Monday 17 – Monday 24 October 2011
It wasn’t extraordinary. It was a regular, simply ordinary, box. The pinewood was pristine blonde, and still smelled like its tree of origin. It was what the box contained that was extraordinary.
It had been passed down, from generation to generation in the Palmer family, and currently resided in the home of the young master Angus Palmer. He was the eldest boy and therefore, it was upon he that the box was bestowed when his uncle the Right Honourable George Palmer passed away early the previous year. George was blessed with four daughters, and as the Palmer family tradition required the box to be passed from eldest son to eldest son, it was Henry Palmer’s eldest child, and only son, who received it.
Angus was not particularly interested in the traditions of the Palmer family. He preferred to live his life as he chose, following his dreams, committing to his own well thought out ideals and beliefs. Not a slave to tradition or history, Angus had been unimpressed with the box when it had been delivered into his care the week after his uncle had passed.
‘It’s a box, Simpson. What am I going to do with a damned box?’ he enquired of his family’s long serving solicitor.
‘That,’ Simpson said, ‘is up to you, Master Palmer. How you choose to utilise the box is your problem. The only parameter imposed on the box is that you must keep it in the fine condition that it is when bestowed upon you. Failure to do so would . . . well, there is a penalty for ill treatment of the box.’
Simpson’s words, of course, piqued Angus’ interest.
‘Oh do go on, Simpson. One can’t raise these issues and then leave the other party to guess what this penalty might be.’
Simpson shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He didn’t like discussing the repercussions of not keeping the box in good condition.
‘Master Palmer,’ he cleared his throat before continuing, ‘I’m not at liberty to discuss the penalty. It’s part of the instructions that I must follow in handing over custody, ownership, of the box to you. We all have our own rules to abide by.’
Angus examined the wooden box. Clearly not everyone who had taken possession of the box had followed the instruction to take good care of it. A few chips and chunks were missing from its edges, and some small scratches and scrapes covered the faces. But on the whole, it was a reasonably well-kept object.
‘Surely, Master Palmer, as a young man who has just graduated from Surgeon’s College, you must understand the value of keeping the tools of your trade in perfect condition.’
Angus tilted and nodded his head in Simpson’s direction. Indeed he was all too aware of maintaining his instruments. He had suffered terribly at the hands of a senior lecturer for overlooking the care of his scalpel. It was an oversight that was never repeated. Angus never wanted to be humiliated again in that manner.
‘It is part of my job, Master Palmer, that once a month I return and examine the box. Your ancestors set in place some very strict traditions. On the first Sunday of every month, I will be on your doorstep, and you will provide me with complete access to the box. I will examine it thoroughly. If it is still in this condition,’ he pointed at the box, ‘then I shall be on my way, returning again in exactly one month’s time. If, however, the box has been damaged, even if it shows the slightest amount of damage, I will be required to enact the punishment described in a document that is held in the vault of the law firm. Do you understand? As far as I’m aware, the penalty has only been dealt out twice.’
Angus nodded again, ‘Perfectly, Simpson. So, let’s just hope that I don’t make it three Palmer’s who have royally cocked up.’
‘I suggest, sir, that you place the box somewhere safe.’ Simpson handed the box to Angus. ‘One month, Master Palmer, one month then.’ Without another word, Simpson turned on his heels and left Angus standing alone, pinewood box in hand. Angus sighed loudly, and quickly glanced around the room looking for a spot to sit the box. Unable to determine a safe resting place for the box, Angus placed it on the small occasional table by the door.
‘Remember to be careful opening the door, Angus,’ he said to himself, ‘don’t want to damage the damned ugly little box.’
The first month passed quickly, and Simpson was happy to see that the box was undamaged. Angus was also relieved to learn that there was no visible difference in the box, much to his surprise. He had not been aware until the day Simpson arrived to examine the box, that he had been experiencing some level of stress in relation to Simpson’s visit. The seriousness of the situation hit him when he laid eyes on the solicitor at his door.
