It had looked very ordinary when he had found it in his garden, but Jason was a hoarder. He had put the small brown key into his pocket and thought nothing more about it until his mother handed it to him the next time she did the washing and told him off, again, for never emptying his trouser pockets.
Now he examined the key with renewed interest. It was rather small, only a couple of centimetres long, and was a dull bronze colour. It had obviously been well used as its edges were smoothed and rounded. Now he looked at it closely, he could see a worn, but delicate pattern of leaves – holly leaves, ivy leaves and others he did not recognise – engraved in the metal. Seeing this seemed to trigger something deep in his memory. The sense of familiarity set him wondering. He had seen this pattern somewhere before…
Jason dashed up the stairs and into his bedroom. “Where is it?” he muttered to himself as he looked around the room. “I know – the wardrobe!” He opened the door of the dark oak wardrobe, neatly pushing back half a dozen objects which tried to tumble out as soon as the catch was released. Then he began rummaging through his “treasures” lying higgledy‑piggledy on top of, underneath and among his boots and shoes which had been tossed carelessly into the bottom of the cupboard.
After five minutes, Jason sat back on his heels, disappointed. He had a memory of a wooden box that his grandma had given him. Well, in fact she had put it out for the dustman, but Jason had begged her for permission to have it. “It’s brok’n – no use nor ornament!” she’d said about the scuffed box. But he had liked its weight, its solidity, its feeling of age. Jason had kept asking her about it but all she could remember was that it had been on her grandmother’s shelf and then her mother’s as long as she could remember and it had been a permanent fixture on the mantelpiece, used as an over-large paper-weight for pending bills. Now the fireplace had been removed to make way for a new radiator there was no place for such a thing and, with some obvious reluctance, had allowed him to take it home with the warning, “Don’t tell yer ma I let yer ‘ave it!”
The more he thought about it, the more sure he became that this box had carried exactly the same markings as the key in his hand. He looked at it again. He turned it over and over. It was warm now – he had been holding it for so long – and the intertwining leaves seemed almost to have an autumn glow.
He checked the many other hiding places in his room where he stashed his “finds”, but without success. His mother called. “Are you coming for your tea, dear?”
“In a minute, mum!” Jason frowned in frustration. Just then, he had another thought… The shed! He dived down the stairs and out of the back door.
“Jason?” shouted his mother after him.
Jason ignored her, his mind focused on one thing only.
He opened the shed door and surveyed the scene. It was piled high with empty boxes and half empty tins, many covered with thick layers of dust. Then his eyes alighted on a ragged piece of cloth with a faded poppy embroidered in the corner.
“Jason? Tea! Now!” came a sharp call from the back door.
It was ignored again.
Jason lifted the cloth and his search was over. A broad smile spread over his face.
Gently, almost reverently, he stroked the cobwebs and dust from the top of the wooden box which was revealed when he had moved the material. It didn’t take a second glance for him to realise that the pattern of inlayed wood on the lid exactly matched the delicate decoration on the key.
He inserted it carefully. It turned with a quiet click.
There were heavy footsteps approaching down the garden path. The shed door opened at the same moment as the lid of the box.
“Jason. I’ve been calling and calling. How dare you take no notice of me and carry on playing with your old rubbish when I’ve told you its tea time!”
“Sorry mum, I…” Jason began.
“If you don’t come and have your tea straight away, you’ll be going to bed hungry!”
“Okay – it’s alright – I’m coming now anyway.”
But no-one had tea straight away because, as he walked back indoors, Jason had time to look inside his newly opened box…and found a large, gold, diamond-encrusted key.