The Boxes

So a stockbroker had killed himself in a particularly gruesome fashion. Or that’s how the security door chatter went. No one seemed to know any details, only the severity. Shawn and Eric found that it was hard to care very much for a stockbroker, especially when his untimely demise meant that the apartment came so cheap.

“It’s sad, you know?” Some neighbor prattled on, while Shawna and Eric made appropriately conciliatory nodding movements.

“Used to bring in boxes by the armload,” said the doorman. “Always some new gadget or chaise. Sold his old stuff on the cheap.” And the doorman nodded sagely at that, appreciative, of course, for the dead fool who had spent money so easily and discarded his remnants, nearly new. It was difficult to tell if the doorman admired the money it took to do such a thing, or if he simply missed the opportunity for cheap, used goods.

“Holed up in there,” complained a different neighbor, “don’t know why. The hallways began to stink.”

“We keep a kind of a lifestyle here,” said the manager of the building, a woman who smelled of exorbitant perfume and rancid memories. “Stay fashionable, don’t hold onto the past. Right? It’s a new world every day.”

Shawna and Eric kept nodding and smiling their plasticine grins at the manager with her thick vertical stripes fighting a hopeless battle with perception, and made their way through the paperwork. Eric was an Art Director, Shawna a Lawyer; yeah, they understood. They had the bank evaluate their assets, they put down the twenty percent, they hired contractors to poke and prod at the space to assure that there were no ashboring beetles in the pine studs, that their drywall wasn’t damp.

They signed documents, gathered notaries and priests, and did the usual necessaries. They agreed to monthly payments that could send a less fortunate human being to a good school; their firstborn was promised to the house of R’lyeh, should it arise within their lives; they promised to pay the appropriate Federal, State, County, City, Municipal and Girl Scout cookie taxes; they swore never to wear white after labor day, except on occasion of a mid-winter white tie event among the snowdrifts; they made a pledge not to horde money, agreeing to stimulate the economy with judicious fashion choices and injudicious credit card debt. They also agreed to always carry insurance on the apartment for fire, theft, flood and shag carpet. They did all of the above under penalties of jail, wrist slapping, death and dismemberment, the sacrifice of their lives (and souls) to feed the complex Golem, an extra day of Lent, six more weeks of winter and up to—and including—social shunning at work related parties.

The price for an apartment in Tribeca is based on an exponential calculation of the square footage. One fourteenth of their current mortgage would have afforded them a small working airport in Omaha, with a hanger for each of their outfits and a maintenance shed for shoes, but they knew how to make sacrifices. The blood of a stockbroker can only reduce rent prices so far. They wanted more space, but they would manage, Eric had thought, until he and Shawna watched the movers unload shrink-wrapped furniture into the corners of each room, stacking their boxes into enormous Hopewell mounds in the center.

“This is too much,” they said, preparing their offerings to the gods of the Chaco Canyons, in penance for their hubris. They had cut back, donated, gifted, sold, recycled and trashed what must have been ten thousand cubic feet of their lives before hurling themselves across the country—they thought this would be enough. Wasn’t it enough? They had tithed in clothing, electronics, and particleboard, so that they would be saved. Saved this moment.

Shawna wielded her sharpie, Shikanda, which only those who have bathed in the flames of death can bear the brunt of, and made another pass, slashing a dark emblem on that which would not survive this second round. And so they winnowed their Home Depot® boxes, attempting to curb the height of the towering masses. It was futile. What had been a neat (if terrifying) pile, sank into a cacophony of clutter as objects with no place to go began a slow, disorganized crawl, littering the tiers of boxes, sapping any further plans to unpack.

They collapsed onto their mattress that night, the bed a disorganized mess of jumbled RealWood© shoved to the corners of the room, the boxes moved from their polyhedronal shape in the center to cancerous masses in the corners. Their lamps were still packed three piles deep, and so they gazed in that darkness at the general direction of the other, their apartment so gloriously high above the huddled masses that even the streetlights of New York City couldn’t penetrate their windows.

“We’ll be fine, right?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“We should have bought a lamp.”

“We have plenty.”

“We should have thrown those away. We should have bought new lamps. The old ones are useless now. They don’t match the apartment.”

“We threw away so much already.”

“But the boxes. The boxes are still there. What if they fall? What if a criminal gazes through the window with a drone, sees our entire home, boxed for the taking? What if our sacrifice was not enough, and the boxes swallow us whole, taking with us the entire apartment, and complex, and the entirety of New York state?”

“We gave enough. More than enough. We purged.”

“We did. We weeded, we cut, we trashed, we burned. We are free to travel, to gain more. It’s why we’re here, after all. We are light.”

“We are lightness itself. We are angels.”

They slept, at last, and did not stir. Their minds did not flicker with concern as the nebulous shape in the corner of their room blossomed a little, multiplied.

