We pack the car and head off for another Sunday afternoon drive. It’s a sunny day, the air is crisp and the deep blue sky is a stunning backdrop for the chalky clouds floating above. The kids make themselves comfortable in the back seat of the truck. Books, DVD player, crayons, blankets, snacks and neck rests – you’d think we were going to be away for days.
As we turn out of the drive-way, Alize, my youngest, asks in her whiniest of voices, “Mom, where are we going and how long is the drive this week?”
“Um, let’s see” I say, “I think we should just drive until we stumble upon something incroyable!” I always try to practice my French when given the occasion.
“O.K., well that’s just boring, Mom,” Aidan pipes up, “can’t I just stay here and hangout with my friends?”
Aidan turned thirteen last month, and it appears that as the clock struck midnight on his birthday, I was faced with an unrecognizable offspring.
We head north towards farm country. It’s mid-October and the scenery is bursting with autumn colour. I love gazing out the window and watching the changing landscape as it unfolds. The colour palette of gold, brown, yellow, vivid green and fiery red creates the perfect inspiration for an artist’s blank canvas.
Encouraging the kids to look out the window and imagine the many different shapes in the clouds is futile. They are content to immerse themselves in the latest Harry Potter movie, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” I quietly give up, pop in a Diana Krall CD and tap my fingers to “Peel me a Grape.” Let the day-dreaming begin.
After an hour or so of driving along Concession Roads and intersecting side roads, I spot a sign: Antiques and Fresh Eggs. “Perfect!” I think. As I turn into the long tree-lined driveway, the leaves crunch under the tires of the truck, creating a tornado of dust and bits of leaves behind us.
“Well, we need eggs and I wouldn’t mind looking at what’s in the Antique store,” I say.
“Ah, c’mon, Mom, do we have to?” Aidan pleads. On cue, Alize states her point of view.
“We can go to Loblaws for eggs, Mom, it stinks at this farm!”
“Suit yourselves, I’m going in,” I inform them.
As I’m heading towards the store, I hear the truck door slam behind me, Alize is hopping on one foot while pulling on her canvas shoe on the other.
“Wait for me, Mama!” she cries out.
The antique shop is situated in an old barn. I push open the rusty door, and smile as I look upon the plethora of treasures. Alize follows closely behind, her big green eyes scanning the room frantically.
“Ugh, what’s that smell, Mom?” she shrieks.
“Not so loud, sweets. Someone may hear you.”
The smell is a concoction of rotting barn-board, musty books, stale perfume drifting from a rack of old fur coats and a delicious aroma of soup coming from the back room.
I encourage Alize to start looking around. She strolls off to a corner of the store which is piled high with puzzles, children’s books, wooden blocks and wicker doll carriages.
The door creaks open again and the faint ring of a bell accompanies the creak. It’s Aidan sauntering in, i-pod in hand, ears plugged tight. He gazes at me with a strong impatient glare and says, “Mom, what could you possibly find amongst all this crap!”
“You never know what special treasures might be uncovered under all this so called “crap,” I say. “Why don’t you look around, I’ll just be a few minutes.”
As I walk towards a shelf of floral patterned china, old bowls, serving platters edged in gold, ivory carving sets and crystal glassware, I can’t help but imagine all the delicious meals that were once served on these pieces. The celebrations and the heartaches, what were the stories and who is left to remember them. As my thoughts wander, a voice from behind me asks,
“What can I help you find today, Madame?”
I turn around and standing before me is an elderly gentleman. His eyes behind a set of thick bi-focal glasses are a brilliant blue, gentle and kind. He speaks with a slight French accent and a hint of sweet tobacco wafts from his woollen vest. I guess he must be about seventy-five years old.
“Oh, I’m not looking for anything in particular,” I say. “Just waiting for the right thing to jump out at me.”
He smiles and starts walking towards Alize. “Have you found something, Cherie?”
Alize is down on her knees pulling a box from under an old school desk. The box is dusty and smudged with her fingerprints. The shop owner wipes off the dust with his hands and places the box on a desk. It’s dark brown in colour and has an etched brass latch on the top.
“Ah, you have discovered my favourite item. Well c’mon now, open it up and look inside,” he says to Alize.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she gasps, her eyes open wide. ‘Mom, come look at this.”
Aiden, who is skimming through a stack of Superman comic books, is also intrigued and joins his sister.
The carousel is two-tiered and joined in the center with a tiny golden staircase connecting the two levels. The top is shaped like a tent, with crimson and gold stripes; at its tip is a ruby red jewel. Tiny, mirrored squares along its center reflect the detailed horses, unicorns, elephants and princess carriages.
“Would you like to see how it works?” the old man whispers. He takes out a glass key from the bag and slides it into a slot at the base of the carousel. The two tiers start to turn in opposite directions as the music starts to play. I recognize the tune immediately; it’s a fading version of “La Vie en Rose.” The horses and unicorns move magically to the sound and we all look in awe.
“Do you like this?” he asks Alize. She nods affirmatively, but keeps her eyes glued to the carousel.
“It’s the most beautiful music box I have ever seen.” she says.
“Well then, it’s yours!” the gentleman announces in a very definitive tone.
“Um, how much is it?” I ask, hesitantly.
“Oh, non, non, Madame, this is a gift for your daughter. You see, I have had this box hidden amongst the children’s toys and books for over a decade. No one was curious enough to pull out the box until today. It belonged to my grandmother who came from a small village in France. She brought only a few items with her and this one was her favourite.”
“But you cannot be serious to just give this away, let me pay you for it,” I plead.
The shop owner just shakes his head and smiles. “I have no family here to leave this to and it makes me proud to know that it will be treasured by someone special who has a very curious mind.” He winks at Alize.
She beams as she carefully puts the carousel back in the gold bag, ties the ribbon and places it in the box; she then proceeds to give the old man a tight hug.
I look at him and smile. “Merci,” I say. The warmth in his eyes brings tears to mine.
Aidan is already bolting for the door. His sister follows and I close the creaky door behind us.
Back in the truck, I look in the rear-view mirror. Alize is sitting in her seat clutching the wooden box. They are both staring out the window.
“Hey Alize,” Aidan remarks, “that cloud looks just like one of the unicorns on your carousel.”
As Alize glances up, the shape of a horse starts to fade and dissipate into the blue sky.
I turn into the parking lot of Loblaws. “C’mon kids, let’s go get some eggs.”
Ann Ivy Male has owned and operated a flower shop, collaborated as an interior colour consultant, and taught introductory French to Montessori children. Ann is passionate about anything that inspires her creativity, whether it be gardening, playing music with friends, travel writing or photography.
Her greatest source of inspiration, however, comes from a busy and fulfilling life spent with her husband and two children. This short story is part of a longer work in progress and was written during one of Brian Henry’s Creative Writing Courses. Ann continues to write about the things she loves.
For information about Brian's upcoming creative writing courses and writing workshops, see here.