Once in a while, Mother took me with her to visit the Ruddocks. Their house smelt of beeswax and butterscotch; it had gas lamps, a scullery, and copper servant bells mounted high in the corners of the lofty rooms. The middle Miss Ruddock, Evelyn, had a dowager’s hump, a whiskery chin, and a gammy, glass eye like a poached egg. I sat in the gloomy parlour, trying not to fidget, and trying not to stare at the white flaky crust lodged in Miss Ruddock’s whiskers, while she and Mother chinked tea cups and chatted.
Sometimes, the eldest Miss Ruddock, Beatrice (or “Queen Bee” as Mother called her), wafted in wearing a silk jade kimono, trailing a scent of cigars. “Evie, won’t you shut up about your committees?” she said. “It’s boring for the girl. Go and fetch the music box.” Miss Ruddock shuffled out and returned with the ebony box. She settled it down on its spindle legs and wound the key. With her one good eye, she winked at me to lift the lid, whereon the tinkling notes of “The Blue Danube Waltz” started up. Inside, cushioned in crushed velvet, miniature mosaics of wispy mountains and lakes glittered. “Listen,” Miss Ruddock whispered, cupping her ear to the box. “Hear that?” Let me out. It’s dark in here, whined a tiny voice. I nodded in amazement, recognising the voice as belonging to Dora, the youngest and prettiest sister. “It’s yours; once I’m food for the worms,” Miss Ruddock said, winking at me again.
When it was sunny, their brother Giles, a daddy longlegs of a man, played with me outside in the garden. Tenderly, he took my hand and led me down the salt-sprinkled path, where giant slugs lay supine, their orange frilly bellies wriggling like strange sea anemones, past the beds of eglantine and lavender to a secret, over-grown orchard. Giles stretched out an enormously long arm to the top of a tree and picked an apple. I took a bite, lay down on the bumpy roots, and played dead. I was Snow White, poisoned by the bad fruit.
One day, years later as we drove past the Ruddocks’ house, Mother casually remarked, “You know, there was a great deal of jealousy in that house? Evelyn once told me that Queen Bee and Dora were rivals for Giles’s bed.”
I never knew what became of the music box.
is from Stourbridge in the UK. After teaching 16- to 19-year-olds for nearly three decades, she now works as a part-time consultant teacher trainer and private tutor. Her poems have been published in various webzines and journals, including Poetry Salzburg Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Ink Sweat & Tears, and The Emma Press Anthology of Illness. Her first collection of poetry, The Quiet Spy, is forthcoming with Pindrop Press. She is excited to be writing micro-fiction for the first time. In addition to writing, Jane enjoys creating handmade collage art, handbound booklets, and cards, which she sells online and at craft fairs.