I recognise the tune.”

“The piece of music is called Saranata.” When Roxy shot him a questioning look, Mr. Addison explained, “The name of the tune is on the bottom of the box.”

“Oh.” As the music continued to play, Roxy examined the box. It was lined on the inside with blue velvet and appeared to be in immaculate condition. She noticed there was no price tag on it, and her heart fell, certain that she would never be able to afford such a beautiful object. She closed the lid and the music stopped abruptly.

Mr. Addison smiled, his pale grey eyes looking at Roxy kindly. “The gentleman sold it to me for next to nothing. He seemed anxious to part with it.” He hesitated, before adding, “Apparently he gave the box to his wife for her birthday, and she has since passed away.”

Roxy frowned. “That’s so sad. I suppose it held too many painful memories for him.”

Mr. Addison nodded. Then he said, “Make me an offer.”

Roxy raised her eyebrows. “Really? I wouldn’t know what to say. I’m sure it’s worth far more than I could afford to pay you for it.”

“Thirty dollars,” Mr. Addison said firmly.

Roxy bit down on her lip as she tried to suppress her joy. “Done.” She opened her purse and handed over the money, then picked the box up from the counter.

That night as she showed the box to her boyfriend, Jamie, she was still unable to believe her good luck.

“No, you can’t take it apart,” she told Jamie firmly, when he picked it up to study it. She knew him too well. Jamie loved to tinker, to take things apart to see how they worked, and then put them back together. Her grandfather’s pocket watch had succumbed to Jamie’s tinkering, and unfortunately had never worked since. Sometimes his tinkering drove her crazy. Occasionally, Roxy would buy him an old clock or a mechanical toy for him to tinker with, but since the pocket watch incident, she had banned him from touching any of her prized possessions.

“Don’t worry, I won’t break it,” Jamie said indignantly. “I’m just curious to see how it works.”

“As long as you’re only curious with your eyes,” Roxy said, and they both laughed. “I had a music box when I was little,” she told him. “It had a ballerina in it that twirled around, and it played Music Box Dancer. I thought it was just magical, but I played with the box so much that eventually I broke it.”

The newly acquired music box took pride of place on Roxy’s dressing table. Each morning, she would lift the lid and choose a piece of jewellery from within. She would wind the key and let the music play as she showered, snatches of the haunting melody drifting through the bathroom door. The tune became as familiar to her as a popular tune on the radio. Sometimes she would just sit on the end of the bed listening to it as she stared down at the angels, and when the tune finished, she would wind the key and listen again.

Sometimes the tune made her sad.

One morning, Jamie took the music box from her hands and said, “What are you doing? You’re going to be late for work.” She hadn’t realised she had been sitting for so long.

“Are you okay?” Jamie asked her one night as they snuggled together on the couch and watched TV.

“What do you mean?” Puzzled, Roxy turned her face to look up at him.

“You haven’t seemed yourself in a while.” Jamie squeezed her arm gently. “I’m worried about you. You seem—depressed.”

Roxy took a deep breath, then slowly released it. She knew he was right. She hadn’t wanted to admit it, but the fact was she did feel sad all the time lately, and the scary thing was, she didn’t know why. She lived in a comfortable flat surrounded by the things that she loved, she was in a wonderful relationship, and although her job definitely wasn’t her dream job, it paid the bills. She had no reason to be depressed.

“Perhaps you need a holiday,” Jamie said, and he booked them a week away.

Roxy tried to get enthused about their impending vacation, but not even the colourful brochures that Jamie brought home for her to look through excited her. As the days passed, she would frequently burst into tears for no reason at all, and nothing that Jamie could say or do would help. The only thing that seemed to bring her any solace was the music box.

One afternoon as she lay on the couch, wrapped in a quilt, listening to Saranata play from the coffee table beside her, she realised that her life was slipping away from her. Nothing gave her joy anymore. She hadn’t even been into Addison’s in weeks.

“Jamie, I’m scared,” she said, when he came home from work that night. “I don’t want to feel like this. What’s happening to me?”

Jamie wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. He indicated with a flick of his head towards the coffee table. “I started noticing a change in you after you bought that music box. You don’t think it’s got something to do with the way you’re feeling, do you?”

Roxy pulled away from him. “You mean, like a curse?”

Jamie’s lips twitched. “Well, I hadn’t actually thought of a curse. I was just thinking that the melody is so sad, perhaps listening to it all the time is affecting your mood.” He laughed. “But a curse would be much more interesting.”

