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
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
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
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
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
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
illustrated. Harold's face flamed red. Quickly he went and locked the study
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
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
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
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
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
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.