There was no space even to unload, for the boxes were infinite, their far edges gaping into the maw of the universe where heat death was already spreading; and they were crammed: with a bread machine, mechanical pencils, a single woman’s sock that Shawna didn’t recognize, and with marital aids. Eric and Shawna would have to buy more furniture to even think of dealing with the mess. They donated the marked items and headed to the shopping district. Storage was the key, and so they wandered warehouses with pallet loaders at bay to examine one-offs and knockoffs of every conceivable style. Pottery Barn®, Ikea®, Ashley Furniture®, Crate and Barrel®, The Container Store®, Pier One®, Target®, Wal-Mart® even. Everywhere. The only way to reduce what you have is to buy something new to contain it.

They loaded their rented U-Haul® pickup truck—they were not the sort to deal in open-backed vehicles normally—until the pile was as tall as the cab, strapping down the payload with bungie cords and hair scrunchies, inching their way home to spend the evening assembling the new furniture, arranging it, collapsing the material into piles for recycling: here cardboard, here plastic, here Styrofoam and twist ties, here the shoelace for a loafer Eric had never owned. They were such very good citizens.

Shawna and Eric surveyed their land, made new with storage solutions, with furniture and clear bins, with under bed pull-outs and cubes hanging from the closet. The pile in the corner was slightly reduced. They went to bed that evening delighted.

“You see? We gave, and so we get.”

“We gave so much. Half a truckload it must have been. A quarter, at least.”

“I almost wished we could have saved it. Repaired the chips, buffed the scratches, kept it close. To lose an item is to lose a limb, I think.”

“‘The more stitches, the less riches,’ as they say.”

But their work was not done, for in the morning, the building manager “Just popped by to say hello,” took a look at the stacks of boxes and let them know that this would not suffice. They expected a certain standard of living from their residents. Eric and Shawna assured her that it wasn’t what she thought, shuffled her out of the apartment with the shooing motions reserved for gnats and persistent investors, and continued to load their storage containers and storage-friendly furniture. They pulled out their fondue pots and cheese boards, the cheese platters and cheese knives, the fondue sticks and fondue-stick-friendly bowls. They pulled out their icecream maker.

“I thought I threw this out.”

“It’s perfectly fine, I un-threw it out.”

“It’s not fine. We discussed this.”

“Oh god.”

“The icecream comes out too hard.”

“That’s the fault of the chef, of the recipe, not of the tool. It’s perfectly fine.”

“The new model has a nitrogen injection nozzle. Instant, fluffy, frozen delight.”

“This is ridiculous. We’re keeping it.”

They fought about the life they should be living and what this old/perfectlyfine machine represented, but then decided to just marinate in their discontent, quietly. They fermented it, letting out the compressed air in long, loud, sighs. They returned to the boxes, which had grown above them, nearly touching their ten-foot ceilings, leaning precariously over their heads. As shelves were filled with decorative books and weights were strategically placed in locales where they could be seen (but barely) by guests—each placement made with irritated resignation—the towers above wobbled, and both Shawna and Eric were struck with the debris from a dislodged box of marital aids.

“What’s this?”

“You know exactly.”

It wobbled as they argued, vaguely translucent, a color that might be called flesh, but more accurately was what a poorly passing android might be slathered in. “I told you I don’t like this. I wanted it gone.”

“You’re just insecure.”

“Who wouldn’t be? That it even resembles what it claims to be is unnerving. How are we ever supposed to even touch each other when this monstrosity lurks in our closet, waiting for me to step out of the house?”

The conversation escalated. Words were used that had no place in the dialogs of intimate partners. Words like: kookaburra, asparagus, infinitesimal, casserole, buffalo, and string-theory. Détente was not reached, only a future fight ensured, when the offending item was reboxed and added back to the still-growing pulsating pile in the corner.

In line for a brunch cramburger (of course, a hamburger obscenely slid into a cronut), the nice man who lived below them, who wore Hawaiian shirts with incredible sophistication and reading glasses like a child, told Shawna and Eric that the building manager was horrible, but she had the best intentions. Things are memories, he explained, our past personified. Who needed that weighing us down? He recalled how he had loved his Cannon® Rebel XTi, with its thirteen hundred megapixel prowess, and pristine quality, that he could load onto his 128GB PNY Elite Performance® SDXC memory card to take thirteen pictures of every interesting thing, then store on his Dell® Opteron Workstation©/∞ for a few years before just throwing that whole thing away and starting new. Because who wants to look at how much hair you didn’t have anymore, or how much skinnier you aren’t?

“Who are we, if not our pasts?” Eric asked.

And the neighbor in his bright shirt shrugged and said “Americans,” before leaving them. His turn in line was up.

