The Judis Box
“Daddy tell us the story,” Sela said crawling in bed.
“Once upon a time in Doosha land far far away,” Lander began as he climbed the log ladder to the girls' loft. A little winded, he hurdled the top step and continued, “there lived an old man in a humble cottage with his three daughters. He worked hard at the Cranfarm in a quaint valley village making pots to store their cheese. Every night he tucked his three precious princesses in bed; first Dorashia, then Elamida and finally little Selahlia.”
“That's us,” Sela giggled. He knelt at her lower bunk and tucked the Chili bird feather throw around her shoulders and rolled the thick material under her chin.
Ela peeked over her top bunk and whispered, “You're not old Daddy.”
He chuckled and said, “Why, thank you Ela. My three little princesses keep me young as I can be.” He tapped her nose. She squinted and giggled.
“Daddy? Where did our Judis box come from?” Ela asked.
“From my family travels long time ago.”
“Ela, let father tell the story,” Dora said. “You should know it by heart. Sela asks every night.”
“But it's never the same. That's why we like it so much,” Sela said.
The cheese potter tucked his second daughter in for the night in the bunk above his youngest.
“I know how to write my name,” Sela said.
The potter squeezed off a pinch of fresh berry cheese sitting on a small round wash stand at the head of the bunk bed and winked at Ela. As if the meal lasted for days he swallowed the expensive morsel and savored every delightful nuance. Then he picked up the candle lamp on the head stool. “Yes, and one of the three most beautiful names in all Florisca,” he said to Sela. He bent down to move Sela's golden locks out of her sleepy eyes and kissed her forehead. He stepped over to Dora's laced canopy bed and pulled a wrinkle out of her sheets.
Dora scooted up to her head-board and asked in a whisper, “Please father, continue.” Ela and Sela were already halfway to sleep.
He sat the candle on her head-board shelf along with the wooden dolls he had crafted for her. She smiled at the doll's dancing shadows from the candle light flicker and motioned for him to join her on her bed. Instead, he held her hand and sat down in the rocking chair beside her bed.
The moon shown in from the small loft window. Its beams struck the empty Judis trunk set tall on its end and like a prism painted the girls bed coverings in fantastic colors. Dora's canopy bed lace glittered, colors his imagination couldn't name.
“Long ago my Doosha ancestors traveled the lands beyond the granite mountains and silver deserts. While they journeyed on the Sealila ocean shores they had a visitor who lined our Judis trunk with sea shells of Deadra.” The potter cleared his throat. Dora lifted her brow at her father and scrunched up a pillow. She grabbed the cat Bradley, purring at her feet. He smiled.
“Deadra was a fabled princess of the seas. Her chorus of clam friends entertained her reign over the waters for thousands of jiffy niks.”
Dora snickered, “What's that?”
“Shhh,” he looked over at the other two girls sleeping in their bunks. “Jiffy niks are -” she snickered again. He smiled and put his finger over his lips. “It's a term the Jiblik sea fishers have for the passage of time out on the lonely waters.”
Dora bit her lip and pulled some hair over her grin and said, “Please, continue Father.”
He felt his clean-shaven chin. Dora's eyes sparkled from the moon's illumination. “Every three hundred years Princes Deadra of the sea visits the grave site on the shores of her oyster court. When Deadra arrived the Doosha gypsy caravaning camp had settled down for the night. The shore waves nestled every sea shell in its sandy grave.
“Her presence sparkled and filled the camp site like blue fire. She admired their carefulness attention to the graves. They didn't desecrate her peoples' memory. For their reverence she gave them a gift. She lined the box with prism shells from her reign of the sea.” The potter stroked the wood carvings on the tall box sides. He got up slowly with few creeks of the chair. “That's how the Judis box story goes,” he said. He felt the inside texture of the pearl shells in the empty box.
Sela mumbled in her sleep, “That's not how it goes.”
“Shhh,” Dora said. “Go to sleep.”
“Cousin Joemander is the last of the Dooshas.”
“And us father.”
“Yes, and my Doosha princesses.” He sat back down and stroked Dora's long sparkling hair. A tear fell down his cheek. His weary hand cradled her cheek. “You look so much like your mother, rest her soul.”
“Father,” Dora grabbed his hand. “You are fine. Do not go down that path. Come on now, finish the story.”
“Well, I haven't really started, have I?” He smiled.
“Please?” Dora asked.
“Yes, where was I?” He started to rock in the chair, but stopped after the loud creak of the chair and floor boards. “After a time the old potter noticed his cheese disappearing in the night. Surely, his beautiful daughters hadn't gobbled the full block of cheese in one evening.
“One moon full night he saw an extra bright flash in the loft.
“Honey? Are you ok?” He whispered, thinking one of the girls tried to light the candle lantern to do some business outside. When opening his curtain from his closet cot on the main floor, he heard no reply. A small silhouette slowly waddled out of the Judis box. He thought, Had one of Dora's dolls walked off again?
“He climbed the ladder to peek into the loft. The thief cloaked in heavy wool garments, played with the girl's dolls. When he heard the creak of the potter's perch the creature waddled back into the Judis box faster than Bradley's frisky whiskers twitched.
“A second flash struck him with temporary blindness. Moon beams illuminated through the box, and back through the arched window. The potter briskly stepped over to the box and closed it. Although the empty box had not been closed or used as a closet in years, the children still played in it to fill their imagination.
“Sorry, Dora. I cannot continue,” he said. Standing he clung to the box. His eyes closed, head listening, against the box, tears streaming, quietly latching the box. “You know the story.”
Dora, out of bed, pulled his hand free of the box. “I know father. You are tired.”
He sniffed and said, “I have to finish or I will forget.” He looked in Sela's empty bed and began to sob.
“Please, Father. The cheese thief can wait until tomorrow night. You should sleep.” Dora tugged him over to the ladder.
“No. I can not sleep,” he said to the dark empty loft.