The Box

 

1.
On a night like this there is no God. Even on a brightly clear starry night like this with the cool August breeze lightly brushing up your face. How could there be God on a night like this when you lay in an empty alley clutching your groin to keep the blood from spraying out? How could there be God on a night like this when you lay there like a fallen fetus some bitch left for dead? You’ve given up crying for help because the last time you did it hurt so bad you thought your brain was going to shoot out of your nostrils.

Either you bleed to death or the pain kills you.

So you take the long slow road thinking you needed the time. You figure this was smart, that you could still be lucky, that help is just a matter of time. Just a matter of time.

If only you had more time. A few more minutes maybe: “O God, give me a few more minutes. O God, just a few more fucking minutes.”

So now you pray to God trying hard to remember how. Now you pray to God like your mother never taught you how. With every bone in your body. Every muscle. You pray to God looking up at the heavens, trying to make out his face in the brightly clear starry sky, but there is no God.

When you’re alone and dying like this, there is no God.

Even on a night like this.

2.
To do or not to do. That is the question.

He had, of course, seen it long before everybody else had gone to the cafeteria— for a cup of coffee, a stick of cigarette, or whatever kills you. He had seen it, all right, but he is taking way too long trying to decide what to do. Way too long.

He sits and stands and then sits and then stands: The moon waxes. The grass grows.

He could get caught if somebody went back looking for it. They could blame him, kick him out— just like that. A rat like him: They could have him locked up or licked for good if worse comes to worse. And what if this were just a test— part of some management crap everyone goes into, some trap everyone knows, everyone’s on to? They could be talking about me right now, eyeing me, sizing me up, betting the rat would take the cheese.

The fucking bastards!

He sits and stands and then sits and then stands. He lights a Winston and kills it just when the bus driver comes out of the door, a banana in his mouth.

“Tough night eh, kid?” he wipes his mouth and fishes an envelope from inside his back pocket.

Look at the fucking bastard! Look at him! Look at him trying to look coy! I can see right through you, motherfucker!

“By the way, boss wants to know how you’re doing. Said, so far so good. Only you don’t go around shooting crap with the boys too much.” He counts the bills— spit on his thumb— and hands him five big ones: “Be here by four, understand? And quit those fucking smokes. A college kid like you. Look at me. I’m a quitter. No shit.”

3.
Dear stranger:

If you are reading this letter, it means you have found the box.

Or: The box found you.

Whichever.

The thing is, it is yours now- that is, of course, if you choose to keep it.

At any rate, it cannot possibly be mine because you do not know me and you cannot know me- I do not think you want to know me.

I do not think I want to know you, either.

For all I know, it is you who wrote this letter, you who left the box, and you who found it.

Stranger things happen.

Besides, even if you did find out who I am, what does it matter?

I am probably long dead by then- if I am not already dead by now— that is, of course, if you do live long enough to find out who I really am.

Or was.

Whichever.

So: Do not bother looking for me, stranger. Do not even think of me.

It is beautiful that way.

Do you want to know what else is beautiful?

The box. You will never guess what is inside it— that is, of course, until you open it. And even then, you do not know why.

And that is what makes it beautiful.

It is, in essence, a lot like life: My life. Your life.

Same difference.

So: Here is my life. It is your life now, just as it had been mine— that is, of course, before you found it.

Or: it found you.

Whichever.

Here is a little secret, I will let you in on: There is really nothing free about free will.

Nothing at all.

There is only the will to be free.

But even that is not free.

Of course, your life is your choice, as my life had once been mine. That is how it goes.

That is how it supposedly goes.

Until you come across a box. Any box.

Any sort of box.

Cordially yours,

Stranger.

4.
“Come in.”
“You called me— boss?”
“Come right in and sit.”

The room is dark except where he now sits beside the window where a red lampshade glares like dead siren. In the red light it looks almost bare: There is this huge desk, which is also bare and two easy chairs. But the room has this quality about it, this quality that says it means business— serious business. You do not want to go in a room like this. Once in, you almost feel like there is no way out.

“Ever felt like the world is finally opening up for you.”
“What do you mean, boss?”

He opens a bureau and produces a box: “The world is like a box, kid. Pretty much like this.” He sets the box on the table and regards him for a moment.

He looks at the box and then the boss and then the box. He does not say anything.

“The problem is, most people think they’re in the box.” He taps the box with a finger. “They think they’re in the world, that the world is theirs to keep. Something they can put in a box, tucked away in a bureau, just like this.”

