The trunk sat in my workshop for nearly six months. A combination of other work and a fear of ruining the beauty of the box made me keep my distance. That was until the letter came.
Sitting at my work bench, sanding a reproduction of an African fertility statue, I heard the familiar thump-thump of mail being delivered. I wiped the wood dust from my hands, covered the statue with a rag, and headed to the door.
The usual mix of packages, bills, and catalogs were waiting by my front door. I sat down in my porch swing to sort out the junk from the useful. The chains squeaked overhead as the swing moved back and forth, a reassuring sound that pulls me back to summers on my grandmother’s porch as a child, drinking lemonade and giggling about boys with my best friend, Sally. First, I opened a new package of sandpaper. Good timing. I had just used my last piece for the figure on my bench. Next was the newest issue of my favorite antiquity magazine, promising pictures of a never before seen collection from Argentina. The electric bill (yay!), a pile of advertisements for local businesses, and one hand addressed letter rounded out the day’s post. I set everything else to the side to examine the letter.
It was heavier than it should be. I tilted the envelope to one side, then the other, and watched a heavy object slide from one corner to another under the paper. The script on the envelope was large with swooping letters, a style straight out of an Elizabethan novel. I had seen similar handwriting in extremely old original manuscripts and correspondence in my work. Dotted here and there where spots of ink, as if written from a leaky fountain pen or quill. The letter was out of its time there on my deck, a misplaced message from the past. I decided it might be best to take special care with this particular piece of post and went inside for a better look.
In my study, I stared at the back of the envelope. “To be mailed January 2026 only” was written in large bold letters. I picked up my pearl-handled letter opener, a gift from my father many years ago, and carefully slid the tip under the edge of the flap, slowly slicing open the top fold. As I pulled the stiff papyrus from its jacket, the heavy object that was inside fell to my desk with a loud clink. A small, old-fashioned, and somewhat odd-looking, key lay before me. I opened the letter with increasing curiosity. The words inside did not give me the insight I was seeking. In the same calligraphy as on the cover I read:
August 16, 1943
Dear Miss Wavers,
My life is coming to a close. I can no longer follow the clues laid out before me. The device is now yours. Use it well, Miss Wavers.
PS…Do take good care of my trunk. It means a great deal to me.
Turning the key over in my hands, I finally got a good look at it. I held it under my desk lamp to see all the details. A heavy metal key with a tarnished gold finish, it looked like something one might find in a museum. The bow, or top of the key, was shaped like a crown topped with a small gem that spun, each side of which showed a different phase of the moon. Inside the crown was an hourglass, complete with sand that moved from one chamber to the other when tilted. Small faded carvings, in some long forgotten language, lined the 3-inch stem. I had no guesses as to what it said. A curse to ward off would-be thieves? A welcome message to the next owner of the box? Instructions on the direction to turn the lock? It could be anything. I made a mental note to decipher it at a later date. One mystery at a time. I gathered up everything in the envelope and headed to my workshop. It was time to know what is in the trunk.
(to be continued)
©2020 Nancy Lehmann