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The birthday box

The birthday box

TELLING TALES ·

At the age of just seven Steve was given a small, locked wooden box by his grandfather, with strict instructions not to open it until he was 21 years old. But could he resist?

Peter Edgerton

Monday, 13 March 2023, 22:43

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Steve picked up the small wooden box with his left hand and inserted the key slowly with his right. A clean, satisfying click sprang the lid open, revealing a bright white envelope and a small book. This was a big moment.

Fourteen years earlier his grandfather, Jim, had presented the young lad with the box and its key as a gift on his seventh birthday.

“This is to be left here on your bedside table and not to be opened until you’re twenty-one. Do you understand?”

“Yes, granddad. But can’t you just give me a clue? Please.”

“I could, son, but I won’t. You wouldn’t understand at your age, anyway. Go on, off you pop, get back to the party.”

The first few weeks were torture for the lad. He’d made the mistake of telling his best pal, Josh, who was quite relentless in his attempts to weaken his friend’s resolve in an onslaught that went on for months. Things settled down for a while after that but, then, quite unexpectedly, the family had to up sticks to another town and that’s when the temptation to open the box became almost unbearable. Steve found himself far from all that was familiar, including Josh, while his parents were wildly distracted putting the pieces of a new life together. Plus, his grandfather had insisted on staying up north despite the family’s pleas for him to make the move down with them. To top it all, the day they moved into their new home one of the removal men had dropped a crate onto the street outside. Various items had spilled out, including Steve’s box with the key taped to the lid, cracking it open ever so slightly. Eighteen years old by now, and prone to all corresponding fits of rebellion, Steve picked up the box and pushed the tip of his finger into the crack.

“Don’t!” His sister Annie appeared from nowhere. “Don’t, Steve. You won’t forgive yourself.” She’d always been less impetuous than her older sibling. Her brother came to his senses, slipped the box into his jacket pocket and took it inside, unopened.

The greatest test of all, however, came a couple of years later when, one morning at breakfast, Steve and Annie’s dad shuffled through from the hall, still wearing his pyjamas, a state of affairs quite unheard of.

“I’m afraid your grandfather was taken ill last night and, well, he didn’t make it. I’m so sorry, kids. Me and your mother have to go straight up there. We’ll call you.”

For the next two days, Steve felt a visceral urge to open his grandfather’s gift box. He longed to feel closer to the old man and what did it matter now, anyway? Even Annie sounded unconvincing in her protestations but, somehow, between the two of them, they managed to stay strong until the day of the funeral.

Subsequently, Steve found work in the local factory and, although the urge to open the box never really waned, his daily routine kept him distracted; the next twelve months passed by at a steady rhythm.

So, now, here he was, at twenty-one years of age, with his grandfather’s gift box lying open before him after all these years. It felt somewhat unreal. Gingerly, he took out the envelope, opened it and began to read, murmuring to himself under his breath.

“Dear Steven,

Congratulations! I don’t know if I’ll be around when you open this but here’s what I most wanted to give you all those years ago - it’s the gift of patience, son. It’ll stand you in good stead as it has done me, I promise. Don’t be angry. I know you’ll be disappointed that it’s nothing more exciting after all this time but, believe me, it really is the best gift I could possibly give you, you’ll see. Best wishes for a happy twenty-first birthday, granddad.”

Stunned, Steve picked up the book and glanced at the title - The Little Book Of Patience. Was this some kind of joke? Angrily, he tossed the card back into the box, trying not to think too badly of his grandfather.

Just then, and right on cue, Annie burst through the door unable to contain herself any longer.

“What is it, then, Steve? What is it?”

Her brother could barely disguise his contempt. “Look for yourself - the card’s in the box. The gift of patience or something. Dunno. Who cares? All that for nothing.” He felt humiliated and deeply disappointed.

Annie reached out towards the box but pulled up short.

“Look, Steve.” She was pointing at the card, still lying face down.

On the back, there was something scrawled in the tiniest of handwriting.

“P.S. - lift the base.”

Glancing nervously back at his sister, Steve stepped over to the box, and began picking at its base with his finger nail until, eventually, it came away in his hand. There, underneath, lay a car key, a photograph of Jim’s old racing green Jaguar, and a short note.

“Patience, my boy - oh, and attention to detail. Nearly forgot that one. Always pay attention to detail. Happy birthday, son.”

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