Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Magical Milk Crate

Sorry for double dipping and being long winded, but I'm using this story for my Sunday Scribbling prompt - mystery, and for a contest Deb had linked on her blog called Blogging 4 Books. Their prompt was magic so I thought I could write one story for both. Thanks for indulging me!

Kim reached across her desk to retrieve the file folder she needed for her current writing project. As she did, her elbow brushed against the teetering stack of papers on the corner of the desk. She watched in dismay as the papers started a slow motion free fall off the edge of the desk. They were quite elegant in their fall, like synchronized swimmers each diving in turn from the edge of the pool into the crystal blue water. Only they weren’t swimmers, they were months worth of papers, receipts, bills, junk mail and who knows what else and they were falling quicker and quicker to the floor around Kim’s feet.

“Great,” Kim muttered. With a heavy sigh, she bent over in the chair and started to collect the mess of papers. I just can’t work like this anymore, she thought. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and clean this mess.

I need something to help me organize. She wandered through the house looking for a container big enough for the stacks of papers that covered her desk, filing cabinet and book shelf. If I can just clear the surfaces and get everything that needs to be sorted in one place, I’ll be in business. In the back of her mind a voice started a familiar warning, “Be careful. Don’t throw away something important.” She hated that voice. It was the one that kept her from really letting go of things. Like the green dress hanging in her closet that she hadn’t worn for eight years. Like the bag of socks her mom had given her in colors like mustard brown, hot pink and lemon yellow. She knew she’d never wear them, but they were brand new and had the tags on them, and she might have an outfit that she would wear those socks with someday. She wished she could just know, really know for sure, when to let things go, when to throw them away and that she really wouldn’t need them in the future.

She walked out in the garage looking for a big Rubbermaid bin to throw the papers in. They were all filled with things for the garage sale she still hadn’t planned, or filled with the kids’ art projects from school, or filled with old shoes and boots that they might need when the weather turned cold. The only empty container in the garage was a milk crate that her husband Brad had used to bring some stuff home from school last week. That’ll have to do, she thought and she brought the bright blue crate into the house.

I’ll just do a little pre-sorting, she thought. Let’s start with what we know is garbage. She threw a soccer camp registration form in the crate along with an advertisement for a lawn care service. A few more pieces of junk mail went in and Kim added an empty envelope to the crate.

“No” A voice said in Kim’s ear.

She looked up from the pile, surprised. She turned to look behind her. Had Brad or one of the kids come home early? She looked at the dog sleeping on the couch. Nicky was very protective, if anyone had come in the house, she would have barked.

“No, don’t throw that away,” the voice said again.

Kim sat dumfounded and confused. Wow, I must be staying up too late at night.

“Take that envelope out of the crate,” the voice said louder this time.

Kim reached in and looked at the envelope. It was from the local home improvement store. She thought it was junk, but opened it to see what the advertisement was inside. To her amazement, she found a check for $59.00. “Wow – this is the rebate check for the dryer we just bought. I’m so glad I didn’t throw this out.” That was odd, she thought. How did I know not to throw that away?

Next into the crate went one of the pieces of mail from the local candidate running for city council. Kim looked at his picture and read his quick bullet point promises on the glossy card. Hmmm . . . he sounds intelligent and like he’s got some good ideas, maybe I’ll vote for him. She tossed the card into the milk crate.

“Liar and cheat,” the voice said in her ear.

There was no denying it this time. Kim heard the voice loud and clear and she looked incredulously at the milk crate. Oh my gosh – she thought – the crate is doing that!

To test her theory, she placed in three pieces of obvious junk mail. Nothing, no warning, no voice. Then she put in her most recent bank statement.

“Keep that,” she heard.

A smile spread across her face. Wow – this is great! She emptied the junk mail out of the crate and tossed it in the garbage. Let’s see how well this will work. She grabbed the bag of colorful socks from her mom and dumped them into the crate.

“Keep the lemon yellow ones. You’ll need them for a Halloween costume in two years. Get rid of the rest.” Kim smiled as she tucked the lemon yellow socks into her drawer and bagged the rest up for giving to the local charity shop. Next was the green dress. She hesitated for just a moment, she loved that dress, the flowy fabric with tropical flowers in the background. It was a few sizes too small, but she had always hoped she might loose the weight and get back into it. It was just taking up space in the closet though. Gingerly, she laid it in the milk crate.

“Out of style and bad color for you. Get rid of it.” Kim hesitated. The crate added, “You won’t be that size again.” Ouch. Kim angrily grabbed the dress from the crate and held it in her hands staring at it. She let out a sigh and thought, well at least I know now. She put it in the bag with the socks and put her hands on her hips. What next? The growling in her stomach decided for her – lunch.

Opening the fridge Kim grabbed the package of turkey meat. It was two days past the expiration date. With a nasty food poisoning experience as a senior in high school, she was always hesitant to eat anything past the expiration. Was it safe to make a sandwich with? She put the turkey in the crate.

“Good for two more days, then throw it away.” Excellent, she thought! This is going to be great.!

For the rest of the day, Kim went through her house, room by room, putting all sorts of things in the magic milk crate. Finally the mystery of what to keep and what to get rid of was solved! She put all the children’s artwork in the crate piece by piece and with each one, the crate faithfully told her the ones she would want to keep and which ones to throw away. Clothes, paperwork, pantry items – they all went into the crate and it told her what to keep and what to get rid of.

Kim felt light and like she was walking taller by the end of the day. When Brad walked in the door after work, he immediately noticed the desk. “Wow – you’ve been busy today!” he said admiring the clean surfaces. “What got into you? You hate throwing things away.”

“Oh, I guess I was just in the mood today.” Kim said with a smile sitting at the sparkling clean desk. Brad bent down to collect his welcome home kiss.

“What’s this doing in here?” Brad asked as he picked up the magical milk crate. As he picked up the crate, Kim cringed as she saw his left hand with the glint of his wedding band through the holes in the side of the crate. She waited for a breathless minute thinking about the ruthless honesty of the crate and how it had told the truth about all the things she was holding onto that were of no value. Would it have a judgment on her darling Brad that might not be favorable?

To her relief, as Brad turned his back and carried the milk crate to the garage, the voice in her ear said, “Oh this one – this one is definitely worth keeping around.”

No mystery there.


Deb R said...

OMG, I want one of those crates! :-D Fabulous, Kim!

AnnieElf said...

Send that crate to MY house right away!

DuhhhBlond said...

I need that crate, too! But it can keep it's comments about my clothing sizes to itself ;)

great descriptions of her disheveled papers..

Left-handed Trees... said...

I also loved this concept--very fun and whimsical. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want one of those crates around...unless, of course, the story had ended differently--then, maybe we'd think twice. Thanks for your story!

Amber said...

How totally creative and wonderful! This was great. You should enter it in a short story contest. Maybe Writer's Digest. You should!


Brad said...

Good job honey bun


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zandperl said...

What a creative story! And a wonderful item, how many of us wish we had a magic milk crate like that? :) I liked the cute ending.

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I was delighted to read your light-hearted story. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find this in my search for "metal milk crate" on Google. Keep on writing!!!!!

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