The Mystifying Music Box
Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Lucy Norton tapped the breaks of her ’72 Chevy Vega, stopping parallel to the curb. The back wheel grazed the curb, tilting her vehicle. With a high-pitched screech, she jerked the parking brake. She swung the dented, metallic-green car door and examined the house. Never had a car, or a person for that matter looked more out of place. The beautiful home featured a classic southern design with white columns and a wraparound porch. Her entire childhood home could fit inside the garage.
Shielding her eyes from the blinding sun, Lucy approached the intimidating mansion. Oak trees created a canopy, shading lush green grass. With a deep breath, Lucy entered the crazy, intense atmosphere of a garage sale. She’d already hit three that morning. But none compared to the estate on Sterling Boulevard. Cheap folding tables littered the yard, looking as out of place as Lucy felt. Stuffing a hand in her worn jeans’ pocket, she made the rounds.
First stop, clothing rack. She needed proper attire for a job interview. But with twenty dollars to her name, maxed-out credit cards, and an angry landlord, her options were limited.
She sorted clothes on the makeshift rack, a black pair of slacks catching her eye. She eyeballed the waist and measured the pants against her five-foot-nothing frame. They’d require hemming, but Lucy wielded a needle and thread like a doctor on the operating table. The polyester wool blend spoke to their quality and she saw no signs of wear. Draping the slacks over her arm, she continued the hunt. The blouse section was picked clean aside from a Jimmy Buffet t-shirt and a denim button-up.
Biting her lip, Lucy migrated to the front of the garage sale. Finding the slacks made the Sterling house more successful than the other three combined. But the pricetag startled her, hefty for second-hand goods. The commotion from hagglers drew her attention to the exit. Lucy hoped to bargain with the seller but refused to cause a scene.
A short-haired woman with an arm full of goodies grazed a hand against Lucy’s shoulder. “Excuse me, where did you find such a lovely necklace, young lady?”
Lucy clutched the locket, fingering the intricate design. “It’s a family heirloom.”
“You didn’t pick it up at a yard sale?”
“Too bad. I’d love to find pieces like your locket for my collection.” The woman adjusted her bundle.
“Although, I suppose I’ve found my fair share of treasures today.”
Lucy offered a smile but didn’t share the woman’s excitement. Lucy didn’t consider herself a garage sale aficionado. She was shopping out of necessity.
As Lucy elbowed through the dense crowd, a silver music box glistened in the sunshine. Buried underneath a stack of books, Lucy dug to get it free. An ornate flower was etched into the lid. She wasn’t an expert but the box looked like an antique. Afraid of harming the delicate treasure, she opened the box with care. A ballerina with a pink tutu spun as soft music played. Lucy cherished her music box when she was younger. But the hard plastic shell didn’t compare to this piece of art.
An older man with thinning white hair and a bow tie hobble to the table. “That’s a special music box.”
Lucy tore her gaze from the mesmerizing box. “It’s beautiful.”
“My great grandmother brought it here from a small village in France.”
Lucy traced the design with the tip of her forefinger. She’d love to have the box. Maybe someday.
“May I ask why you’re selling it, Mr…?”
“Warren Ballard,” he said with an old-fashioned bow. He looped a thumb through his suspenders. “I'm an old man. I don’t have any family left. When I go, all my treasures will leave in an estate sale anyways. I’d rather meet the people who buy these things. This way, I can pass the stories and memories that go with them.” Mr. Ballard studied Lucy’s face and how she admired the music box.
“Would you like to purchase the box?”
“I can’t afford anything this exquisite.”
“You can pay whatever you can afford.”
Lucy’s pupils widened. “This piece is worth far more than I could pay, Mr. Ballard.”
“Worth is relative, my dear. It has meaning to you. That’s what is important. How does five-dollars sound?”
“Far too generous.”
“Think about it.” Mr. Ballard winked. “I’ll be at the front when you’re ready.”
Lucy turned her attention to the box. Something about the piece drew her to it. She didn’t want to take advantage of Mr. Ballard’s generosity, but she also wanted the music box. She lifted the lid and the ballerina resumed her dance in the red velvet casing. A piece of material peeled at the corner. Curious, Lucy scratched the velvet with her fingernail. The material raised, revealing a silver bottom line with cash. Lucy’s stomach sank and her breath caught as ten Franklins winked at her. She replaced the velvet and checked over her shoulder. No one was nearby. She studied the box with new eyes. She could pay her rent and eat something other than instant soup. Lucy shook away the thought. She couldn’t. Mr. Ballard was a nice man, she refused to cheat him. Her gaze perused the gorgeous house and the antiques lining his line. Could she? He said there wasn’t a family in the picture. A thousand bucks to a man like him was pocket change. He’d never know the difference. Lucy’s heart hammered in her chest, like a marching band. Her emotions jerked in a tug-of-war. Part of her wanted the box, money, and all. The other part of her knew how wrong it would be.
Lucy marched to the front of the sale where the woman she met earlier haggled with the host. Mr. Ballard offered the woman a fair price and completed the sale.
Sweat trickled down Lucy’s forehead to the back of her neck. She couldn’t calm her shaking hands as she waited in line. She placed the music box and the almost forgotten slacks on the table. A lump formed in her throat.
