A long short story about a poor girl who finds unlimited wealth at her fingertips.
|While many stories begin with tragedy and end with “happily ever after,” Emma Jane’s story begins and ends with a tear. Although she had wonderful parents who loved her more than anything, Emma spent most of every day alone. The short times that she spent with her parents were the brightest parts of her days. They both worked long hours and rarely had free time to spend with her.
Emma’s parents admitted that life was hard, but they tried not to let it affect the happiness of their only daughter through showing how much they loved her when they were home. No matter how difficult their days were at work, or how little money they had, they would spend every possible moment with her. That love made them the best parents Emma could ask for. But when she started seventh grade Emma finally realized how different her clothes were compared to the other kids and how much more alone she felt.
You might expect Emma to have resented her parents for how poor they were, but she never did. She resented something that she also desired above anything else. Sometimes when fortune passed by her and she held it, turning the bill repeatedly over in her hand until it felt like soft a wet cloth, she would have the strongest desire to burn it. She would walk into the kitchen, where her mom kept the matches, and hold the flame close to it for a second or two, then immediately regret her decision to light the match, shake it violently, and stomp the flame out. Money wasn’t the problem though, she realized, the problem was how important it had become to everyone else. Money had the power to make her dreams come true, yet seemed to avoid her at all costs. She felt miserable when she realized that, but she refused to cry about it, at least not in public.
Many times Emma would choke in her frustration as best she could, but her feelings would always rise to her throat and then burst out of her in tears. At those times of great sadness, she ran to the attic where she hung a bed sheet across wooden beams, making a playhouse. That was where she would cry. Only the rusty nails jutting from the shingled roof and the dusty boxes witnessed her misery, which had no eyes, ears, or mouths to tell her parents how she really felt.
However, this night her life would change forever. As Emma knelt on the wooden attic floor, wept silently with sniffs, and muffled gasps, tears trickled down her hand and onto the floorboards where she knelt. The tears collected there in the grooves, and slipped under the crack. They dangled underneath the board, between the attic-floor and the ceiling of her room. More and more tears accumulated there and became too heavy, swelled to a large droplet and finally fell.
Emma heard a noise. At first, it sounded like a faint jingle, like pocket change. Then she heard it again, only louder, and then another. Emma stopped crying and listened. Again, she heard the same noise, like metal hitting metal. She leaned forward, pressing her ear to the floor. Listening intensely, she waited for another, her hair wet now from the tears in a puddle on the wood floor. The fifth clink sounded even louder and left no doubt in her mind that something lay under the board where she knelt. Emma squinted through the crack but saw nothing. Forgetting why she started crying in the first place, she tried to dig her fingers between the cracks in the boards.
That didn’t work, so Emma hunted around in the attic for something to pry the board loose. She found a metal file in a rusty chest with old tools and rushed back to where she knelt. She jammed the metal file into the crack and it bounced back. She tried again and wedged it between the boards, pushing the end of the file to the floor, which tore the edge of the board into splinters. She aimed for the same spot and the file sunk through the crack to the other side. This time the file stuck straight up and refused to push down, so she stood up and started kicking the end. The nails that held the board down loosened and the board rose a little. Emma pried the board loose until she could lift one end slightly. She twisted it sideways, and then tossed the file to the side. She lifted the board out of its place and peered down into the space between.
Below the darkness reflected a strange swirl of silver and blue. It seemed to have a life of its own, randomly spinning like a windstorm. She could make out edges. The swirls were contained in what looked like a small box. Emma looked at it closely and saw something in the box. She reached into the darkness, lifted the box out of the hole, and set it on the floor in front of her.
The box had no distinctive markings other than crudely etched figures on the four sides. The image directly facing her looked like a small frog with big hind legs and a large belly. The second carving looked like a butterfly resting on a flower. The third looked like a squirrel leaping from the edge of something, maybe a tree branch. The last and somewhat disturbing picture on the box looked like a dragon she had seen in books of fairy tales her grandfather used to read to her. It spewed fire from its mouth and its tail extended beyond the edge, stretching through each of the other carvings. The dragon’s tale underscored each of the other images with a wavy line that finally pointed to the underside of the box. Emma looked at the image of the dragon and how intricately it was carved. However, the most exciting part of all about the box rested inside, shiny and still.
Emma stopped breathing as she touched the five dull coins in the box. She took one of them and held it in her palm feeling the weight and touching it with her finger, although she had never seen or touched this metal before, she knew it was gold. She picked up all five and carefully placed them back in the box, and hurried down from the attic to her room. She took her pillow off her bed and pulled it out of the pillowcase, wrapped the box in the empty fabric and opened the bottom drawer of her dresser. She placed the box in the very back, covered it with her clothes, and closed the drawer.
