He carried the box over to the old table and set it down. Despite its modest size, it was heavy. He reached for the Stanley knife and slit the old tape that held it together, then prized open the dusty lid, revealing the contents.
Immediately, he knew what it was: his old trophy box. He couldn’t believe it was still here? Surely he had thrown it away long ago. He had a half-memory of carrying it out to the recycling – five, maybe ten years ago… or had that just been a dream?
How many years had it languished, dusty and increasingly dirty, on one of the top shelves of the shed? The kind of shelf that you’d use for paint, or an expensive picture frame the wrong shape for any of the photos you had. He had been looking for a pair of snipe-nosed pliers; something you didn’t need every day, until the day you did. The top shelf in the shed was the last resort; the last chance to find a half-remembered tool.
Instead, he’d found the trophy box.
Wiping away the dust that had fallen into the box from the fragile lid, he let his fingers slide down the inside edge of the box, feeling into the layers like a geologist would dig down into layers of sedimentary rock. Four, five, six wooden frames came to life under his scrutiny. He knew what they were: wooden-backed achievement awards from the days of his corporate life. They were in reverse order. The one in front of him was gold.
“Someone else’s idea of gold,” he whispered, surprising himself with the depth of the observation…
The fingers dug deeper. The wooden frames gave way to paper. He smiled as the paper got older and crisper, remembering the earliest days of receiving praise and prize from people he respected, deeply – back then.
They were all part of the rich tapestry that is a life. Meaningless, now. Just layer upon layer of a dead past. Entirely valid back then, but without purpose now other than a set of steps that had got him here, in the old shed, looking in the wrong box…
The best of them had once hung on the walls of his office, in the way that people do when they want to impress visitors.
“Hollow,” he said, softly, watching the motes of dust spin and curl in the the air of his out-breath, in the golden light of the summer sunset.
His fingers had reached the bedrock of the base of the box. They curled, one last time, around the heavy upper rocks of the awards, ready to lift them all out and drop them into the waste-basket. Then stopped…
The card was smaller than the wooden frames; smaller than the letters of congratulation from the oldest of times.
“Zap!’ It read on the back. On the front was an image of a clown with a sad face, his lips curled down in the manner of circus performers. He never found out who sent it. Who had darkened his first day of real victory with a sour note. He looked at it again… The lips were curled down on the white and red face, though the eyes were warmer and kinder than he remembered. Perhaps the clown had grown old, too?
He let the layers of his life fall back into the dusty box, burying the mystery clown, forever.
“Enough!” He shouted, standing up and tucking the box under his arm. He opened the shed door and strode across the garden to the recycling bins at the back of house. As he turned the corner, a breeze blew dust in his eyes, and he had to put the box down to use a handkerchief to wipe them.
Straightening, he saw the smiling face of his wife coming out of the greenhouse with the first of their own tomatoes. She placed one in his mouth, laughing, and was about to turn when she pointed at the box by his feet. She reached down to pick up the lid that the breeze had blown from the top of the box.
“Who’s the laughing clown,” she asked.
Chewing the tiny tomato and shaking his head, he looked down to where she held the card of the clown. Above the striped red and white outfit were the bright eyes… but beneath the laughing eyes was a laughing mouth.
“Will you just hold that for a moment,” he said, wondering if all of this was a dream. The dream held while he took the box and dropped it in the refuse. It held while he walked back to his bewildered wife, and gently took the card from her confused fingers.
The clown was still smiling… He thanked and kissed his wife and dropped the card into his pocket. From now on, it would be all the trophy he needed.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.