Grandma Shaw is in the kitchen cooking up a storm. She has pasta boiling in a pot and her secret spaghetti sauce simmering in another. The aroma of garlic bread wafts from the oven. Fresh green beans from the farmer’s market are cooking with bits of ham mixed in for flavor. Grandma whisks everyone out of the kitchen and tells them to wash up for dinner.
They arrive home at 5:00 p.m. and stumble into the house with the county fair still humming in their heads. Henry runs to his room and shuts the door. He solemnly puts the velvet bag on his bed, removes the box and studies it with an artist’s eye. He can’t stop looking at the intricate designs on the lid, and wonders what tools might have been used to do the carving. He realizes the box is worth much more than the ten dollars they paid. But what lies inside? He’s just about ready to lift the lid when his brothers walk into his room and shut the door behind them. Henry shoves the box behind him and glares at his brothers. “Thanks for backing me up when dad asked about the box. You both wanted to buy the box and you know it. You just didn’t want dad to get mad at you.”
Michael and John look at each other a little sheepishly. John speaks first, “Henry, you know how dad gets. I just figured we’d sort it all out later.”
Michael adds his piece, “He’s right, Henry. We didn’t mean for it to fall on you, but it seemed better to just let it drop than to make a big scene about it.”
Henry doesn’t feel very forgiving, but his curiosity about the box takes over. “Do you guys want to open it with me?”
Without hesitation Michael and John plop onto the bed and eagerly watch as Henry pulls the box from behind his back. With a quick glance at the door to make sure no further visitors are going to barge in, he places both hands on the lid and with a deep inhale slowly lifts the lid. Inside, there is a lining of deep purple velvet and an engraved parchment card with the following inscription: Remember that love and laughter are the music of the soul. John asks, “Isn’t that the same thing that old guy said to us right before we left?”
Henry nods but is still staring at the box wondering what else will happen and dreading the idea they might have been conned. He’s just about ready to close the lid and stuff the box back in its bag when he looks over at Michael. His brother is beginning to laugh and is rocking back and forth with his hands wrapped around his middle. Tears are flowing from his eyes and he has a look of pure elation on his face. Henry looks at John and they both begin to laugh. It’s that contagious kind of laughter that grabs you from some unknown place and won’t let go. Before long, they are all rolling on the bed laughing. Suddenly, there is a knock on the door and their mom says sharply, “Are you boys okay in there?”
Henry covers his mouth and throws himself on the box causing the lid to slam shut.
“Quit horsing around and come to dinner.”
The boys hear her steps retreating from the door and Henry takes a deep breath and says, “Can you believe that? Did that happen because of the box?”
“I don’t know, said Michael, but I know I couldn’t stop laughing until you closed the lid.”
John lies back on the bed and heaves a sigh of relief. “All I know is that my stomach hurts from laughing so hard. Let’s meet back here after dinner and we’ll open the box again. Then we’ll know for sure.” John and Michael leave first and Henry follows after stowing the box under his bed.
Grandma Shaw says, “You boys look like the cat that swallowed the canary. What have you been up to?”
John quickly responds, “Oh, nothing special. Michael told a joke and we all started laughing. I think we’re just tired and a little slap happy from our day at the fair.”
Grandma says, “Well, let’s dig in. I’ve been cooking all afternoon and I expect these bowls to be emptied by all you young’uns.”
Conversation meanders from talk of the fair to Tony sharing a few stories from work. He often tells police stories so the boys understand how veering down the wrong path can ruin a person’s life. Tonight, he talks of a young boy caught up in a drug dealer’s web. The boy’s parents were unaware of his activities and were caught off guard when the police showed up at their door with a warrant for their 16 year old son’s arrest. Now the boy is in the juvenile detention center, he’s been expelled from his high school and faces an uphill route to a stable future. “You boys stay away from drugs and alcohol,” warns Tony. “Nothing good comes from it.
Grandma Shaw tries to lighten the mood with a story from her day. “I was feeding the animals this afternoon and had just filled Murphy’s bowl when Sammy came running through the kitchen in mad pursuit of Boris. The poor hamster was terrified and zoomed to a hiding place under the kitchen sink. Murphy jumped straight up in the air and dashed to the highest place she could find. She ended up on the shelf above the trash can. It took me almost an hour to get her down and to coax Boris out of his hiding place. Henry, you are much better with the animals than me.” Grandma manages to get some relaxed laughter out of Tony, Tina and the boys.
Sensing the relaxed mood, John speaks up on behalf of Henry. “Dad, I know you were mad at Henry this afternoon for buying the magic box, but Michael and I wanted it too. If you could have seen the booth and talked to the man you would understand what we’re talking about. It was like time stood still while we were there.”
“It’s good of you to defend your brother, John, and I do appreciate your honesty, but I don’t like you boys talking to strangers and buying something without understanding what it is. It’s fine for Henry to keep the box but I don’t want any further discussion about magic.”
Tina starts picking up the dishes and glasses and asks the boys to help her clear the table. She says, “I heard on the radio that a bad storm is headed this way. John, I’d like you to walk Sammy before the rain starts and Michael, make sure the windows are rolled up in the car. Henry, you can help me wash the dishes; Grandma Shaw’s done enough work today.”
“Oh Tina, it was no trouble at all. I do think I’ll head home, though, and make sure all my windows are closed. I’m glad you all had such a good time today.”
Grandma Shaw gives each boy a hug and when she comes to Henry she whispers in his ear, “I want you to show me that magic box sometime.”
Henry pulls back and looks his grandmother in the eye. He smiles and gives her a small nod
As soon as all the chores are done, the boys one by one make their way to Henry’s room. John is the last one in and quietly shuts the door behind him. Their folks are outside on the porch so the coast is clear.