One day this summer, I went down to the woods all by myself on a special, secret mission. Nobody noticed me sneaking off—Mum thought I was playing with my brother in the garden, but I wasn’t. I would have been in big trouble if she found out, but I didn’t care. I’m not a child anymore; I’m old enough now to look after myself. And besides, I had to take care of Grandma’s present, like I promised.
Grandma left it for me because she knew I was the only one that would look after it properly. It’s a fragile box, you see, made of glass and lined with mirrors. It has a dainty latch on the lid and the outside is decorated with tiny birds—sparrows from Grandma’s garden that she painted herself. It’s small enough to fit into the palm of my hands, but don’t be deceived by the size. It’s bigger on the inside; there’s space for all kinds of magic in there.
Grandma used to be the one that would fill it up. Every year, on a sunny, mid-summer day, she would carefully carry the box down to the bottom of her garden where the apple trees grew in strange, twisted shapes and the marigolds were lined up in happy orange rows. She would place it carefully on the grass between them and open it up wide. The sun would pour in all day long; summer joy condensed into its purest form. She would fill it right to the brim. And then as night fell, she’d snap it shut, carry it back to the house bundled up in the folds of her apron and put it safely out of sight in the back of her wardrobe, wrapped up in a handkerchief. Later, in the dark days of winter, when it was cold and gloomy and all the housework was done, she would take herself away and unwrap the box. When she opened it up, it would glow ever so brightly and if she filled it up just right, it would last all winter long. Sometimes, if I was looking particularly sad or downtrodden, she would let me hold it up to my face to feel the glow too.
When I was little, I used to think it was just a game we played. But I’m not so little this year, not anymore. I’m almost a teenager and I know about serious things now too. Before Grandma died, she put a note inside the box for me. I read it by the light of the last sunrays she ever collected. It said that she hoped I wouldn’t always need the box, but that it would be there for me if I did. She said that some things are a given whether we like them or not, like grey winter days, the slow creeping of time and that horrible, hopeless feeling I get in the pit of my stomach (when I told her about that feeling she didn’t brush it off like the other grownups did; instead she held my hand and told me that she sometimes felt that way too). She said to remember that other things are a given as well: that day always follows night and that spring comes round eventually, like clockwork, even after the cruellest winters.
It’s hard to believe that Grandma’s been gone for almost a whole year. I am the guardian of the box now and it won’t fill itself up just sitting there on my shelf. The dark days will be back and I have to be ready for them, that’s what she taught me. So I took the box to the warmest, sun-dappled glade that I could think of in the woods and I filled it up there, all by myself. A few hours of hopeful summer light stored up, for when I need it.
See how it glows here in the dark of my room? In the tiny mirror inside the lid, I can almost see Grandma’s face smiling out at me, mingling with my own reflection in the light.
SARA COLLIE is a writer, language tutor and wandering soul living in Cambridge, England. She has a PhD in Contemporary French Literature and loves playing with words, gardening, wild swimming and walking in the mountains. Her writing explores the wild, uncertain spaces of nature, the ups and downs of mental health, and the mysteries of the creative process. Her poetry and prose have appeared in various online and print anthologies. She is currently writing a memoir about her experiences hiking across the Pyrenees.
You can find links to her writing at http://www.saracollie.wordpress.com.