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The Mantelpiece

       Gabrielle was lonely. She was twelve years old, and, for the summer at least, she was staying with her grandparents in their house in Brittany. Her parents had suggested that she go away for the summer to stay in France, and improve her French. So she attended the local school during the week, though she had made very few friends. This was because she was naturally very quiet, and her classmates had little time for her.  And at weekends, Gabrielle felt even more isolated. Her grandparents were very kind to her, but they had little idea of how to treat a young girl. So for most of the time, she remained alone. She sometimes went for walks in the country, but it was fairly bleak and windy, and, quite honestly, she found it rather dull. So she tended to stay indoors, trying to amuse herself by making up stories about her imaginary adventures. ‘But I wish that a real adventure would happen.’ she thought.

         And then she discovered the attic room. Finding a narrow door upstairs, she opened it, paused, and then went up a narrow little flight of stairs to another door, which she also opened. She found herself in a large, rather dusty room, full of old boxes and trunks, all of which however were locked. The room was lit by two small dormer windows, whose light only penetrated as far as the centre of the attic. On the floor in the centre was a rather grubby old Persian rug, which was the only thing that partly covered the bare boards. There was an electric light , but with no light-bulb. However, she discovered, at one end of the room, an old stone fireplace. Where a fire might be was boarded over. But it was not just the fireplace itself that drew her attention.

         On the mantelpiece above the fireplace were a number of strange objects. She had to go closer to see them properly, and these were what she saw:

Two rather crudely made aeroplanes, complete with propellers and wheels made from cork. They looked as if they had been made in Africa, by some craftsman there:

Two carved wooden candle-sticks, with twisted stems:

A small wooden carving of an African on a bicycle, with fruit and vegetables perched behind him:

A strange fish carved from stone and carefully polished:

A plastic gondola with a gondolier at the back, paddling with his oar:

A very small wooden elephant:

In the centre, an embroidered musical box, with a small figure of a ballerina, that was clearly meant to go around and around, when the box was wound up.

         It was such a strange collection of objects, that it made Gabrielle giggle. But she looked at them curiously. Where had all these objects come from? They were all so different from each other. And why were they here at all? She sat down on the rug and looked at them. They seemed to have come from different countries. But they all looked as if they were comfortable with each other, and she began to like them. Suddenly she decided not to ask her grandparents about them. She preferred the mystery of not knowing where they came from, or why they were there. But she was pleased to look at them, not touching them. This was a mysterious room. It made her determined to keep it as her own secret

         Over the next two weeks, Gabrielle went up to the room every day, and sat on the rug, looking at them and making up stories about them for herself. She had a vivid imagination, the kind that always liked to make up fantasies about things. Did they get on together, she thought. Did they ever quarrel? Or where they all friends? The room and those little things became a place for her to escape, and enjoy her thoughts. ‘It would be wonderful if they all became alive when I’m not here,’  she thought to herself. ‘Perhaps they have a life of their own. Perhaps they all talk to each other then, and tell each other about themselves. It would be lovely to think so.’

         Whilst she lay in bed one night, she had an idea. ‘Why don’t I try winding up that musical box with the ballerina? I’d like to see what happens. Grandma and Grandad are going shopping tomorrow afternoon. I’ll do it then.’ Next morning, after lunch, Grandma said to her, ‘we’re just going into town to do some shopping. Will you be all right on your own?’ ‘Oh, yes’ said Gabrielle. ‘I’ve got some things to do, anyway.’ She watched them from the window  as they both got into the car and then drove away. Feeling curiously excited, she ran up the stairs and opened the door into the attic room.

         She walked across to the mantelpiece. Taking a deep breath, she picked up the musical box, and began to wind the key underneath. As soon as she had wound it fully, she went back and sat down cross-legged on the rug. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Silence. Then light suddenly streamed through  one of the windows, as the sun came out from behind a cloud, and lit up the whole mantelpiece. As this happened, she started in surprise. The ballerina suddenly began to go round and round, and music began to play. But it was not what she expected. It was a lively kind of music to dance by, which she immediately recognised. It was the ‘Floral Dance’ which she had heard before, in street festivals, played with brass and string instruments. It was such a jolly, lively tune, which everybody liked!

         To her amazement, everything started to happen. The mantelpiece was lit up by sunlight, just like a theatre stage. First the two candlesticks began to jiggle in time to the music. Then the little man on his bicycle began to slowly pedal up and down the mantelpiece. After him, the fish slowly rose up a few inches and slowly began to swim along behind him. The gondolier began to paddle his gondola after the fish. The small wooden elephant began to walk behind, with little squeaks coming from his trunk. The propellers on the two tin aeroplanes began to revolve, faster and faster. The music became louder and louder, and, as it did, everything began to move faster and faster. The bicycle man began to pedal furiously: the fish flipped its tail, the gondolier paddled more quickly, and the elephant broke into a trot. Even the ballerina spun round and round more quickly than before.

         Without warning, the two tin aircraft suddenly took off from the mantelpiece, and with a faint buzzing, flew round and round Gabrielle’s head. At first, she raised her arms as it to ward off flies. But she soon dropped them, in awe and excitement at what was happening. The two candlesticks were now capering wildly. And all the time the music went on and on. Even in her dreams, Gabrielle would never had thought all this would happen!  It was as if they were all putting on a performance for her!

She felt delighted and amazed at the same time!

         And then, without warning, the music changed into what she again recognised as a wild Irish jig. By now, everything was moving in time to the jig: pedalling, swimming, cycling, and dancing! The little tin aircraft were performing loops and dives around her. But above all, the two candlesticks were leaping and dancing as the jig became faster and faster. It was all so wonderful, that Gabrielle began to clap her hands to the joyous sound of the jig. The candlesticks were now leaping up into the air, and the ballerina was whirling so fast that you could barely see her!

Pedal, swim, paddle, spin! Pedal, swim, paddle, spin! Pedal, swim, paddle, spin!

Flypedalswimpaddlespin! Flypedalswimpaddlespin! Flypedalswimpaddlespin!

Fltpedalswimpaddlespin! Danceandleap! Danceandleap! Danceandleap! Danceandleap!

         The door opened. Instantly everything became still. The music stopped. Gabrielle’s grandma walked into the room. ‘Oh, hear you are, my dear’, she said. ‘I was wondering where you were. It’s time for tea. Come downstairs now’. Gabrielle got up, and taking one last look at the mantelpiece, went downstairs. As she closed the door behind her, she didn’t see the two candlesticks give a little jump, and then become still again.

Frank Jackson  (02/12/06)