‘You know, Mr. Simpson, I find that I am both eager for you to examine this box, but unwilling to let you in, on the off chance that there is an . . . irregularity with it. I suppose, I’m delaying the inevitable. Come in, Mr. Simpson, and let us get this over with.’
The scene was replayed, almost identically, for the next four months. Simpson would arrive, examine the box, and Palmer would stand, heart in his throat, praying that there was nothing wrong with the box. Once Simpson had left, Palmer would down a fifth of a bottle of single malt whisky, relieved that the box remained undamaged. The high stress career of a surgeon was nothing compared to this monthly terror that Palmer experienced. He found himself not wanting to find out what the penalty for damaging this ancestral artefact was.
The six month examination, however, was different. The box appeared to be exactly the same as it had been the month before, but Simpson found something.
‘Mister Palmer, what is this?’ the solicitor pointed to an area just below the locking clasp. Angus couldn’t see anything. He bent down to take a closer look, and there, just as Simpson had pointed out, was a slight indentation. His heart pounded fiercely within his chest. He was sure that at any moment, the organ would protrude from his flesh.
‘I-I-I . . . no idea,’ Angus stammered.
Simpson scratched away in a small, leather-bound notebook that he pulled from his coat pocket. Angus watched in increasing panic.
‘What, what are you doing?’ he asked.
‘Noting the damage done to the box, Mister Palmer. This is not good. Not good at all,’ Simpson mumbled as he wrote.
‘But I . . . it wasn’t me. I-I . . . no idea how that happened.’
A thought occurred to Angus as he wiped his sweaty palms down his pants.
‘Davis? DAVIS. Get in here.’
Some moments passed before a middle-aged man entered the room. He was lean, almost wiry, prematurely greying, and his calloused hands seemed to big for his thin arms.
‘Yes, Mister Palmer?’ Davis asked.
With a shaky hand, Angus pointed at the box. ‘What happened to the box? The dent. How did . . . how did that happen? When did that happen?’
Davis lowered his eyes to the floor.
‘Mister Palmer,’ Simpson interjected, ‘how and when it happened, and who did it are irrelevant. The box was damaged while in your possession therefore, you are ultimately responsible, and you will suffer the consequence.’
‘No. NO, I will NOT.’ Palmer was quick to turn. Whatever the consequence was, he was not going to suffer it alone. Without thinking, Angus swept his arms across the small occasional table, flinging the box to the ground where it exploded, splinters of pinewood flying everywhere. Simpson stood shocked, and Davis let himself back out of the room.
Angus, face flushing, was not going to stand idly by and wait for this mythical punishment for damaging the box. Unable to control his own reflexes, Angus found himself looking at his own hands clasped firmly around Simpson’s neck, squeezing the life from the solicitor. Fighting valiantly, Simpson clawed at the surgeon’s hands to no avail. The life was draining from Simpson as quickly as he had scratched the details of the damage to the box in his notebook.
‘I will not fucking suffer any consequence. I did not damage the box. Davis did that. DAVIS DID THAT.’
Rasping sounds came from the solicitor’s throat as he tried to suck air into his lungs. The pressure built in his head, and he could feel that he was losing consciousness. Fighting was too hard now. Simpson let go, his body falling limp at the hands of the surgeon.
‘No. Punishment,’ Angus said, ‘no consequences.’
The man whose job it was to save lives had successfully and consciously taken one. From this there would be no coming back. Angus released the solicitor from his grip. Simpson’s body thudded heavily on the floor, splinters of the box underneath him. Angus looked at the man on the floor, and then at the remains of the pinewood box. Tears welled in his eyes and fell down his cheeks.
‘What have I done?’ he asked himself. ‘Stupid box. Stupid box. Stupid fucking box.’
‘My life is over. Because of a stupid fucking box.’ Angus, sobbing uncontrollably, slumped to the floor near the solicitor’s body. He would wait. Wait for something to happen, someone to find he and Simpson. Wait for the consequences, not of destroying the ancestral box, but of taking a life. Sooner or later they would come.