“Oh-”

He stands and paces to the window: “Well, I have bad news for them. The world is theirs all right, until they find out just how small their world really is— just how small— and then it hits them.” He turns to him and then looks back at the window. “It hits them and they realize they’re boxed in. They realize they’re boxed in and they want out. They want out because finally it is not the box that matters anymore- how big, how small, who’s in, who’s out— but what do you do with it.

“Do you want to know what happens when you’re boxed in?” He is still standing there looking out at the empty parking lot. “You can’t breathe. You can’t breathe when you’re boxed in. Of course, you can’t.”

For a while there is silence: The moon waxes. The grass grows.

He had seen him just like this. Once, twice maybe. He had seen him standing there, or what passes off as his shadow— just like this. Nights when the bus runs late, he had seen him there, all right. There: in the sick red light, behind the window, looking out.

“Ever had problems breathing?”
“I’m still good. I guess.”
“You smoke, don’t you?”
“Only when I can, boss. Two, three sticks-”
“Smoke if you want.”

He hesitates for a second before he goes on to light one.

“You probably know why I called you.”

It was not a question. It was statement of fact.

“Let me just say for a college boy you’re way too smart. And lucky too. You’re a smart lucky college boy.” And you know why?” He picks the box and holds it to his face. “I’ll tell you why. Men like us— men like you and me— we’re outsiders, that’s why.” He looks at him and then at the box. “We see the box from the outside and we wait. We see the world from the outside and we wait.” Slowly he nestles the box back on the table. “We wait for as long as it takes us waiting. We wait because we know soon the waiting stops. Soon the box opens. Soon somebody is going to want out. And when it does—” He opens the box. “When it does open—” He makes a fist. “We grab the motherfucker!” And slams the box on the table.

Three times.

5.
“The time to hesitate is through.”

6.
Listen: There is an art to opening a box. But not a box like this. Because whoever sealed this box wants to be sure whoever opens it really wants to open it. It does not take art to open this box, it takes violence.

He sits and stands and then sits and then stands.

It has been a long tough night and he has not eaten yet. But he does not really feel like eating. Or washing up. He has not even bothered switching the TV on, like he always does— not so much to watch, because there is really nothing much to watch at a time like this- but only because he has become somewhat hooked to the flickering static.

But what do you need the TV for when you’ve got the box?

He lights a cigarette and settles on the floor.

From down low the box looks bigger than it really is, although it really is no bigger than a grown man’s fist— roughly a little less than half the size of an ordinary shoebox.

What is peculiar, though, is the manner in which the box is sealed, wrapped up tight, with what looked like two, three rolls of thick black tape, you had to practically guess which side goes up.

It had this certain heaviness, too. This heaviness that seemed almost unreal, as though whatever is in the box did not quite belong in a box. You could only guess.
A box of cash.
A box of coke.
A box of crap.
A box of cold TNT.

That is a possibility. It could be a bomb, all right. Of course, it could. A bomb– yes. The kind that blows up when it’s opened. Given the sort of company he keeps: Friends, enemies. Enemies, friends. They must have left it there, in the bus, on purpose, hoping some eager beaver would bite the bait and blow up the whole shitload.

It takes him forever thinking about this, as though his thoughts came in trickles and took light years coming: The moon waxes. The grass grows.

He stretches flat on the floor facing the ceiling and smoking.

But what if it’s money? What if it’s something of value? A slab of gold. A chunk of diamond. Some old priceless relic you could trade for a king’s ransom.

7.
What if?

8.
This could be it, brother. This could be your lucky day. It is all up to you now—- all up to you. It happens only once in a man’s life, remember that—- only once. After that, it is gone. Forever. Goodbye. So long. Adios. Now is the time, brother.

Now. Is. The. Time.

9.
The fucking bastard.

10.
Here is what is in the box: Sand.

And half buried in the sand— a blue black stub of human flesh that looks like a finger before it hits you and you finally realize what it really is: A large part of some poor guy’s pecker sliced off badly like it had been ripped out with a pair pliers.

11.
The fuckass shit-eating sick crazy motherfucking bastard.

12.
“I want to be the first one to shake your hand, kid.” He reaches for his hand and shakes it. “I want to be the first one to congratulate you. You passed.”

The hell I did. He does not say anything.

“Hey. Get off it.” He takes another box from under his drawer much like the one on the table before he smashed it to a pulp and holds it over to him: “Here. You’ve earned it, kid.”

