The Music Box

Little fledgling playwright, how far you have retreated into yourself.

My head sears in pain, my heart screams as if a knife slashed it open. It’s been a while since my mitral valve prolapse acted up. With care, you settle me on to my bed, my senses blur, I walk between the lines. Dimly aware that you’re cradling me, stroking my hair, murmuring something, I slip into the shadows.

You’re humming something when I remember the world again. You’re still here. A familiar tune, but it seems off somehow. I’m no music major, but I can tell something’s off. Not the key, not the ambiance, but something. “What’s that?” I ask. You don’t look relieved, just calm. Patient. Knowing.

All I can think of is the fact that you remain. And then, you start to sing.

Dancing bears, painted wings
Things I almost remember
And a song someone sings
Once upon a December

“Eh?” I stare, quite surprised. I know that song. I haven’t seen that film in so long, but I know. that. song.

Someone holds me safe and warm
Horses prance through a silver storm
Figures dancing gracefully
Across my memory

Where…did you learn this song? I mean, I doubt your younger self would watch a film like that. At this point, I can barely hear you. The world’s going blurry again.

Far away, long ago
Glowing dim as an ember
Things my heart used to know
Things it yearns to remember

And a song someone sings
Once upon a December….

I shudder, break away from you, and nab my computer. I suddenly have to rewatch that scene from the animated film ‘Anastasia.’ Completely ignoring doctors’ warnings of rising from a lying position too quickly, Keinnayi is in my arms, and my eyes can’t leave the video clip on YouTube. I can’t tear my gaze away. I used to think of this movie as sappy. I remember being embarrassed watching it, but here I am, viewing just this one scene where Anya explores the ghosts of her past, not even consciously aware that it’s her past.

I can’t even recall how the conversation started back up again. Just imagery.

Me, a child, stealing the music box, tea set, and three figurines of the cats from ‘Sailor Moon.’ I felt so much remorse for my actions back then. I hated myself for it, but the urge to have them was too powerful. My parents only permitted minimal toys, books, and the ancient 386 IBM computer. No dollhouses, nothing for pretend play. I had to do nearly everything in the overlay.

Mother and my brother, standing there as Father showed me the hammer.

The cats were confiscated. The tea set tossed into a garbage bag. I could hear the china shattering.

Inside the music box was a collection of butterfly hair clips that I dared not to wear unless I was absolutely sure that nobody was home.

“This…this is what you’ve been spending your university funds on? This crap?”

So many colours, shapes and sizes, some glittered, some were metallic, some transparent, some opaque, others translucent.


The dancing fairy ballerina spun a final time as Father ripped her from the spring, and dumped the contents into another bag. Ah yes, that bag would be distributed amongst more deserving children.

Children who could have butterflies, fairies, unicorns, all the innocence of childhood still permitted to them.

Out came the hammer. I wanted to curl into a ball and cry out, but no, I forced myself to sit as calmly as I could and watch. Forced my eyes to remain open, every downward stroke of that powerful arm and hammer, every impact that destroyed the music box more and more until you couldn’t tell what it had been before.

I couldn’t cry. Tears made Father angrier. Mother called them ‘crocodile tears.’ Brother questioned my honesty. I clenched my jaw and sat there silently.

“Look at me,” Father demanded. “Kariel, look at me.”

Was there a hint of sadness in that browned fire? Or was I looking for an excuse to not hate you?

Then, it’s over, and the three of you leave me to study. You wait at the door, expecting the appropriate dismissal. The proper way to speak to a parent before the night falls.

My voice is small and hollow, but I manage. “I love you, Daddy. Goodnight.”

Anya stops singing after that final note. I wouldn’t tell you all that was playing through my mind, so I settle for snuggling, feeling off-balanced again, recalling that I should eat soon.

I only knew that song because…you sang it before falling asleep.

+Liz Callaway, “Once Upon a December”