The cronuts were flaky, sugary, delicious, but totally overrated. The burger weighed it down, undid what was good about the pastry. It was a bad pairing. Unlike, Shawna and Eric had gathered, the ramen burger down the street. Now that was supposed to be something special. The thing about fusion, they overheard someone saying in line, is that it takes a cuisine, strips it of its history, and makes it something that is even better than new. It makes it into something that is trending. A trend is better than new. That which is ethereal is more precious, right?

At their apartment, the boxes were now twelve feet tall at their lowest ledges, the space where box and ceiling met was a Klein bottle of despair. A box descended outside of the bounds of gravity and opened its flaps like a flower opening for the dawn, full of old greeting cards that Eric and Shawna had once exchanged.

“We need to toss this.”

“How can we? Remember how romantic these were?”

“Remember how cheesy? How tedious? We need to purge. We don’t need these. We need to move on.”

“Of course you want to move on. It’s been ages since you’ve been romantic.”

“Like you were better. Here, let’s read one of your love poems.” And Shawna grabbed a piece of paper she knew she didn’t write. “‘For the secret one/The one of darkness and of night/ The one who comes when dawn is near/ And brings me to the light.’ I don’t remember this.”

“Where did you get that?” It wasn’t possible. He knew that. He’d held this poem in his hand, shaking, tears in the corner of eyes, and put it to the flame, held it upright so that only the barest corner had escaped, and that had been buried in the dirt.

Even a clueless spouse doesn’t need much more than a brief, unfiltered look of terror and wonder in the eyes of the caught, a vacuum that is suddenly filled with a new look of profoundly innocent bafflement.

“Everything,” Shawna said, her voice a croak, “everything must go. Nothing can stay.”

“It didn’t mean anything.” It was the script of an argument they weren’t having.

Who even cared what it had meant? “It doesn’t matter. Everything must go. I’ll burn it if I must.” And Shawna began to move the boxes to the door as she called the movers that had been unsubtly suggested by the manager. “It’s an emergency,” she said on the line. Instantly, they were there. They began to pick up the boxes and to haul them away.

“No,” Eric said, “we need to talk about this.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. Let’s look forward, let’s move ahead. You want me to forget about that letter, don’t you?”


“Good. Let’s forget everything.” The boxes quivered in anticipation.

“No,” Eric said, knocking a box from her arms. “This is our history. It is important.” Out spilled an M&M® wrapper, then a whole horde of them, every single package that Eric had ever eaten. Out spilled the membership to Gold’s Gym where he first ran into the the writer of that poem. Here was the torn Trojan® foil, here was the receipt for the Four Seasons®. It was no longer even a surprise to see the catalog of his failures.

Shawna ignored the outburst, carried armful after armful of boxes to the door, where movers, like ants, where already beginning to stream.

Eric, stricken, could only lash out. He yelled at the movers but they said nothing, ignoring him, the snake of their line winding around his pinwheeling body. He managed to pull a box from their hands. It crashed to the ground and spilled its contents across floor, a tidalwave of brown cubes, each containing a box as big as, or bigger than the one that had come before it, each filled with emails and handwritten notes from Lehman Brothers; binders of toxic assets and terminally unwise lending decisions, transcriptions of hushed meetings in which executives skirted regulations.

Another box burst open, containing one hundred and ten thousand orders of internment in Topaz for those men and women and children who had dared to be born Japanese in a time of war. Below these files, in the same box, with a bottom that was endless, the medical records of the Tuskegee experiments.

Another box. Addressed from Fort Pitt: a pile of blankets.

Another. An assortment of letters, with topics that centered around the Children of Ham, and how, it could be argued, this was simply the will of God.

Another. A gun, a knife, a noose. Agent Orange and a car battery in a pool of water. A pyramid of hooded humans, a shovel, a camera, a New York Times article. A nuclear warhead, mustard gas and credit card statements.

Around Eric, the room had emptied almost entirely. Like a magic trick. There was only him, the box, Shawna, the manager lady in her bulging stripes. “We have to hold onto something, we have to remember or else we will repeat—” he said, but said nothing further, because the box swallowed him whole. Shawna took the knife and slid it through the side of the cardboard with a pink noise and the last of the movers removed it to be incinerated with everything else.

“It was the only way,” said Shawna.

“We’ll find you another,” said the manager, her face grotesque and smiling. “This is New York. There’s always something else, something better. A doctor, a lawyer, a Senator. And there is this apartment, restored to its true glory.”

It was warm, the summer afternoon drowsy with the buzzing of ABC7 Eyewitness News®copters and the fainter drone of United® jets passing thousands of feet overhead, like a caress on the soft air. Shawna drew a deep breath, gazing across the living room out through the veranda into the round blue horizon.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” Her voice trembled a little. “Simply perfect for a chaise lounge.”  

Copyright © 1999 – 2023 Juked