* * *
The next morning Emma woke up well before she had to. She pulled the bottom dresser drawer open, grabbed the box, and set it on her bed. The coins inside were still there. She quickly took them out and counted them. There were five. She buried them in her pocket and closed the box, putting it back in her drawer. She got ready for school and ate her breakfast before her mom even got up.
“Well, you’re up early, aren’t you?” Her mother said as she walked into the kitchen. She had her hair up in a shaggy bun.
“I couldn’t sleep.” Emma stretched. ”Are you ready to go?”
“Now hold on a minute, speedy, I have to get ready first. I’m not going out like this. I'm still going to work after I've dropped you off.”
As Emma’s mom got ready, she wondered what to buy first. Maybe she would buy that dress she had her eye on for so long, or those new sneakers that just got popular. Her mind raced and just when she thought she might burst from anticipation, her mom came out with the car keys and said, “Let’s go.”
That day went by in a blur. She didn’t remember what happened in any of her classes. That box consumed her. Instead of paying attention in her classes, she spent the day trying to remember everything that happened the night before when she discovered the box and how it produced the gold coins. She remembered pulling the box out from between the boards in her attic, but nothing else. She was so preoccupied when she finally heard the clinks of gold that she had no idea how they got there. She had to find out whether the gold coins there the whole time or had they appeared out of nowhere.
After school, she went quickly to the store and bought a new pair of shoes, then ran straight home. When she got home, she ignored her mom’s call for dinner and went straight to her room, got the magic box out of her dresser and rushed up stairs to the attic. She knelt down where she had found the box and tried to imagine exactly what happened the night before. She remembered crying about something, right there. Then she heard it, bent down over here to try to look through the cracks in the wood. She loosened that board, pulled it away, and looked into the hole, there, where the box hid. Nothing came to her. She got so frustrated that she slammed her hand on the floor so hard that it gave her a splinter. Her hand stung, but it was her frustration made her eyes fill up with tears, which flowed down and into the magic box beside her.
Clink. She heard it again. She stopped crying and looked all around her, bumping the box and turning it over. Out of the box came another gold coin. “What happened? What did I just do?” she said. She studied the box then looked back at the board she had to pry up the night before. Brushing her fingers over it slightly she noticed a wet spot. She had cried when she heard the clink of gold coins last night, and just now, she started crying and heard another one. It was her tears! Somehow, the magic box could turn her tears into gold!
She ran down the stairs to her attic and into her room. Oh the possibilities! She could be filthy rich for the rest of her life! She would never have to worry about how the other kids in her class looked at her or made fun of her clothes. She could even use the money so that her mom and dad could stay at home more. They could spend more time together, as a family. They could move out of this small house and into a much bigger one with two or three stories and large windows and in a better part of town. They could spend time together without that pressure of money that always seemed to stop them from being happy. She just needed to make herself cry so that the magic box would continue to produce gold coins. Her worries were over.
Wait, how could she cry if the thought of being rich made her so happy? She thought about the possibilities. “Well,” she thought, “what are tears made of?” The two ingredients in tears were water and salt. She had tasted her tears before. She knew what they were made of. She had cried enough to know that. Emma, the scientist, took over her thoughts as she tried to figure this out. “There must be some percentage of water and salt in my tears that the box needs to make the coins.” How would she be able to manufacture an endless supply of tears with the correct consistency of salt?
She ran downstairs and into her parents’ bedroom. They had a private bathroom and she new that her mom used contacts because her glasses always fell off her face while working at the factory. There must be some saline solution left over under their sink. She thought that saline had the correct percentage of salt and water as tears. When she was younger, her mom told her that after she took the bottle and tried drinking it, but had to spit it out because it tasted so gross. She opened the cabinet doors under the sink and pushed the cleaning supplies aside, knocking them out onto the floor until, in the back, she could see the familiar plastic bottle. She grabbed the bottle and rushed upstairs.
Emma jumped on her bed and sat with her legs crossed. She put the magic box between her legs and uncapped the saline bottle. Holding it upside down, she let two drops fall from the small nozzle. It seemed to fall in slow motion. She watched the saline drop for what seemed like a tremendously long time and splat on the bottom of the box. The silver and blue swirls spun and twirled like a tornado. The box shook and then the inside turned completely black. Nothing happened. Emma waited there, looking, wondering. Did she break it? Did it know that she had tried to outsmart it and decided to shut itself down? Did it have some sort of self-destruct mechanism? She waited there and started to dread ever considering saline as an option. It suddenly came back to life. Out of the center of the box, a black spot appeared, but the rest of the inside continued to spin and swirl with silver and blue. The black dot grew until it took a round and lumpy shape. She looked harder and finally the swirls slowed. As the activity inside the box subsided, all that remained was what looked like an ugly black rock. Emma took the rock in her hand and poked it with her finger. It left a black residue on her finger and soon made her hand black as well. It was a lump of coal.
