NOT EXACTLY PANDORA

Sarah had entered a competition. It had been an unusual set of questions that were asked: what had made her feel worst of all in her whole life, why was the colour red so symbolically powerful, what sounds did she most wish to hear, where was it possible to feel at home? She had tried to be both truthful and unpredictable (a difficult task) and had filled in the competition on-line. She pressed the “send” button,  and then noticed that her laptop made a noise very like a groan. She must have imagined it. 

 

Soon she had an email to say that she was on the short-list, and that she was invited to the prize-giving in London, at the Haberdashers’ Hall. She was astonished to hear her name read out as the winner. She walked up on the stage, and was presented with a small wooden box. It was unprepossessing, matt and brown, and on the lid was carved: “do not open until you are sure you are ready.”

 

Well, what did “ready” mean? Did it refer to your age or your emotional state? And how could you tell? Sarah sat on the faded plush seat in the train, and defiantly she opened the box, saying aloud: “here I come, ready or not.” Inside was a small wooden ball. Repressing a surge of disappointment, she said to herself that things were not always what they seemed. And so it proved, indeed.

 

The wooden ball had a mind of its own, but you had to learn how to read it. It liked to move: and it liked you to follow it. It seemed to know what would be good for Sarah: and once taken out of its box,  it would trundle towards an object, and wait for her to act. She set it some simple tasks: what was the right book, which was the best microwave,  which was the most suitable dress for her. And it was right every time. The books it chose were all a revelation, the dresses were all shimmering and lively. She then tried it out on people, and was very surprised. It was too small to be noticed, so she could set it rolling at parties or meetings and see where it came to rest. The people it chose for her were not her usual types at all. They listened to her rather than talking, they looked directly rather than aslant, and they gave rather than took. She was not used to this.

 

After awhile, the ball began to change its size, and would no longer fit in her pocket. It grew to the size of a football, and she had to carry it in a special bag. It seemed to be able to emit sounds too: “uh-uh”, “oops”, “nooo!” Oddly enough, Sarah did not resent its advice. It became bigger. First of all it grew to the size of a yoga ball, and she could lug it round in a hay-net, pretending that she was on her way to a Pilates class. The colour changed too. The cork-like, buff surface was softening and mellowing and took on a golden hue. It grew really large, bigger than she, and was warm to the touch.

 

Sarah reached out her hand. The ball melted to receive it. She put in her whole arm. Finally she stepped right in. She could no longer distinguish herself from her own dear guide, whom she had won in the Haberdashers’ Hall so long ago. Instinct, desire, wisdom: she was with them, she was them. It was like being in the sun, but there was no burning here. The golden globe, with Sarah somewhere inside it, waited quietly for someone else to find it. As they would.

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |