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Symbol of Harold's mutiny and a thorn in his wife's lovely flesh, it was also the keeper of many strange, wild delights

"Harold Jensen's Hope Chest"

by P. A. Brisco



Vol. 3, No. 8,  February 1959

     Harold sat on the steps of the auction building and looked at the cherry-wood chest he had just purchased. It was a beautiful chest, richly carved and strongly built, not like the flimsy things they turned out nowadays. But he should not have bought it. He knew just how Margaret would act when he brought it home.
     He could see her now--hands on rounded hips, her really beautiful breasts thrust aggressively forward, her long, lovely legs hidden in folds of stiff gingham.
     "Harold," she would say, lips drawn tight in disapproval, "Harold,, you get that monstrosity out of my house this minute."
     Harold never ceased to wonder at the way he had been fooled by Margaret's appearance. She was a gorgeous thing, softly rounded, lush and desirable, but the Venus de Milo would be warmer in bed, even without arms.
     Margaret's house. Yes it was that all right. She had done the place in modern although Harold would have much preferred something more comfortable. She definitely would not care for a large, intricately-carved chest ornamented with bunches of grapes and small, horned men with goats legs.
     Harold ran his hand over the smooth, waxed wood. There were carvings of women, too, beautiful, filmily draped nymphs. Margaret would like these even less. The nymphs were being chased by the goat-legged men and if you looked very closely among the grapevines you could see that some of the nymphs had been caught.
     Harold ran his hand again over the polished wood, tracing the intricate pathways of the nymphs and satyrs among the grape leaves. He could not recall when he had wanted to keep anything as badly as he wanted this. Of course there had been the chair he had been so fond of when they were first decorating the apartment. A large chair, comfortably padded, strong and sturdy. A solid chair to ease a man in his tiredness. But modern it was not. Harold wondered who was sitting in it now.
     Perhaps he should have put up a fight for the things he wanted. Somehow they had not seemed important enough at the time. But this chest, for some reason he did not know, was important to him. Maybe it was the joy and abandon expressed by the carvings, maybe the beauty of the wood itself. AT any rate, this one thing he was going to keep, modern or not.
     Harold tried to be very quiet when he an the cab driver carried the chest into the house. He hoped, rather desperately, that Margaret would be busy in the kitchen and his prize could be smuggled upstairs unnoticed. Unfortunately the chest was large and the cab driver heavy-footed.
     At the first thump Margaret came sailing out into the hall, flag flying. When she saw Harold and the cabbie holding the chest she skidded to a halt, breathing hard. If you overlooked the grim expression, Margaret, when she breathed hard, was something to see.
     The cabbie let out an appreciative whistle and Harold heard him muttering under his breath. The afternoon was warm and Margaret was wearing a thing blouse over a low-cut brassiere.
     Then Margaret opened her mouth and Harold saw the cabbie wince. When Margaret was angry her voice had the dulcet quality of a calliope. "Harold Jensen," she screeched. "Just what do you think you're doing? What is that?"
     She stood in the doorway, tense and angry, arms akimbo, balancing upon the balls of her feet. Like a chicken about to pounce upon a worm, Harold thought.
     "I am taking this chest upstairs to the study, Margaret," he said firmly.
     Margaret sputtered in her rage. "You most certainly are not." At this point the cab driver put down his end of the burden, tipped his hat and departed.
     Margaret was still talking. "You are not going to put that moldy antique in my lovely study. It would ruin the whole effect. anyway, what could you possibly use it for?"
     Harold cleared his throat. His collar felt very tight. "I thought that I might keep my papers in it," he said.
     "In that? After I bought that perfectly lovely bleached walnut desk?"
     She would really begin to get going now. Harold knew all of the signs. He hated scenes. They left him feeling depressed and tired, but Margaret seemed to thrive on them. The temptation to give in flickered briefly. For the sake of peace a man will sometimes bear much. But the chest gleamed richly in the light from the window and the nymphs beckoned softly from among the foliage and Harold drew his resolution like a cloak about him and made like a man.
     "Quiet!" he thundered.
     The element of shock had distinct advantages. Margaret, mouth open, paused in mid-tirade.
     "I am going to keep this chest," Harold said clearly. "I am going to have one thing of my own in this house, and right now I am going next door and get Tom Harris to help me take it upstairs." He slammed the door on his way out.
     It did Harold an immense amount of good, that chest. He would pat it as he walked by, often saying to himself that they didn't make chests luke that anymore, by George. And then, quite by accident he found out that it was a good deal more unusual then he knew.
     Harold had a great number of books. Space for them was always a bit of a problem and the chest seemed to be the logical answer. He gathered up the duller of the books, those that he felt he would have no immediate use for and stacked them inside the chest. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire went in next to a book on butterflies. Soon they were all packed away.
     The next day, however, he found that something he wanted to look up was in one of the books he had so neatly stored.
