Monday, June 5, 2023

“Pandora’s Box” by Jane Morgan

Swear to God, me and my sister Annie were always getting into trouble at school.  It’s not like we set out to be bad, but if you wanted to survive, there were some things you had to do, some lines that had to be crossed. We crossed them.

It was mostly routine stuff, if you know what I mean. Someone’s lunchbox going missing and showing up in either my backpack or Annie’s, following a crowd of kids to watch two champions sort it out in the back lanes, all of us silent witnesses to violence. And perhaps best not to mention the money we managed to persuade some of the younger kids to part with. 

Fact was, we were just two kids trying to keep under the radar in the tough old town of Lincolnborough, and if that meant running with the hare and the hounds at the same time, then yeah, we were going to do some questionable things.  Besides, it laid a strong foundation for what came afterwards, in the corporate world.  Stealing lunchboxes and watching kids beat each other to a pulp?  Believe me, that was nothing.

Most Sundays our Grannie would mind us in our house while Mam and Dad went to the pub. She called us her “Irish twins” ‘cos Annie and me were only 10 months apart and in thick with each other.  Sneaking about the house on a Sunday when our parents weren’t home was our God given right, least that’s how we saw it. Even though Grannie was downstairs, she was as deaf as a post and truly believed we were working on our science project. God bless her. 

In any case, those times we had free rein. Normally, we wouldn’t enter our parents’ bedroom when they weren’t there. It was strictly off limits, kind of like hallowed ground. If we were caught, we’d pay the price, one way or another, I was pretty sure of that. All the same, one Sunday, when they’d gone to the pub, we did. We just did.

First order of business was to dress ourselves a million which ways in hats, dresses and shoes, all from the bounty of Mam’s wardrobe. We took turns wobbling about the bedroom in her stiletto heels. Those things still scare the life out of me all these years later. 

And the hats? They were fun. I tried on an Audrey Hepburn style straw hat which was only just saved from looking like a lampshade by a deep blue ribbon, wrapped all around it.  Annie pranced around in a vintage pillbox hat. That style was the darling of the sixties. 

Anyways, it was on the same bedroom raid that we decided to delve into Mam’s jewelry box, gifted to her by her brother Roger, a merchant navy captain. Made from exotic Padauk wood that came all the way from the shores of West Africa, circles and arcs were ornately carved into its lid. 

Annie and me battled it out rock paper scissors style for who would have the honour of opening it. I won. I knew we shouldn’t have done it, that Mam had expressly forbidden us to go into their bedroom when they weren’t there, and that we’d crossed some sort of a line. She’d be absolutely furious if she knew we were snooping. But we did it and oh my, the reward far outweighed the risk.  

We were mesmerized by a tiny ornate ballerina wearing a silk tutu, the dusky colour of spun sugar, spinning around endlessly with hands held high. She looked like she wanted to do a highland fling right out of the jewelry box. I lost count of how many times we put that lid down and opened it two seconds later just for the sheer joy of seeing her twirl again and again to Strauss’s Blue Danube.  

We tried on every one of Mam’s bracelets, necklaces and broaches.  Anything in that box was fair game as we pranced in front of the mirror, admiring ourselves. What a way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon. “Don’t forget to wind her up before we leave,” whispered Annie, “else Mam’ll know we’ve been here.”  And just as I was about to do as Annie suggested, I saw it. A tiny drawer next to the ballerina. So tiny I almost missed it. Almost.

Carefully teasing it open, I peered down at a rose gold ring which lay inside. So beautiful. So delicate.  I picked it up and held it to the light. To me it looked exactly like a wedding band. On the inside of the ring, the words “Barbara and Klaus” were engraved in the tiniest of letters. The problem was that although Barbara was our mother, Klaus was most definitely not our father. What on earth was going on here? Perhaps someone she’d met during the war?

That was the last time me and Annie ever poked around the house. Ever. One other thing I knew for sure. Something in the air had shifted. It would be years before I could speak to our mother about that ring. After all, Annie and me? We’d been trespassers on that rainy Sunday afternoon. Oh and the parent/teacher interviews? From that point onwards, they really picked up the pace.


Jane Morgan worked for several years at Aurora Public Library, and wasn’t sure which she enjoyed the most, the customers or the books. For someone who loves reading, it was her dream job, the only problem being the long walk home with all those books in her arms. Jane also enjoys music and plays guitar, mandolin and bodhran. 


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