In the quiet of the night I awoke to musical notes dancing over my bed. I strained to hear them as they faded. This was not a sound from the twenty first century. I felt confused. I started drifting off again and was woken by a low monotone voice calling ‘M-a-m-a‘. Then the music began circling the room again. It was as if someone had opened the lid on a dancing ballerina music box. Note by note, little by little, the cold metallic notes unsettled me and I began shivering under the warm blankets. I must be overtired.
We’d had a long emotional day sorting through my late Aunt Nettie’s old 78 records that she’d loved to listen and dance to. There were vintage radios and old record players, hand-coloured photos, cozy wool blankets with satin trim, old dial phones, a neatly organized box of ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Get Well Soon’ and ‘Merry Christmas’ cards that were never sent and a trunk with an old red velvet dress. But no wind up ballerina music boxes.
The kids slept near by with their doors left wide open. Surely one of them would hear it also. I should try to find the source I thought, but I couldn’t move. The night pressed down on me.
As the coffee’s aroma percolated the air, my family slowly drifted into the kitchen the next morning. They looked well rested and calm as I anxiously drummed my fingers on the table. As soon as they were all there I began my interrogation.
“Did anyone hear music, in the middle of the night?” I asked.
“It’s strange, but I go into a really deep sleep here. Nothing wakes me”, said Owen. The other kids nodded in agreement.
“Someone must have heard it. It sounded like an old wind up music box, you know, the kind with a brass cylinder and little keys that make plucking sounds as they play some familiar tune you can’t place”, I said.
“You were probably dreaming mom”, said Colleen smiling, while she poured a coffee. “It could have been someone’s cell phone”, Oliver offered almost apologetically with a dimpled mischievous grin. “Or Dad playing the guitar”, Hannah added brightly.
“I’m certain I wasn’t dreaming”, I insisted. Then I made each one of them play me their cell phone ringtones. They weren’t even remotely close to a music box. “This music was from another era. It was eerie. Maybe it’s a message from Aunt Nettie”, I said as I nervously glanced towards the darkened hall. “And . . . there was something else, very mysterious. I heard a voice”.
“Stop it mom, you’re creeping us out!” Hannah cried.
“Someone called out very methodically, ‘M-a-m-a’ ”, I said.
“Sounds like a horror movie mom!” Colleen exclaimed.
“Maybe it was Dad talking in his sleep”, grinned Owen. “Or it could have been the toilet”, laughed Dad. “When it flushes in the middle of the night it makes a strangled whining sound”.
“No, no, no! It couldn’t have been any of those things. I know it”, I said with certainty. “I’m going to take Colby out for a walk to clear my head. When I get back, I’m going to search this cottage, that is, if a bear doesn’t get me. Does anyone want to come with us?”
“You’ll be fine”, my husband said reassuringly. “Ray, who works at the dump, says he hasn’t seen the bears for a week now. They’ve all gone into hibernation. Just keep Colby on the leash and an eye out for the wolves”. Colby and I walked past cottage after cottage closed up for the winter. No tire tracks twisted down the snow filled lane ways. Here and there a wobbly line of animal prints punctuated the white blanket cloaking the forest. So empty of sound, but so full of silence, it balanced itself out. I reached out and drew it to myself so I might disappear into it, just for the moment.
I searched in vain for a music box later. What had really happened in the night? Had my imagination been stimulated by all those nostalgic things we had found? Had our vibrations jiggled loose a long ago memory? Could it be a message from the other side and Aunt Nettie was trying to tell me something? I’ll never know for sure where those music notes came from, but somehow I imagine they were connected to Aunt Nettie in her red velvet dress dancing to the tunes on the records she loved.
by Melissa Livingston-Staples