Roxy leapt from the couch and crossed to the computer desk in the corner of the room. Switching on the computer, she waited impatiently for it to boot up. “We can find out its history,” she said. “We can write to the manufacturer.” She knew that the manufacturer’s name was on the bottom of the box, along with the serial number, right below the name of the tune. Although the idea that the music box was causing her depression seemed preposterous, it couldn’t hurt to do a little research into the background of the box. Right now she was ready to grasp at anything.

Jamie crossed the room and crouched down beside her as she typed the name of the manufacturer into Google. She soon found their details and wrote them an email. In the meantime, she locked the box away in a cupboard in the spare room. But every time she walked past the closed door, although the box remained silent, the tune played over and over in a loop inside her head.

Three days later, Roxy had a reply email from the manufacturer. She read it aloud to Jamie.

Dear Miss Knowles,

Thank you for your enquiry about your music box. Although it was one of the earliest music boxes to be manufactured by our company, we have retained detailed records of every piece made since the company was founded, and we are able to inform you that your piece was commissioned in 1896 by Mr. Ezrah Farthing. The box was handmade as a one-off piece, and the tune, Saranata, was composed by Mr. Farthing for his wife, Sara.

I hope this is of some help to you.

Regards,

Edward Thompson
Managing Director
Melodoria Inc.

Roxy looked at Jamie.

Jamie raised his eyebrows. “So, what do we do now?” he asked, but Roxy had already brought up Google and was doing a search on Ezrah Farthing.

“Now we go to the source,” she said, a determined look on her face.

It was after midnight when she finally came across the posting of Sara Farthing’s death in an archived newspaper from 1898. Armed with the name of Sara’s relatives and the town where she died, Roxy did a further quick search and found the telephone listing of the only Farthings who remained in the small town of Goodwyn.

Four days later she was sitting in the living room of Zena Farthing, staring at the elderly woman over the top of a teacup—a rose-patterned teacup with gold trim. Roxy felt at home in the room, surrounded by vintage furniture and crammed with knick-knacks. She suspected that Zena didn’t get too many visitors; she hadn’t stopped talking since Roxy had arrived. This made it easy for Roxy as she didn’t have to do too much probing to find out the information she had come to learn. Zena seemed only too willing to impart her entire family history.

“So this is my grandmother’s music box,” Zena said, studying the box with interest. “I never knew my grandmother; my father was only six years old when she died. My grandfather, Ezrah, didn’t like to talk too much about Sara. Of course, you can understand how painful it must have been to have lost his dear wife at such a young age. She was only twenty-six, you see, when she passed away. None of the family liked to talk about her, and it wasn’t until after my grandfather died that I learned the real circumstances surrounding my grandmother’s death.”

Roxy placed her cup down and leaned forward to hear the old lady, who had lowered her voice, as though the spirits of her dead ancestors might overhear her gossiping about them.

“Sara and Ezrah had another baby three years after my father was born, a baby girl they called Annie. Unfortunately Annie died in infancy, and poor Sara was so heartbroken that she fell into a deep depression. It seemed there was nothing Ezrah could do to help her, and following a stay in a mental facility, poor Sara took her own life.”

Roxy sucked in her breath. “Oh no! Poor Sara. And poor Ezrah.”

Zena was staring hard at the box cradled on her lap. “You say that Ezrah had this box made for Sara in 1896?”

Roxy nodded. “That’s what the manufacturer told me.”

Zena looked thoughtful. “That was the same year that baby Annie died.”

“Then do you think that Ezrah composed the tune for Sara, and gave her the music box to help relieve the pain of their baby’s death?” Roxy stared at Zena, anxious for her to confirm the circumstances that could help to explain the sadness that surrounded the music box.

“It’s quite possible,” Zena said, nodding. “Ezrah was a talented musician. My Aunt Millie, who is passed away now—it was she who told me Sara’s story after my grandfather died—did mention a music box that Sara would listen to over and over. Apparently it was the only thing that would bring her any comfort. None of the family ever mentioned a music box before Millie spoke of it. I can only imagine that Ezrah got rid of it after Sara’s death. Perhaps it held too many painful memories for him.”

“It’s a tragic story,” Roxy said. She rose to her feet. “Miss Farthing, you should keep the music box. It’s a part of your family’s history.” Now that she had learned the tragic circumstances surrounding the box, she was anxious to be rid of it. Jamie had been right. The music box was cursed. The truth, as bizarre as it seemed, was that Sara Farthing’s intense grief over the loss of her baby had somehow become attached to the melody trapped inside the music box, and all those who listened to the haunting tune for long enough would feel Sara’s sadness seep into their soul.