     He lifted the lid of the chest, pausing to admire the rich gleam of the carvings. He loved the smell of it. There was not only the clean sent of the wood, but a faint, musky fragrance as well, a fragrance that made Harold think of myrrh and sandalwood and scented oils.
     He picked up the first book, and almost dropped it. It was warm to the touch. Quite warm. He looked at it closely. By the size of it, it should be his old biology textbook, but the title in clear gold letters said  The Kinsey Report.
     Puzzled, he picked up another book. This one was exactly the same size and shape as the book on butterflies, but now the binding was pale purple, and the title read One Hundred and Eight Posistions. Illustrated. Harold looked guiltily about and then opened to the first page. Yes sir. It certainly was illustrated. Harold's face flamed red. Quickly he went and locked the study door.
     It took Harold exactly two and one-half hours to make certain that all the books had been changed in the same manner. Instead of a pile of dull and dated books, Harold was now the possessor of probably the most libidinous collection of literature ever owned ny one man. How it had happened he did not know. Obviously, the chest possessed a strange power. beyond this it was impossible to speculate.
     Carefully he examined the chest. He poked and thumped the interior but it was solid. He wondered if its strange power would work on other objects. He looked around the room until his eye was caught by the record player. That was it.
     In went the foxtrots, the waltzes, the old comic routines. He laid  them neatly in the bottom of the chest and gently closed the shining lid.
     A lock. That's what he needed now. There was one in a drawer in his room. He went and got it and fastened it carefully to the chest. Then he picked up the books. They would be safe back in the book shelf if he spaced them out. Margaret never read. He looked around. The room looked as usual, neat and stiff. He chuckled to himself and went downstairs.
     That night Harold's dreams were filled with glossy green forests where grapes, dripping wine, hung from trees and gossamer-draped nymphs danced languorously to a faint, far piping.
     The next morning was Sunday and Margaret left early for her weekly visit to her mother. Harold was thankful that this was one thing she spared him. He was certain that the only reason she did not insist upon his going with her was that she and her mother so enjoyed discussing him.
     This Sunday Harold could hardly wait for her to leave. When she was finally gone, he did not even stop for breakfast, but hurried into the study and expectantly opened the chest. The exotic scent seemed much stronger this time when he lifted the lid, and a faint humming emanated from the records inside. Carefully he picked up the top record. It bore no title, only the picture of a woman's face. But what a face!
     Reverently, Harold place the record on the turntable. The record spun around, once, twice, and then a woman's voice, so invitingly feminine that it made his knees shake, was asking, "Do you want to know the twelve ways of love?"
     Harold spent an educational morning.
     After this, Harold began to spend more and more of his leisure time in the study. Several times when Margaret came up and found the door locked, there was considerable unpleasantness, but Harold did not mind as much as usual. He was having too much fun with the chest.
     He put his old suits in. They came out Ivy League. His dull ties became luminous rainbows. A ceramic shepherdess became a rather suggestive Diana, and paintings became pornographic art.
     But Harold was living in a fool's paradise, and in the back of his mind he knew it. Margaret was becoming increasingly curious and in time she would be bound to ferret out the truth. She already wondered about the his clothes, and even though he gave many of his transformed object away, he was running out of space to hide the rest.
     Finally, as he knew it must, something happened. He ws sitting in the study, listening to the very best of the records. He sighed gratefully as the soft voice kissed his ears. He walked in a golden garden with a woman who was lithe and beautiful, and whose skin was the color of honey. Her hair fell in short falls to her waist and it shone like copper in the sunlight. Her breasts were like ripe fruit glowing to be picked.
     The soft voiced cascaded on like gentle water over stones--but what was that sound, harsh and sharp like a breaking plate? Harold pulled himself reluctantly from the arms of his golden woman and opened his eyes. Margaret! He had forgotten to lock the door.
     She has broken the record, he thought sadly, wondering if the chest could make another like it.
     Margaret's eyes were flashing fire. The words were boiling inside her like molten rock. Harold feared she would erupt any moment. "Now, dear," he began.
     "You--you--" she trembled in righteous wrath. The words spewed from her lips. He closed his ears to her but the sounds slipped through and hopped about in his head. He had not realized that one woman could know so many unpleasant words. Harold opened his eyes and regarded her sadly. It really was a shame such gifts as Margaret had were wasted.
     Behind her stood the chest, his wonderful chest, smooth and glowing, empty at the moment, standing with the lid open. Harold smiled gently. Why not? He put both hands against Margaret's shoulders. She was still talking as the back of her knees struck the side, but the sounds were quickly muffled by the heavy lid which Harold carefully closed.
     Harold was looking forward to tomorrow. It always took just one day.

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