The Boy in the Box
By Daniel Gonzalez

She put me in a drawer, a silverware drawer, which was odd because little boys did not belong inside drawers. She lowered me gently into a sectioned chamber full of butter knives with slight, serrated edges and curved, almost feminine length. I preferred them to the more beastly collection of pointed knives with thick handles, honed edges and the capability to commit brutality. As a young boy, I found it difficult to fit in with knives.

Occasionally, some of the children’s silverware pieces would nest together like a puzzle and form a frog -- missing a leg, a lost spoon -- and tickle me. They didn’t have sharp edges. They’d been used to haul small pieces of meat or pasta to a child’s mouth, but they’d also been lost under dollhouses. They’d been inserted experimentally into noses and ears, used to stir “soup” of mud and rocks and grass and twigs and pine cones. But most of all, they were sure that they would never hurt anyone. The sharp knives had only one job -- to cut.

I was a little relieved when she removed me from the drawer and placed me atop a pile of papers on a roll top desk. My protests that a little boy doesn’t belong in a stack of papers on a desk felt hollow as I uttered them. The desk was old and although the roll top still worked, it was frequently left open. I could watch the seasons through a dirty window. The occasional bird or squirrel peaked through the glass and then bounded off, disinterested. The pile beneath me contained a child’s drawings. Long, triangular bodies with crookedly smiling heads stacked on top. No limbs. I had a sense inside me that I may have been the artist, that I once understood the purpose of scratching out these shapes. But that purpose was lost on me now and as time went on it bothered me more and more to look them without understanding what they were for. I was almost glad to move on to the cardboard box.

Inside were books. Some had even been read. As a little boy, I had trouble explaining myself to them, what I was for. The books relished the fingers that had tickled through their pages, the eyes scanning their guts, hoping for something. Next to the books lay instruction manuals. I didn’t like them much as they had only one topic of conversation. Worse, they really wanted you to understand them in a way that silverware or novels did not. They prided themselves on communicating clearly and were relentless in their efforts to get you to understand every aspect of what they had to offer.

Under the manuals and a layer of dust, photographs lingered in an envelope. They peeked out now and again and sometimes tried to convince me that they knew who I was. They were so insistent that I eventually came to believe them and so I asked them why a little boy like me would live in a cardboard box? They didn’t know, but said they would always remember me fondly.

The privacy of the basement made it the scene of arguments. I overheard all kinds of things a boy should not hear and came to see the darkness of the box as not a bad thing. The arguing increased all the time, until finally it exhausted itself. A tense silence took its place. Then she unfolded the top of the box, shoved me carelessly to the side and removed the envelope of pictures. The photos became palpably excited, even as heads were cut from shoulders. They seemed to consider this simple rearrangement, not violence. I was shoved in an adjacent box of toys.

I shifted on top of old dolls with dirty hair and half broken limbs, erector sets missing so many parts as to be unable to erect anything, board games in crushed boxes. These toys had been buried next to dead pets and resurrected. They’d spent hours floating in baths as their limbs fell off and their paint disintegrated. They’d spent months hidden between a mattress and a wall. They never asked me why a little boy was in the box with them.

So I played with them, and my favorite toy became death.

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Dan’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pravic, The Fiddleback, Icebox, Hobo Pancakes, Defenestration and Eunoia Review. He lives in Evanston where he sometimes brews his own beer.

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