“No,” Zena said firmly. She rose hastily to her feet and thrust the box at Roxy. “I have no family to pass it on to. Besides, I have enough clutter now without adding to it.” She indicated with a gesture of her hand around the ornament-filled room. “No, you should take the box and sell it. I’m sure it is worth quite a lot of money.”

Roxy sighed. She could see there would be no point in arguing with the elderly woman.

As she drove home she thought about what the old woman had told her, and she thought of what Mr. Addison had said about the gentleman who had sold him the music box. Had the gentleman’s wife succumbed to the box’s curse and suffered the same fate as Sara Farthing? And what about all the other unsuspecting souls who had been gifted the beautiful Victorian jewellery box over the years? She glanced down at the rosewood box that lay on the seat beside her, and she wondered how such a beautiful object could cause so much pain.

“Perhaps we should destroy it,” Jamie said, after she arrived home and repeated her conversation with Zena Farthing. “We could burn it and silence the tune for good.”

Roxy could tell by the amused tone of his voice that he didn’t entirely believe in the box’s curse, that he was just playing along with her.

“No,” she said wearily. “If we burn it, we might release the curse into the air to be spread on the wind along with the ashes and smoke.” Too tired to argue, and with a dull ache deep in her soul, she turned and went to bed. Hours later, when she awoke, Jamie had still not come to bed.

She woke late in the morning. Jamie had already left for work. When she passed by the doorway of the spare room, she saw the music box in pieces on the spare bed. So that’s what Jamie had been doing all night. He had taken the box apart in an attempt to remove the curse. Despite the dragging feeling of melancholy that had invaded her body, Roxy allowed herself a small smile. There was little chance now that the music box would ever work again. Maybe now she would finally be free of the curse.

When she got home from work, the music box had gone, and she assumed that Jamie had disposed of it. She meant to ask him about it later, but she was so tired, and over the next few days Jamie seemed increasingly distant. He would make excuses to avoid seeing her, saying that he was working late or having car troubles, and with a heaviness in her heart, Roxy began to suspect that Jamie had tired of her withdrawal and her constant moods, and finally given up on their relationship. It seemed that even though the music box had gone, the curse had succeeded after all, by driving a wedge between them and destroying the most important thing in her life.

Then, one night, Jamie turned up, holding the music box proudly in his hands. “For you,” he said, grinning.

Roxy stared at it in dismay. “No, Jamie! Take it away. Why would you give that thing back to me?”

Ignoring her, Jamie tipped the music box over, turned the key, and placed the box down on the coffee table.

Roxy caught her breath. But instead of the melancholy strains of Saranata that she expected to hear, a joyful melody filled the air. She listened for a few moments, and then her lips spread into a smile. “Music Box Dancer, how—”

Jamie looked pleased with himself. “I know how much you loved the music box you had as a child. And I know that you loved the Victorian box when you first brought it home. I thought that if I could take out the musical mechanism for Saranata and replace it with a melody that brings you happy memories, you could keep the box.”

“I thought you were leaving me,” Roxy said, as relief washed over her. “I’ve hardly seen you these last few weeks.”

“I was doing research on the Internet, trying to figure out how the music box works and where I could get the movement for Music Box Dancer. I didn’t want the box anywhere near you until I had fixed it though, so I took it to work. I’ve been tinkering with it in the workshop during the evenings and weekends. It’s actually quite fascinating, learning how the parts work to make the music.”

Roxy grinned at him. “I can’t believe you actually figured it out and got it to go.”

“In the end it wasn’t that hard,” Jamie admitted sheepishly. “It was just a matter of replacing the old movement with the new one.”

“And Saranata?” Roxy’s voice caught as she thought of the musical mechanism lying in a dumpster outside Jamie’s workshop, waiting for someone to salvage it and unwittingly release the curse.

“Don’t worry. I took care of it.” Jamie left the room and returned a few moments later with a bucket. When Roxy looked inside, she saw several small mangled pieces of metal, smashed beyond recognition.

“I took to it with a hammer.” Jamie rattled the bucket. “And just to make sure, I thought we’d take it down the back of the garden, dig a deep hole beneath the oak tree, and bury it.” Dropping the bucket to the floor, he pulled Roxy towards him and gathered her in a big hug. “No more sadness,” he said firmly.

“No more sadness,” Roxy whispered, and as the music box played beside them, for the first time in many weeks, she felt a stirring of joy, mingled with a flicker of warmth, begin to penetrate the cold darkness within her.

Copyright © Kristah Price 2012

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