Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser

My parents came to town for the holiday weekend, and it was both delightful and laid back.  Aside from the usual rituals (eating out, shoe shopping at Clarks, clothes shopping at the Eddie Bauer outlet, craft shopping at Fancy Tiger, grocery shopping at Whole Foods, and, of course, Sweet Action ice cream), we added a new twist - antique shopping.

Inspired by the grandchild, my parents came with a mission - to find a Cabinet of Curiosities for their newly-remodeled house.  My dad gave my mom this terrific microscope for Christmas last year - the kind where you can look at tiny three-dimensional objects, not slides.  They have been collecting bits and pieces for the microscope in addition to all of the bits and pieces collected over years of foreign and domestic travel and had visions of a grand cabinet filled with drawers and cubbies and maybe even some secret hiding spots for said objects for the grandchild to explore.

We visited a few stores, but at the end of the day wound up returning to the first store a second time.  It was a delightful, crowded place filled with treasures that ranged from 19th century scooters for toddlers to a leather-bound metal stationary case (complete with ready-to-fill glass ink bottles) to a curvacious 1920's French writing desk.  There in the basement was a cabinet that had stayed on our minds all day.  The more we looked at it, the more we liked it.  But then!  Then we started making discoveries:

- It was custom-made in the mid-19th century for a maharaja in India.
- The basic design is English, but it's accented and framed by bronze vines, flowers, birds, and figures dancing and playing the sitar.
- The figures are naked. (As a rule, our family likes things that stir up the Home Teachers.)
- The top drawer of the bottom half is actually a cleverly-disguised secretary desk.
- The secretary desk has many drawers and cubbies.

Once we discovered the secretary desk and its accompanying hidden release buttons, it seemed destined to be the cabinet of choice.  But then (then!) the shop owner casually mentioned the secret hiding spot.

"What, what?" we said, then practically raced back downstairs to see for ourselves.  It took quite a bit of poking and guesswork, but we discovered not one but five secret hiding places in the cabinet! (And I'm not saying anymore about that!  You'll just have to find them yourselves.)

Really, the only thing that disappointed was the lack of a working key.  I had pointed out to my parents when they first described this quest that the cabinet really must have a proper key.  Sadly, most of the locks on this cabinet were filled in with sawdust, but the main outside locks seemed to be in working order.  However, there were no coordinating keys in sight, not even in the secret compartments.

"We might have something that will work."  The saleswoman slipped upstairs then reappeared with a clanking shoebox.  She opened it to reveal the most delicious collection of old keys I have ever seen.  From tiny brass ones to rusted iron keys as big as my hand, she started poking through the box searching for a possible fit.

After trying five or six keys, she found one that fit in the lock and "looked pretty."  It didn't actually operate the lock, but she declared her search complete and set the box aside.  When she rejoined the owner, who was telling my mom about his trips to India to purchase furniture, my dad sidled up to me.  "Do you really think she tried enough keys?" he whispered conspiratorially.

That was all the push I needed.  While he casually joined the others, I opened the shoebox and began sorting the keys, taking them in great handfuls to the cabinet to try each one in the lock in turn.  My parents continued chatting with the owner.  He was probably telling very interesting stories, but I like to believe they were just encouraging him to keep talking in order to buy me more time.  I had a quest!  I must find the correct key!

As I searched, I felt the pressure mounting.  I sorted the keys, setting aside the ones that were the wrong shape and size, keenly aware that if ever I have learned anything from all of the young adult books I've read it's that if I found the correct key and fitted it to the lock and turned it successfully and felt that click of the bolt sliding into place, magical things would happen.  An abandoned garden, a world trapped in winter, a hidden wife - o, the possibilities!  If only I was being pursued by wraiths or Death Eaters!  Then a magical conclusion would be guaranteed!

Sadly, I was not in peril.  I was, however, under a time limit and as the adults' conversation near me drew to a close, I knew I only had a few seconds left.  I quickly pulled three keys from the bottom of the box and rushed to the cabinet.  The first one fit, but didn't turn.  The second one was too wide for the hole.  The third one fit into the lock.  As I tried one last time to turn a key in the lock, I turned my head to see my parents shaking hands with the owner, a universal sign of a conversation ending.  To my surprise, I felt the last key rotate with ease.  I whipped my focus back on the bolt on the side of the door as I twisted the small silver stem.

Nothing.  The key simply turned in the lock without catching any of the tumblers.

As my dad shot me a querying look, I shook my head in defeat and set the silver key on the cabinet's shelf before returning the others to the shoebox and handing it back to the shopowner's assistant.  The small silver key will be a nice decorative addition to the cabinet, another fun trinket, but it won't be magical.

If only there had been wraiths.

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