Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Button Box

I entered the NPR 3 minute fiction competition, but with 3,800 entries, it's highly doubtful mine will be chosen. We were required to write a story in 600 words or less that used the common words fly, plant, button and trick. I thought I would put it on Big Harmony and see what you all think. Thanks for reading!

If I asked permission, on rainy days, I could play with it. Everything else in the tidy bedroom was off-limits; the dainty Victorian perfume bottles stained amber from scents long evaporated, the oversized clip-on earrings resting in crystal dishes (only gypsies get their ears pierced was her credo) that ladies of a certain age like to wear, the dresser drawers that were never left ajar, not even in haste.

From time to time, my feet would trick me and I would suddenly find myself in this religiously quiet space, its air as still and lifeless as a mid-afternoon sanctuary. I oftentimes stood by the bed, paralyzed with indecision about whether to quickly open the velvet-lined jewelry box, the nightstand drawer, the writing desk with all its private, mysterious compartments.

My hand on the slender handle of the mahogany dresser invariably paused…it seemed wiser to drift over to the drop-leaf table under the window to furtively look at pictures of family members, stoic-faced in the distant past, brightly smiling in the present. A mundane house plant, dutifully watered for decades, sprawled its tendrils among the photos.

Before the bully twins of guilt and fear ushered me out, I would head for the button box in the corner. It wasn’t really a box. It had no corners. Formerly a metal cookie tin with a snug lid, the round container held hundreds of spare buttons dating back to the first days of a marriage; a leather pea coat button emblazoned with an anchor, a clear, teardrop shaped jewel loosened from a party formal, the diminutive, pearl-toned button that once belonged on the neckline of a baby’s smocked dress, a nickel knob that fastened a teenager’s button-fly jeans.

In my own room, as rain lashed in spasms against the windows, I was allowed to leisurely inspect and sort each one. My whim decided how the piles would form; by shape, size, beauty, or some hidden character I recognized at that moment.

But on sunny days, in the silence of the violated room, I had to hurry and pry the fussily flowered cover off the box. Raking my fingers through the heavy depth of buttons, I felt a different kind of pleasure.

The sound of footsteps would slowly start at the bottom of the stairs. Before they could reach the top, I would have replaced the lid and slipped into my bedroom. I knew that no one would discover whether the buttons had been touched…a thought that always gave me great comfort but no satisfaction.