I found the old trunk in the corner of an antique shop during a weekend trip to the southern east coast. Covered in half an inch of dust, it had obviously been left forgotten for quite a long time. I pushed the grime off with my scarf, revealing intriguing hand carved details.
The top was a combination of constellations and moon phases, and had a distinct magical feel. The sides carried images of various time devices: an hourglass, a pocket watch, a sundial, a clock tower, a pendulum, and on the front center, a calendar that almost appeared to be flipping through its pages. Just above the latch were the initials, of a former owner I presumed, H. G. W.
I tried to push it open, but it seemed to be locked. “Excuse me,” I raised my voice to the seemingly empty store. “Hello? Anyone here?”
A rather plump but pleasant looking woman, her gray hair in a bun and glasses on the tip of her nose, looked out from a curtain behind the counter. “Yes, yes..I’m here,” she exclaimed. “Can I help you?” Her voice sounded just how every granny in fairy tales sounded in my head.
“What can you tell me about this trunk? Does it have a key?”
“What trunk, hun?” she chimed, straining to see it from her post behind the cash register. She finally gave up and stepped out from behind the counter, wiping her hands on a small towel and shoving it into the big pocket on her apron. She weaved her way through the labyrinth of old tables, chairs, and knick-knacks with practiced ease. As she approached she said, “Oh, wow. I’d forgotten all about that. It’s been here so long, I don’t even know where it came from.” She kneeled down and pulled out the towel, dusting the trunk with a delicate hand. Stepping back from it, she seemed to appraise the small box with critical eyes and slid the towel back into her pocket without a word. She paused to remove her glasses, blow on the lenses, and wipe them down with a small grey cloth she seemed to appear from no where in particular. “No, I’m afraid I don’t have a key.” She held her glasses up to the light, shook her head and began the process again. After the third cleaning, she seemed satisfied and continued, “That trunk’s been here since before my father bought the place, over 50 years ago. If there’s a key for it, I’ve never seen it.”
“Are you sure? It’s definitely shut tight. It doesn’t make sense for a dealer to buy a trunk that can’t be opened.”
“I cleaned the shop from top to bottom when I took over, about 10 years ago. If it’d been here, I’d have found it. There isn’t a key for it anymore, if there ever was.”
I sighed. “Well, that’s a shame. It’s very beautiful. I love the carvings. Not sure I want it, though, if I can’t get it open.”
“You know, that’s been here so long, I’m sure I can make you a good a deal. Since, there’s no key, I’d probably let ya have it for a 100 bucks?”
“I don’t know. That seems like a lot.” The bargaining is always my favorite part of my trips. The more I save when I buy things, the more I make when I sell them to my clients. “I may have to ruin it just to open it. Then there may be nothing but useless junk inside. I’d hate to spend that much, only to find a trunk full of holey socks that someone forgot to darn. How about 25 dollars? That way I don’t lose too much if the box gets ruined when I pry it open.”
“50? Hand carved designs are still worth that, even if there’s some damage to them.”
“Alright, I think I can do that. 50 dollars it is then. But if you find that key sometime, you need to let me know. Deal?” I pushed out my most charming smile.
“Deal,” she nodded and thrust her hand out for a shake, a small grin pushing out her chubby cheeks.
As I left the shop, the small trunk under my left arm, I had no idea just what a great deal it had been.
(to be continued)
©2019-20 Nancy Lehmann