Sunday, October 15, 2006

Puzzle Box

When I was little there were wonderful things in our livingroom. On a marble-topped table there was a small brass plate filled with arrowheads and odd bits of rock. My father said the strange, smooth ones were dinosaur gizzard stones, and when I held them I could feel the odd oiliness that he said was how you knew what they were.

In a niche by the archway were a series of shelves that held a whole variety of knicknacks. There was a carved wooden bear who had a large salmon slung over his back. There was a New Zealand Tiki with mother-of-pearl eyes and an enigmatic grin. There was a glass pig that once belonged to my grandmother. She had been given the nickname 'Piglet' I think, and people kept giving her pigs. In my memory she didn't actually like the pigs all that much, but she displayed them all the same.

And there was the puzzle box.

It was small, and one top corner had a gap where the maker had misjudged the cut of the wood. Green parquetry decorated the sides, and filled the top panel except for a diamond that held two goggle-eyed scotty dogs. When you picked it up there was a loud rattle, and you could feel several little hard objects sliding around. But the top was firmly glued down, and there were no hinges.

I don't remember anyone showing me how to open it - I think I must have just poked around enough to figure it out. It's not a terribly puzzling puzzle box. The front panel is a drawer, and if you push at it you can move it backwards against a spring. On the left hand side a piece of the parquetry slides back just enough to show a little wooden trigger; press that down and the drawer springs open.

And inside there is a treasure.

My mother got utterly fed up one day with endlessly dusting all the little things (along with the miles of bookshelves) and bundled them all up and put them away. But the other day we opened up a drawer at the bottom of a glass fronted bookcase and there they all were - the gizzard stones, the arrowheads, and dozens of other things I had forgotten about. There's a peculiar familirity to things you knew as a child, something that gives importance and stature to even trivial little bits and pieces. Why did we still have a small matchbox carefully covered in blue diamond patterned tissue paper? Neither of us knew, but it still went back into the drawer with the other things.

Except the puzzle box. My mother gave that to me, and it's sitting on my desk now. The spring is still strong, and when I press down the trigger the drawer almost leaps out, shooting as far as the stops will let it.

There are six crystals inside - a little scratched now from rattling against eachother all these years. I didn't see the scratches when I was little, didn't see the dirt that still crusts two of them. I saw six diamonds hidden in a magic box.

Still, it's good to know the treasure is still there, if I can remember how to find it.

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