“Well, that didn’t work,” she thought to herself. “Maybe if I get hurt in some way. The box would have to produce more gold from those tears.” That seemed like a good idea, but how could she hurt herself enough so that she could get rich and without causing her permanent harm? She thought about how often she actually hurt herself, which wasn’t very frequent. One time she stubbed her toe while helping her dad build their dinning room table, another time she accidentally slammed her finger in the car door, but she rarely got hurt enough to make herself cry. The option sounded unappealing too, but if nothing else would work, well, it would be a small price to pay.
Emma looked at her dresser. She got up from her bed walked to it. She put the box on the dresser and opened the top drawer. Then she placed her finger inside the dresser. She looked away and tightly closed her eyes. Mustering her courage, she counted to three. “One! Two! Three!” She pushed the door shut as hard as she could, but she felt nothing. She opened her eyes and looked at her finger and the drawer. They never even touched. With a sigh, she opened the drawer again and looked away. “One! Two! Three!” SLAM! This time she could definitely feel it. IT HURT SO BAD! She quickly pulled her fingers out of the drawer and held it with her other hand. They felt hot and seemed to swell to twice the size of normal fingers. A wave of pain overtook her and she doubled over, holding her hand until she remembered what she had to do. Mustering her willpower she stood upright and took the box, bent over so that if any tears were to come they would fall directly into the box. None came. She stood there with a throbbing finger and no tears! Oh, all that pain and nothing from it! She had to find another way.
After her fingers felt better, she sat back on her bed and thought of another option. She remembered overhearing one of the popular girls in school say how it hurt to pluck her eyebrows. It sounded like a silly thing to do at the time, but the girl said that it hurt bad and caused her to tear up. It was worth a try. Emma took the box into her bathroom and pulled out some tweezers from the mirror cabinet. For the first time in her life, she looked in the mirror and noticed her eyebrows. Looking at them closely she wondered why that girl had plucked hers to begin with. Well, for whatever reason that girl had done it; Emma’s intentions were for a completely different one.
She took the tweezers and delicately found one single eyebrow and grasped it tightly. Slowly she started to pull away. The hair stubbornly anchored in her skin. “Just pull,” she thought, “hard and quick.” She yanked hard. It stung badly and for some reason it did cause the most bizarre tingling sensation. Slamming her finger in the dresser hurt much more, but for some reason this caused tears to form. She quickly tried to open her eyes so she could pull another hair with the tweezers. She did it again and a full tear slid down her cheek. Emma grabbed the box in a panic and held it under her cheek. The tear fell lightly into the box, making the silver and blue swirl violently. Only this time, instead of a piece of coal, the box produced a beautiful pebble, like something one might find on a riverbed buffeted by countless years of running water. It was beautiful without doubt, but still worthless. Emma took the pebble out of the box and threw it down to the ground. It made a loud crack and drew the attention of her mom in the other room.
“Emma? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, mom,” she lied. Emma’s frustration overtook her. No, she was more than frustrated. She was angry. She wanted to take that box and throw it against the wall. The box required only one kind of tear, she realized, and it could tell the difference. It required genuine sadness. Emma took the box back to her bedroom and sat on the bed with the box in her lap. She closed her eyes and thought hard. She thought of all the sad moments in her life. She thought of all the terrible things that could happen in the future. Even though they weren’t true yet, she imagined them happening at that moment. She concentrated on her unhappiness and let it consume her. She thought of the most devastatingly sad thought that she had ever considered, that would make her life not worth living. She thought of herself alone, standing by her parent’s coffins in a small church. There they were, in her mind, her mom, and dad lying side by side with open, vacant stares. The image haunted her. She felt so alone, something that she had never experienced before. Her throat tightened and she began to cry. Tears came down her cheeks and fell into the box on her lap.
Clink. Clink. Clink. Three more gold coins appeared from her tears without Emma realizing it. More and more tears came pouring out of her until the box overflowed. The coins spilled out on her lap before she realized what happened. She looked down, wiped the tears from her eyes, and held one of the gold coins. Suddenly, she started laughing. She could be as rich as she wanted to be for the rest of her life! Her worries were over. She could do anything, buy anything, and be anyone. The sad thought she used was only a tool that she could turn on and off whenever she needed more money. The thoughts weren’t real. She had mastered her own emotions, and now she could use them to make all her worries go away.