Music Box

Sitting on the card table, nestled between a couple of Nerf guns and a tall stack of Hardy Boys novels, was the music box. It was made of a dark wood, and intricately carved all along the sides and the top. Celtic knots, mostly, but the design carved into the middle was foreign. Three triangles all pointing at different angles, surrounded by waves. Inside, standing on her toes on a spring, was a ballerina. The pink felt underneath was worn in a few places, and the mirror underneath the lid was almost washed out. After a few turns of the key, a little song played, unrecognizable, and the ballerina spun delicately on her toes.

“Anything you’re looking at?”

Lydia jumped, closing the music box with a snap. She’d been so taken by the little song she’d completely forgotten where she was, like it had been drawing her in. The woman standing on the other side of the card table, the owner of the house presumably, stared at her with an eyebrow raised.

“How much is the music box?” Lydia asked, holding it up.

“Oh, that thing. Not sure how that ended up out here. That’s…kind of an antique. It was my mother-in-law’s. She passed a couple of years ago.”

Lydia shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, I’m not,” the woman said with a glance to a man standing on the other end of the driveway. “She was…peculiar. Anyway, I don’t know if I can sell that to you. I should probably ask my husband. Tony!”

Lydia pulled back, wincing. The woman’s soft, almost pleasant voice had turned into a chicken-squawk as she called across to her husband.

“What?” he shouted back, not moving from between an old lawnmower and an older snow blower.

“Isn’t this your mom’s music box?” she asked.

Lydia held up the box. Tony didn’t try to move any closer, only leaned forward and squinted.

“Oh, yeah, that was hers alright.”

“Well? Can we sell it?”

“You brought it down, didn’t you?”

“I thought you did.”

Tony held his hands out. “If I brought it down why are you asking if we can sell it?”

“I didn’t know if you had brought it down.”

“What, do you think it just walked itself down here?”

The woman shrugged. Tony waved at her and went back to trying to sell the lawnmower to the young couple with the baby.

“Five dollars.”

Lydia pulled the money from her purse, very happy to be done with this interaction.


She had to park in front of the neighbors’ when she got to her sister’s place. Well, her ex-brother-in-law’s place. The divorce wasn’t a shame. Lola and Kyle never should have gotten married in the first place. The fact that they had made it seven years meant Lydia owed their Aunt Beth twenty bucks. The shame wasn’t even that Lola was using the divorce as an excuse to move a thousand miles away, to ‘start fresh’ in Florida. What she thought was so fresh about Florida, Lydia would never know.

That she was taking her Patty with her, that was the shame of it all.

Lydia spied her sitting on the side porch. Her hair was in pigtails and she was clutching a half-naked Barbie. Her little legs kicked back and forth over the grass.

“Hey, Patty Cake,” Lydia called.

Patty didn’t run at her like she usually did, meeting her halfway across the yard and jumping into her arms. She barely even looked at her. Tears in her eyes. Lydia had to steel herself to keep her own eyes from getting misty.

“I don’t want to move to stupid Florida,” Patty said as Lydia sat down next to her.

“Florida can be okay,” Lydia lied. “Disney is in Florida.”

“Mommy says we won’t be close to it. She says we’re moving to the pam-handle. I don’t wanna live in a pam-handle. I want to stay here with my friends and my bike and you.”

“I know. I’d keep you if I could, but then your mommy would be sad. You don’t want her to be sad, right?”

It took a few seconds, but slowly Patty started shaking her head.

“Anyway, look. I got you something.”

Patty looked up slowly, sniffling, and Lydia thought she must really be down if she’s not excited for presents. She handed the little girl the music box.

Patty turned it over slowly in her hands. “What is it?”

“It’s a jewelry box, and it plays music. Open it like this. See the ballerina? And there’s a key on the back. It’ll play music and the ballerina will dance. You have to promise me something, though, okay?”

Patty looked up from the music box, hand still on the key, and nodded solemnly.

“When you play it, you have to remember me, okay? That way we can still be together sometimes.”

She put the music down next to her on the wooden planks before wrapping her little arms around Lydia’s waist. Lydia put a hand on her back and held her while she cried. Around them, the movers continued to empty the house and the late summer afternoon fell slowly to evening.


Patty didn’t like her new house. It was weird and all one story and it smelled funny. Her room was small and the walls were painted an ugly brown. There were weird shutters attached to all the windows and when her mom had explained they were for hurricanes she’d had nightmares all night of wind and rain ripping the roof off and taking her away. It was better being in her room, though. Her mom already had lots of new friends, and she always wanted Patty to meet these new friends and her kids. To play with those kids and just be friends. But all her friends were back in Ohio so she stayed in her room.

She went to take a book off her dresser and knocked the music box off.

“What was that?” her mom called from the kitchen, only down the hall.

“Nothing, I’m okay,” Patty said, turning the music box over in her hands.

“Dinner is in five minutes!”

The music box was okay, not broken. She thought of her Aunt Lydia, which made her think of her real home and her real town and her real friends. It wasn’t fair. Everyone was back home and she was stuck here in the pam-handle. Sniffling, she opened the top of the box and turned the key at the back.

The music was nice. Pretty. She didn’t know the song, and wished she had asked Aunt Lydia if she knew it. The ballerina spun around, and she pulled on the spring to make her bounce. The music went on and on, lots of high pitched ting ting tings.

But if she listened closer, she could almost make out words. Yes, she was sure someone was singing. She brought the music box up to her face, trying to hear the words and watch the ballerina spin and bob.

Watch the ballerina spin,

I can make you smile again.

Come along, away with me,

I’ll always keep you happy.

The box was glowing.


Lola opened the door to her daughter’s room. “Come on, Patty Cake, dinner’s…”

The room was empty. The bed was made, the closet was wide open, the only toys in the middle of the room were a doll and that music box Lydia had given her. There was no place for her to hide.

“Patty?” she called anyway. Lola stepped into the room and looked behind the door. “Patty, where are you?”

The calls for Patty got louder and louder. So loud the neighbors began to get scared. So loud the police were called. So loud eventually Lydia and Kyle heard it, a thousand miles away. But not loud enough for Patty to hear.

It would never be loud enough for Patty to hear.

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