Saturday, April 19, 2014

Writing - A Box

Writing - A Box

Upon coming of age, every human being is given a box. The box can be opened only three times, and the only certainty is that opening will radically change your life. You are on your deathbed when you decide to open your box for the first time.

Meredith hated the sound of clocks.  It was ironic that all her life, everything she had done was governed by the irresponsible movement forward of time.  The relentless tick tock, of plans and deadlines, meetings and passings, everything in every moment being on time or late, precision, space and time.

Meredith hated the sound of clocks.  These final still moments of her life, were not exactly governed by a clock, but rather by the rhythmic single note tone beep, a machine with its tubes and wires that connected all along her arms and chest.  It gave off a rhythmic beep that announced to the world “Not Dead Yet!”  Seemingly a kind of obtuse declaration.

They weren’t quite every second, but they were close enough.  It kept her from sleeping, or from being fully awake, that incessant beep beep. 

There was no one to visit her, she had no progeny to speak of, no friends or family.  There was a nurse orderly who checked on her every hour, a doctor with a plastered on too-fake smile that said her prognosis was getting better every time.  If it was getting better every time he walked in, why did she feel so much weaker every visit?  These questions could not be answered.  Her things were arrayed around the room, tidied up and seemingly meaningless to anyone else.  Bookshelves adorned the room, a television that hadn’t been turned on in years, a radio whose static crackle grated on her nerves.

There were no pictures anymore.  Her friends were long gone.

She was the last, and had mourned all the others.

There was no bitterness or resentment, emotions like that were the vestige of younger people.  She was simply the last.

Next to her on the bed was a tiny stand, a glass of untouched water, reading glasses she hadn’t worn in a week, and a small, nondescript black box.

The box had been a gift, a curious thing wrapped in very official looking paper.  Everyone got one, some people opened them right away, some people threw them away, and no one had ever talked about them.

Meredith didn’t know why she had kept hers.  None of her friends had, some of them she knew had opened them right away, and some of them said they never would.  To the best of her knowledge they never had either.  She couldn’t bring herself to throw away that strange little box though.  It was the size of a ring box, decidedly heavy, hinged somewhere on the inside.  An ornate clasp that held it shut.

It had come with instructions, cryptic, mysterious.

This box will only open three times.

It can only be opened by its owner.

It can never be transferred.

It can, and will change your life.

She knew the instructions by heart, having read that slip of paper a hundred thousand times in her youth.  The ink had faded a few decades ago, the paper gave up the ghost as well and crumbled between her fingers when she was 70.  But she knew the words by heart.

She had never thrown away the box, although she had plenty of opportunity to. 

Sometimes, when she slept, she imagined she could hear music from the box, the faint strains of violins or harps, and the play of indescribable music.  Mozart perhaps, if she knew anything about music.  It sounded like it could have been him, or some composer like him.  It sounded beautiful, in a way that couldn’t be explained.

It was night now, if the world beyond the drawn blinds could be believed.  White-green incandescent peeked through the corner of her cracked open doorway, beyond the beep of machines there was a kind of quiet silence in the hallways beyond.

Perhaps there was something there and then, which she realized.  If she was to ever know what the inside of the box was, it was to be now.  With effort she didn’t know still existed in her aged frame, she reached for it, sitting there on that tiny table.  With a kind of casual glee she also swatted the glass of water, sending it tumbling to the floor.  It didn’t break, sadly, the reinforced pyre-glass bounced and cast its contents across the floor. 

She couldn’t care less.

The box was cold to the touch, and when she lifted it to her ears she heard no faint music.  It was cold, and heavy…it must have been filled with something of weight, or have been made with a metal she did not know.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were empty?

With that as her thoughts, she opened it.

Possibilities tumbled out, whirling and filling the room.  An equal measure of light and darkness, of maybes and whens, the faces of people that could have been or were, voices and sounds.  A web of time and place, a cresting wave that she saw herself as part of.

And the box tumbled from her grasp.

And the machine stopped its unrelenting beeping.

And the possibilities folded in on themselves.

The box disappeared.

And Meredith…lay back slowly, and was gone.