Another Ancient Harp

Angelo jumped when the doorbell rang. He lowered is book and looked at his sister. She looked back at him over her silver Apple computer. The bell rang again, and the two sprung out of their seats and went to answer the door, allowing their shoulders to bump against each other in a way that was comforting, and both trying to hide or ignore the fact that their hearts were pounding.

“Maybe it’s the police, with information about Uncle Eoin,” Angelo said quietly right before he opened the door.

But it wasn’t the police. It was a huge box—with hair. Or, well, that is what it appeared to be at first.  It quickly became clear that it was a big box with a little man behind it, pushing it on a two-wheel dolly. The little man, who was quite scrawny and had the blackest goatee Angelo had ever seen, came around the side of the box and exclaimed, “special delivery for Eoin Cyncad!”

Angelo and Julia just stared at the little man. This had been the last thing either of them had been expecting. Actually, this strange little fellow and his box for Uncle Eoin hadn’t even been on their expecting lists.

“He’s not here,” said Angelo finally.

“No?” ask the little man, pulling together his bushy black brows and pursing his lips in puzzlement.

“He’s gone missing,” said Julia, her voice only just above a whisper.

Angelo elbowed her and gave her a sharp look. He didn’t think they should be telling just anyone that. The little man had responded with a look of surprise and concern that sent his eyebrows up so high they hid beneath the shock of messy hair that exploded from his head.

“Well, that can’t be good news, no indeed. Not too surprising, though.”

“What do you mean—not surprising?” said Angelo, very loudly.

But the little man did not reply. He had dodged back behind his huge box, tipped it up and was wheeling it towards them, so that they had no choice but jump back into the house as he steered it quickly through the door.

“Where do you want me to put it?” he asked, as he plowed ahead.

“Here will be fine,” said Angelo. They had gone down the hallway and were now standing in the living room. If the strange little man didn’t stop, he would have run the box right into the sofa.

“O.K!” said the man with a cheerful grin at them from around the huge box. “Well, must be off—things to do, places to go, boxes to deliver!”

And he had dashed back down the hall so quickly that he was jumping into his big white van that sported the words ‘special delivery’ written in gold letters on its side by the time Angelo caught up enough to yell: “Wait! Do you know something about Uncle Eoin? Where he is?”

“Nope! Not a clue!”

“But you know something about Eoin—Eoin Cyncad!” said Angelo, who had run up to the side of the van and was staring somewhat ferociously at the stranger through the window of the van.

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.” The little man grinned a most annoying grin. “Guess you’ll never know.” And with that he put his foot on the gas and drove his van down the road and around the corner so fast that it tilted as it turned around the bend and Angelo thought for a moment that it was going to fall over. Then the van, with its strange occupant was gone.

Angelo went back into the house, frustration and confusion making his feet hit the ground harder than normal. Julia followed nervously.

“So, what do you think it is?” she asked, once they were back in the living room, circling around the strange box. The cardboard box appeared to be very old. It was almost completely covered in clear to yellow packing tape, and between layers of tape they could see postage stamps from all sorts of exotic places—Japan, Russia, Australia, the United States.

“I don’t know.” Angelo circled slowly around the large box, which came almost to his shoulders.

“What are we going to do with it?” she asked.

“Dunno.”

There was silence in the room for a while.

“It’s very strange,” Julia said finally. “Who would send Uncle Eoin a huge old box that has been traveling around the world for what must be ages?”

“Maybe it’s a mistake.”

“Maybe.”

“We shouldn’t,” Julia paused, as if a bit frightened to go on. “We shouldn’t open it, you don’t think?”

“No, Uncle Eoin might be angry if we opened his mail.”

“Yeah, I suppose. But I’ve never seen him angry before.”

“I have,” said Angelo. Julia looked surprised and waited for him to elaborate, but he did not.

“When?” she asked at last.

“Years ago. He was shouting at dad.” Angelo didn’t want to talk about it.

 

They did not open the box that day, but pushed it into a corner and made up a story to tell the police if they asked. They would say that the old box had belonged to their mother and that they had gotten it out and were thinking about opening it to see what was inside. But as two more days passed and the weekend arrived, and there was still no word from their uncle, they decided, after a long discussion, to open the box.

Julia ran and got a pair of scissors from the kitchen. After trying unsuccessfully to cut through the first layer of tape, she surrendered the scissors to her older brother. It took a full ten minutes to work his way through the layers of old packing tape. At first, all they could see was brittle cream colored tissue paper which was wadded into balls. As they pulled the paper out, making a mess all over the floor, a strange wooden shape began to appear. finally the whole object was visible.

The two found themselves gazing at a large wooden object that had a rectangular flat box at the base, with bars protruding at a slight angle out from the base in a sort of u-shape. The bars were joined across the top with another round bar and wound around this, with large wooden dowels were strings that were strung taught between the top bar and the side of the box at the bottom. The wood was decorated with faded paint designs and looked to be extremely ancient.

“What is it?” asked Julia in awe, gently stroking the bar across the top.

“Looks like some sort of primitive instrument.” Cautiously, he pulled one of the strings and released it. The strung let out a hallow thwunk. “Probably needs tuning.” He strummed his fingers across all the strings and they made similar, very unmusical sounds.

“It looks really old.”

“Yeah, really really old. Let’s see if we can look it up and figure out what it is.”

Both Julia and Angelo quickly went on the internet and began googling things like ‘ancient harp instrument’. In no time at all they had museum pictures of instruments like the one in the box. 

“An ancient Mesopotamian harp, like ones found in the city of Ur,” Angelo summarized out loud.

“But this says 3500-300 B. C.!” said Julia, looking up at Angelo, her eyes wide.

“It must be a replica of some sort,” said Angelo.

“A really old replica.”

“They can fake that you know. Make things look older than they are.”

“True. But I still don’t get why on earth Uncle Eoin got this in the mail.”

“He is a musician, you know,” said Angelo.

“He plays the guitar, yeah.”

“I think he plays the harp, too,” Angelo was thinking hard, trying to remember a conversation he had overheard once.

“Really? Well then, maybe he did buy this or something,” said Julia. “Must be really expensive, even it if it just a replica.”

“Yeah, but it still doesn’t help us any in figuring out why Uncle Eoin hasn’t come home.”

The End

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