Monday, March 19, 2018

HONORABLE MENTION: The Music Box and the Street Urchin by Debbie Roome

Place-HMThe shop was dark and gloomy, an assortment of bric-a-brac and ancient furniture with an incongruity of tinsel draped here and there.

“I knew you’d get down here quick, Meredith.”

“Well good afternoon to you too, Gertrude.” The proprietor resembled the stock in the store. Old, parts in need of repair, but intrinsically valuable.

“You’re going to love this one, dear.” She shuffled into a back room and reappeared, a wooden music box in her hands.

My heart fluttered but I kept my features arranged into stern lines as I took it from her. “Not bad,” I said, running my finger over the carved surface.

“Open it up,” Gertrude encouraged, hunching over the counter. “It’s one of the finest I’ve seen.”

I lifted the lid to reveal the nativity; Mary, Joseph, a tiny porcelain baby, and a menagerie of animals in a stable. The detail was intricate, the figurines hand-painted in muted shades. “And what tune does it play?” I asked, feeling for the winder at the back.

Gertrude’s enthusiasm waned a notch. “That’s the only problem. I couldn’t get it to work … but I’m sure you’ll be able to with all your expertise and whatnot.”

I closed the music box and turned it upside down, inspecting the mechanism. The comb was intact, all the tiny teeth positioned as they should be. I angled it towards the dusty lamp on the counter and the cylinder too appeared perfect, studded with Braille-like dots. “Mmm,” I raised my eyes to the ceiling. Purchasing from Gertrude always involved haggling and I did enjoy the triumph of a bargain. “Might take a few hours work to get it going,” I said. “What were you hoping for?”

Twenty minutes later, I stepped out of the store, bag in hand, anticipation building. Dusk had fallen and street lamps cast cones of gold across drifts of snow. I could see the traffic lights for several blocks, winks of green, amber and red and hurried towards them, keen to get home.

I was almost there when I saw him. A ragamuffin as we used to call his type, a street urchin, a homeless child. Whatever the title, they all looked the same. Gaunt, filthy trousers, a jersey of indeterminate colour and a knitted hat. The only colour was a stain of red in his cheeks and lips. “Spare a dollar,” he begged as I passed by.

I turned my head and walked on, steps brisk, heart indignant. Someone really needed to get these kids off the streets. Why, they were becoming a plague.

Ensconced in the warmth of my kitchen, I laid the music box on its side and opened my tool box. A natural bristle brush, a vial of clock oil and a gadget for blowing out dust were all I needed. With gentle fingers I worked on the elderly mechanism, gently coaxing it back to life. An hour passed and I stood and stretched, ironing the knots out of my back. A hot drink was needed.

Outside it was almost dark and snow was falling in lacy sheets, blurring the lamp on the corner. Unbidden, the street urchin came to mind. Was he still slouched on the sidewalk? Where would he sleep tonight? I slurped down the rest of my hot chocolate, trying to drown the image of the waif.

Back at the music box, I carefully reassembled the workings and turned it right way up. The nativity scene was detailed and the porcelain figures exquisite. Gertrude had come up with a real treasure this time. I wound the mechanism carefully, feeling that the resistance from earlier was gone. Anticipation filled my heart as I let go of the winder, wondering what tune this little marvel would play. I recognised the notes at once. Let every heart … prepare Him room … and then it stopped. I spent the next half hour tinkering with it but it stubbornly played the same line over and over. “How can this be?” I exclaimed “Music boxes don’t work like this! The tune plays in sequential order!”

I pushed back from the table and paced the kitchen, words pulsing through my mind. “Let every heart … prepare Him room …” Along with the words, the image of the street urchin came to mind. “Okay, okay” I exclaimed out loud. “It is Christmas and I know the Bible says we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” I banged around the kitchen, seeing what I had on hand before shrugging on my winter coat. If the boy was there, fine. If he wasn’t, so much the better.

It was dark now and my mind was throwing a tantrum. Dangerous, inappropriate, leave it for someone else, it shrieked but I kept going. He was still there, huddled into the wall for shelter, his cheeks now white with cold his limbs dusted with snow. “Come on then,” I said stooping over and touching his shoulder. “You can’t stay out here all night.”

An hour later, he was tucked up in my spare bed, wrapped in some old clothes of my late husband, his belly full of toast and milk.

I awoke early on Christmas morning and remembered the music box. A hot mug of tea in hand I decided to give it another go. To my amazement, the notes played out clear and bright.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come,
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart … prepare him room.

Room! I padded over to the spare room and cracked the door open. The bed was made and the clothes were folded in a neat pile but no one was there. Then I saw there was something on the pillow; a square of white card that shimmered and shone, iridescent and beautiful. There were only five words on it. “Thank you for making room.”


RoomeWriting has been Debbie’s passion since the age of six and she loves to write stories that touch people’s lives and turn them towards God. Over the years she has won many awards and trophies for her work, including placing first in the Rose & Crown Novel Writing Competition in 2009 and 2012 and first in the Faithwriters’ Page Turner Contest in 2015 and second in 2010 and 2014. She also enjoys public speaking and sharing about God’s grace in her life.


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