He looks at the box and then the boss and then the box.

“Go ahead. It’s yours.”

He finally takes the box but does not open it.

“Five hundred big ones. That’s half a million in there. Half a million. Most people would sell you off for far less. Way far less. But you— you are not most people, kid. You are my kind of people. Welcome to the company.”

13.
So what do you do with a box that contains, among other things, somebody else’s pecker?

You bury it.

14.
To do or not to do. That is the question.

15.
So here you are. Here you are leaning your head against a glass of shooting pinlights that blink and blur like stars dying out in a passing blackhole. Here you are on a bus trying hard not to worry while the stranger sitting next to you snores himself to seepybye.

But what do you need to worry for when you’ve got five hundred big ones? What do you need to worry for when you’ve got half a million stashed in a box, on your lap, like a second hard on?

That, brother, is exactly what is wrong with you. You worry too much. You worry too much because you think too much. But you could think, all right, only you do it too much. Like those mind games you love to play with the flickering TV on late nights when you have trouble sleeping. The way you put two and two together, plotting out the dots, and trying out all the possible connections just to see where the line leads you.

Well the line here leads you to a sunny seaside town north of nowhere. The line here leads you to little known spit of glistening white sand hicks there call heaven.

Just heaven.

16.
O God, give me a few more minutes. O God, just a few more fucking minutes.

17.
“It’s about time you showed up.”
“I was going to call the office—”
“Listen, kid. Something bad’s happened.” It’s the bus driver stooping his head and tugging him along. It had been raining all morning and all morning he had waited for him at the corner, smoking cigarettes.

The two walk in the rain like a couple of boyfriends. They stop just around the bend, board a pickup truck, and drive past the terminal where several cops in big black raincoats mill behind the yellow line, their cars bleeding the rain.

“You better put your head down, kid.” He eases through the traffic without turning his head to look at the commotion. “Good thing you’ve never been an early bird. They’ve been out all this time looking for you.”
“You mean the cops?”
“Sure shit I mean the cops.”
“What the hell do they want me for?”
“I figured that much. That’s why I waited. But hey, you believe what you believe.”
“I don’t get get you, man.”
“Look, kid, you’re in big, big trouble. You need to get on the first bus out of here, fast.”
“Now hold on a second—”
“No. You hold on. You hold on and listen well, because I’m not going to fucking say this again. You’re in deep shit, kid, you hear? Deep shit. And the only way you can keep your ass from sinking any deeper is to get your butt on the first bus out of here, fast. The first bus, you understand? Don’t ask me why. Just do it. You get on that bus, and you don’t look back. You get on that bus, and you don’t even stop for shit. Not for anything. You go someplace far. Someplace nobody knows. And don’t even tell me where. Don’t even send me a fucking postcard. Not a fucking word, you hear? You never saw me, and you never heard shit from me. This never happened, kid, or help me God I’m going to have to cut your tiny college dick off and bleed you like a pig.”

18.
He has seen it.

19.
“Some death.”
“What did I tell you.”
“It’s a mess, all right.”
“Well, he had it coming.”
“That’s the snag,” the first cop says. “He had it coming from everywhere. It’s going to be hell closing the book on this one.”
“I can see where you’re coming.”
“Leads leading everywhere and nowhere. Could be anybody.”
“Could be your everyday trip kill,” the second cop says.
“That’s one,” the first cop says. “What about it?”
“Talk about a real bummer. Combed the area— thrice— nothing.”
“It figures. I bet we’ll never find it.”
“It sure is starting to look that way.”
“A thing like that— can a thing like that get too far?
The second cop shakes his head, looking at the body: “Beats me.”
“You don’t walk around carrying a thing like that, do you?” the first cop says. “You don’t even think about picking up a thing like that and tossing it someplace.”
“Yeah. Unless it crawled.”
“Come now.”
“You know, like snakes. You cut off a snake’s tail, and the tail keeps moving for about an hour or so.”
“That’s an idea.” The first cop smiles. “But the way I see it, it was just probably lying around here somewhere before some stray dog beat us to this place and ate it up.”
A third cop butts in: “Sir, they found it.”
“Where?”
“Some bus. Stuffed in some box.”
“I’ll be damned.”

20.
ps. Just in case you wanted to know: In heaven, there is no God.

Titus Toledo makes nothing happen. As of this writing, he digs space weather, code art, semiotics, guerrilla gardening, and crispy begukan— in that order. He comes in peace.
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