Mr. Ballard grinned. “I see you decided to buy the box. I realize it must have been a hard decision. After all, you’re taking advantage of an old man.”
Lucy froze, his comment jostling her. “You’re right I shouldn’t…” She’d come clean.
Mr. Ballard released a cackle. “I’m joshing you. A little garage sale humor.” He inspected the items. “Let’s call it an even ten.”
Lucy dug in her pocket for two waded bills. She attempted to smooth the wrinkles before handing them over. “Thank you.”
Mr. Ballard handed her the slacks and the treasured music box. “Thank you for coming young lady. I hope you don’t regret your purchase.”
Lucy’s eyebrows knotted into a line as she ambled to her Chevy. The comment made her wonder if Mr. Ballard knew more about the music box than he let on. With a groan of the engine, Lucy started the car. She had a long drive home.
“Mr. Stanley will be happy to have his rent,” Lucy muttered.
She drove the quiet, two-lane highway as her eyes betrayed her. A thick fog formed, engulfing her car. She squinted through, attempting to navigate the winding road. She lowed the Chevy to a crawl. She never liked driving in inclement weather. She rounded a corner when a pop reverberated through the valley. Screeching metal followed. With a jerk of the wheel, she parked on the shoulder. The rear tire on the driver’s side was flat.
Drawing her cellphone, the screen flashed ‘no service’. She hurled the phone onto the passenger seat. “This is what happens when you get a cheap provider.”
Lucy circled the Vega and popped the hatchback to retrieve the tire. She never changed one before but knew the basics. What she didn’t expect to find was a leaky spare. She bounced the tire on the pavement. It sunk and plopped like a flat basketball.
Combing through curly auburn locks, Lucy formulated a plan. She couldn’t drive on either tire. Her cellphone service was spotty but it might recover in a nearby area. Grabbing her oversized purse, she stuffed the music box inside. Locking her doors, she began the trek. Every few hundred feet, she checked for bars. Nothing.
Without warning, the fog turned into a torrential downpour. Lucy increased her gait to an all-out sprint. She was too far from her car and continued onward.
Glancing over her shoulder, she spotted headlights. Flailing like air-traffic control, she attempted to wave them down. The truck increased it’s sped and sloshed through a puddle, covering Lucy in cold, thick mud.
“Could this day get any worse?”
Her eyes drifted to the purse slung over her shoulder. Lucy considered herself rational and level-headed. She didn’t believe in ghosts, curses, or karma. Despite her logic, one thought hovered in her mind – the music box. Since purchasing it she experienced one disaster after another.
The hike continued for another half-mile until she reached a gas station. She called a tow truck and wrote a check. It would bounce if she didn’t deposit the cash. She arrived home wet, muddy, and exhausted. She crashed on her bed after a hot shower. She’d wake early to hem the slacks.
Her eyes drifted closed and opened to a flashing alarm clock. The perpetual blinking 12:00 was a bad sign. The storm knocked out her power. She overslept. She dressed in the oversized pants and a presentable blouse. She dashed through the door, hoping she’d make it to the interview.
Her Chevy sputtered to life after three false starts. She whipped onto the highway, slamming the brakes. Bumper to bumper.
“Why is this happening?”
As she drove under five-miles-per-hour, Lucy brushed her hair and applied her makeup. She shoved the brush in her purse and the music box slipped onto the passenger seat. She scowled at the treasure.
“Why did I buy you? I’m not a dishonest person. And I'm not this desperate.”
Cutting across two lanes of traffic, she exited the highway. She navigated the country roads toward Sterling Boulevard. The house was dark and no one was home. Lucy didn’t let it stop what she had to do. She ripped a piece of paper from a notepad and wrote an apology to Mr. Ballard. She explained her change of heart and hoped he forgave the dishonesty.
Autumn faded to a bitter winter and spring emerged with new life. Lucy put the broken pieces of her life together. She interviewed with a company and they hired her on the spot. She purchased a new wardrobe that didn’t come from a garage sale. Her new car was reliable and younger than her.
One warm, sunny day before work, a man in a suit knocked on her door. “My name is Garry French with the Holt-Larson-French firm.” He reached for a letter in his breast pocket. “May I come in?”
Lucy ushered Mr. French inside. “What is this about?”
“I represent Warren Ballard.”
Lucy’s stomach flopped. After several months, Mr. Ballard decided to press charges. “Yes?” She gulped.
“He passed away yesterday morning and I'm here to read his wishes.”
“I didn’t know Mr. Ballard,” Lucy said. “I met him at his garage sale a few months ago.”
“He explains everything in this letter.” Mr. French cleared his throat. “Lucy Norton. The day at my garage sale, I hid one thousand dollars in several antiques. Out of ten people, you were the only person to return the money. I appreciate your honesty and morality even though you needed the money more than me. It showed me in my darkest day there is still good in people. As I told you on the day we met, I don’t have any family, none my fortune wouldn’t corrupt. So instead, I leave you my house on Sterling Boulevard. Do with it what you wish. But I urge you to never forget your goodness. Thank you for being a person of integrity. Sincerely, Warren Ballard.” Mr. French opened his bag and presented the music box. “We can head over to the house whenever you’re ready Miss Norton.”