The Camphor-wood Box

The child opened her bedroom door slowly and peeped out with one blue eye. The landing was empty. The coast was clear, and the loft ladder was still in place. She could hear the grown-ups downstairs and she knew that Tom was in the yard.

She had wanted to climb into the loft for a long time, but was always told she was too small and it was dangerous to climb the ladder. She thought that she would always be too small. Tom was not too small. Tom was eleven and much taller, and he was a boy. It seemed like boys had all the fun and were allowed to do anything.

She stood at the foot of the ladder and looked up. She counted the steps. There were nine. She was sure she could climb nine! After all, she was six now and a big school girl, and she would hold on very tight so that she didn’t fall. It would be like climbing the stairs. She carefully placed her foot on the first step and, putting her hands on the fourth step, pulled herself up. She moved her hands and then her feet onto the next step and then the next. When her feet were on the third step she looked up. The top didn’t seem very far away, but then she looked down! It was not like the stairs at all. She could see the floor through the ladder, and not only the floor, but the floor downstairs too. Her knees felt watery and as if they wanted to bend the wrong way. She squeezed her eyes shut and clung very tightly to the ladder. She wondered if she was brave enough to climb to the top. Of course she was! She would go very slowly and hold on very tight and not look at the floor.

The sixth step was very tricky as she had run out of steps for her hands and had to reach into the loft opening to pull herself up. There was nothing to wrap her fingers around. It was just the smooth floor-boards. She squeezed her hands down hard and climbed onto the next step. Now she could see into the loft. She inched her hands forward and climbed up all the way and crawled onto the floor.

It was quite dark. There was a window in the roof, but it wasn’t clean like the downstairs windows and she could see cobwebs. She didn’t like cobwebs. Cobwebs meant spiders, and she was scared of spiders. The funny thing with cobwebs was that they always got stuck on your face and she hated that. As her eyes adjusted, she looked around for the light switch. She knew there was a light because she’d seen it shining out of the loft. It was on a wooden post that seemed to be holding the roof up. She switched it on.

Suddenly she was surrounded by all sorts of interesting things. In the corner was the Christmas tree and it still had the fairy on top; the one she’d made at school. With it was the cardboard box with all the trimmings in. Beside the tree was a big, old, dusty mirror in an ugly frame. She’d never seen that before. There were two old chairs, with flowery cushions on, that used to live in Granny’s house. She sat in one and a big cloud of dust puffed out and made her nose itch. There were lots of books. She opened a couple, but they were grown-up books without any pictures. She could read some of the little words, but they had mostly big, long words and they smelt funny, like old peoples’ houses.

She could see mouse poo on the floor! She was scared of mice too. Only wild ones though. She quite liked the school mouse whose name was Twitchy. She’d had Twitchy to look after one weekend when it was her turn, and he wasn’t scary because he was in a cage and you knew where he was all the time. Her mum went nuts if a mouse got into the pantry. They probably all lived in the loft and went to the kitchen when they were hungry, like everybody else. She hoped the mice wouldn’t come out to see what she was doing.

She could see some old ice-skates. She pulled them out but they didn’t have any laces. They were much too big for her little feet anyway. There was a funny bag with some golf sticks in it. Daddy used to do golf sometimes, so she thought they must be his.

Beneath the window was a pile of old curtains and she could see something poking out from underneath. It was a wooden box. It was not very big, so she pulled it out. It had a familiar smell to it. She put her nose close and took a big sniff. It smelt a little bit like the stuff mum rubbed on her chest when she had a cold. There was a picture on the lid. It wasn’t painted on but made out of the wood. She ran her fingers over it. She liked how she could feel the picture. There was a dragon, with big teeth and eyes like a frog, and some people in long dresses with funny hair, and there was a pretty pattern all round the edge.

She flicked up the little gold catch and lifted the lid. Inside were some photos of funny looking people and they all had the same colour clothes on, and it was a very boring colour. She liked bright colours, especially blue. The ladies all wore very big hats and long skirts, and they all had very big bottoms, which made her giggle. There were some letters tied all together with a ribbon. She took one out to have a look, but it was running writing and she couldn’t do that yet. She found some old buttons in the bottom of the box and a pretty little purse made of beads.

‘Sarah!’ Oooh, that was Mum. She quickly closed the box and pushed it back under the pile of curtains. She’d better get back down to her bedroom before anyone came up to get her. She turned off the light and sat on the edge of the hole with her legs hanging down. She started to panic. Her feet were nowhere near the top step! She turned around and lay on her tummy and slowly inched back until her legs were hanging down. She searched with her feet but couldn’t find the step. She was really scared now. She wriggled across the floor and then turned to look down the hole. She was very high up and she would be there forever. Her lower lip trembled and she started to cry.
‘Daddyyyyyyyyyy, help me!’ she wailed
‘Where are you?!’
‘I’m uuuuuuup here’, she said, sobbing.

Daddy raced up the stairs and told her she would be alright. He would help her to get down the ladder again. He told her to lie on her tummy and put her legs through the hole and he would guide her feet onto the top step and make sure she didn’t fall on the way down. She was so happy when she reached the landing. She got in big trouble from Daddy and Mum, but so did Tom for leaving the ladder there, so she didn’t mind so much. They made her promise never to do that again, which she was quite happy with. She didn’t want to go into the loft again, but she was quite pleased that she’d been brave enough to climb up and have a look.

Sue Jorgensen – Toasted Knees

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