The Writer’s Block Presents: Plinkety-Plink

This month, a bit of wistful fiction to whet your appetite for the new year.


by Rob Smales

“I can’t believe she’s gone.”

“Hon, I … look, I don’t mean to sound insensitive here, but she was nearly eighty. And living in a home.”

“I know.”

“It’s not like it came from left field or anything. I’m sad—you know I am. I loved her, too. But it’s not like it’s a surprise.”

“I know.”

Angie looked about the good-sized room. The units at Greenlawn Elder Care were designed like hospital rooms, making things easier for both the residents and the staff, but each resident put in their own little touches. Pictures, knickknacks, furniture … every person living in the facility had done what they could to make their rooms their own. Her mother included.

So here Angie was, come to clean out all the personal things she might want before the room was prepared for its next tenant. She set the box on the foot of the bed, and continued to look about the room, helpless confusion settling on her. This should’ve been simple—just pick her way along, taking anything she wanted, anything that had been her mother’s—but she couldn’t figure out where to start. Pictures hung on all the walls: grandkids, her dad, even Angie herself. Her parents’ wedding photo hung over the bed, where some might have expected a crucifix; that wasn’t Mom’s way. There were pictures on nearly every surface, even the vanity she’d been allowed to bring from home. The dresser had drawers, as did the night table, and then there was the closet … Angie just counted herself lucky there was only the room, and not a whole house.

“You might want to try the vanity,” suggested a voice. The nurse who’d accompanied them from the front entrance still stood in the doorway, sorrow in her eyes. “Everything in there is hers, so you don’t have to worry about taking the wrong thing, and it’ll give you a place to start.”

Angie nodded. “Thank you.”

“Marilyn was a great woman.” The nurse shook her head. “So full of life. We’re all sorry to see her go.”

Angie sat wordless as the woman nodded once, respectfully, before backing out of the room.

“I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings, hon,” said Don as soon as they were alone. “I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to … to point out the realities of the situation.”

“It’s fine,” Angie said, but they both knew it wasn’t. She scooped up the box, trying not to snatch it angrily but not quite succeeding, and sat before her mother’s old vanity. She watched in the mirror as Don came up behind her, his hands on her shoulders as he looked into her reflected eyes.

“I’m sorry. I’ll tell you what: you get started here. No hurry. I’ll head down to the kitchen area, see if I can scrounge us a couple cups of coffee. When I get back I’ll help you, if you like. Okay?”

music boxShe nodded. His hands slipped from her shoulders, and she was alone. She looked around the room again, seeing all her mother’s old things, and the room began to blur around her as tears rolled, unchecked, down her cheeks, spotting her blouse-front as they fell.

“It’s not fair,” she whispered. “That nurse was right, Mom—you were so full of life. I don’t care what Don says—this took me by surprise. If you’d been sick, or frail, maybe I would’ve been prepared. But this? I never got to say goodbye. I didn’t think I had to.”

She sat in the chair, avoiding eye contact with her reflection as she wept.

Eventually, she pulled the box to her, yanked it hard, angered that the cleaning of the room needed to be done, and that she was the only one to do it. She pulled open one of the vanity’s side drawers and stopped with a gasp, fingertips covering her mouth. Reaching into the drawer with both hands, she lifted something out.

Mom’s jewelry box, she thought, breath hitching in her chest. Oh, she loved this thing! I wonder if it still …

She caught the edge of the lid with finger, lifting it easily, exposing her mother’s collection of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Immediately the room filled with the plinkity-plink sound of music box music, and her breath caught again. Angie didn’t know the name of the tune, though she’d heard it all her life. It had always been “Mom’s jewelry box song” to her, and it always, always brought back happy memories.

Young Angie watching her mother dressing to go out, music playing as Mom held up earrings, checking herself in the mirror …

Angie smiled at the thought. Mom had always been such a beautiful woman. Then—

Angie, seventeen and dressed for her prom, sitting at Mom’s vanity, Mom now holding earrings up to Angie’s ears as the jewelry box plinked away. “Don’t tell your father I told you this,” Mom smiles over Angie’s shoulder, into the mirror. “But if you really want to get a boy’s attention, try …”

Angie laughed out loud at the thought.

“I’d forgotten about that,” she whispered. “And she was right: Dad would have—”

Angie, twenty-seven, sitting at the vanity again, listening to the little tune as Mom fastens a necklace for her, the one she’d chosen as her “something borrowed” for the way it lay across the neckline of her wedding dress. “Don’s a good man,” Mom whispers in her ear. “He’ll make you very—”

“What did you do?”

Angie jumped, snapping the lid shut, cutting off the song mid-plink.

“I didn’t do anything,” she said, turning toward the nurse who was standing once more in the doorway.

“You did something,” the woman said, striding forward. “That old jewelry box was one of Marilyn’s favorites, but it’s been broken for months. She couldn’t find anyone to fix it. How did you get it to play?”

“I just—” Angie began, but the woman reached out to flip back the box lid.

Nothing but silence.

“You see here?”

The nurse turned the winding key that stuck out of the side of the box, but there was no clicking, not a sound of winding, the key spinning freely in its socket.

“See there? The mainspring is broken—this thing won’t make a sound. What did you do?”

“I just opened it,” Angie whispered, eyes starting to flow once more.

“What’s going on?” Don was in the doorway, hands full of coffee cups.

“It was just Mom,” said Angie, smiling through her tears, “saying goodbye.”


Rob Smales is the author of Dead of Winter, winner of the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library in 2014. His short stories have been published in over two dozen anthologies and magazines. His latest book, Echoes of Darkness, was released in 2016 by Books & Boos Press.

For more about Rob, including links to his published works, upcoming events, and a series of very short—but free—stories, please visit him at This piece originally appeared on his website.

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