Mad Hatters' Review Issue 10, Fall 2008
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Fiction by
Tim Horvath
Music by Randy Thurman
Artwork: "Beneath the Surface"
Sara Holt & Marty Ison Collaboration

A Box of One's Own

A guy started carrying a box around campus one day. Not a small box, not the type swaddled in clear tape and addressed with scented marker; no, this was a great, strapping thing, cardboard limbs flailing akimbo from a cardboard torso, defying its carrier to heft it without tripping or colliding with a wall. It was like the guy was about to give birth, unable to see his own feet, while also blindfolded. I’ve seen the pregnant prancing in maternity blindfolds before, and it made me nervous, it made me cringe, I tell you.

Beneath the Surface by Sara Holt and Marty IsonAfter seeing him parading around like this up and down the paths of Entrail University for a week or so, I confronted him. “Hey, buddy, so what’s in the box?” I figured he’d already been spoken to; I figured he’d have a set answer by now, maybe three if he was smart.

A snarl. “Do you really care?” It was the box that spoke. The man wielding the box kept going, his trajectory not unlike that of a rickshaw operator with dementia. I followed a half-step behind like a piece of toilet paper stuck to his foot. As soon as I thought of this metaphor, I looked down—sure enough, a piece of toilet paper was affixed to my foot. I removed it, deploying a forceps with a special toilet-paper-from-foot-removal accoutrement, which took a mere half-hour to assemble and but a half hour to disassemble, and thoroughly eradicated the least trace of the toilet paper in only fifteen minutes. It didn’t just yank it off—nay, it vaporized it and scorched the bottom of my shoe, too, applying with a gleeful flourish a gloss that would ensure that future toilet paper scraps would think quadrice before attempting to stow away from bathroom tile onto my sole.

I spotted Box Man coming up the landfill feature known locally as the Molehill, comprised of tens of thousands of moles that had been surgically excised from their source-cheeks and derrières. Those who desired to graft a mole onto their visages knew they could always rely on this reservoir of protuberances as well.

Now I was ready for him. “I do care,” I pleaded as he got close. “I really, really do.”

The box sputtered, but then responded as instantaneously as though our conversation had been continuous.

"What is it that you think you care about, exactly?”

“I do not think I care. Yes, I think. And I care. But notwithstanding your skepticism, I do not think and care in a single semantic swoop.”

“Harumph,” said the box. “You’re the last person who would know what you care about. And, in any case, I can almost guarantee that you do not care about what is in me. What you do care about is seeing what you can’t immediately see, what’s concealed from your vantage point. As soon as you see what’s inside me, you’ll cease to care and will wish to discard me like any piece of cardboard that isn’t ruggedly constructed with such manly, Euclidean virility as myself.” With this it began to do the box equivalent of flexing, bending its flaps, making its corrugations ripple outward.

“How do you know if you won’t show me?”

“I will not relent,” said the box. “Narrative structure would dictate a gradual withering away of my defenses and a climactic divulgence of the contents of my secret interiority. But I know all about narrative structure. So don’t even try it, buddy.”

I had started out being intrigued by the man behind the box. I felt I’d been distracted by the box itself. If only I could pry it away from the hands that bore it around, slice through it with an Exacto knife or set it aflame just long enough to out the box-bearer. I checked the forceps I’d used earlier, but I hadn’t splurged for the flamethrower or any Deluxe Features at all, having been down on my luck at the time due to the legal fees expended in settling a court case with a maimed courtesan.

There was only one thing to do. I needed a box of my own.

When you are not in need of a box, the prospect of snaring one appears piddlingly easy and straightforward. Boxes abound, this world a surfeit of boxes. Packages fling themselves at you; in a pinch you could scoop out the styrofoam peanuts, feed them to the nearest lemur, and keep the box. The concentration of cardboard rivals that of atmospheric oxygen.

And yet, when bereft of a box, in a non-box-possessing state, the simple procurement of one becomes a staggeringly difficult obstacle, as I was soon to discover. I went to sources that I was sure would land me a live one. A moving company. A department store. A company that sold ready-for-school dioramas over the Web for obscenely lazy children. I figured I’d order a “Washington Crosses the Delaware,” rip out the Father of Our Country, the popsicle stick oars and voilà. I told myself I’d be doing a good deed, since some kid would have to actually do work.

Not so fast. They’d been bought up by the world’s fastest-growing confetti concern, which ground up offbeat items—yachts, chocolate bunnies, S & M porn—and pressed them into little flakes for those disenchanted with mere papier.

“All the luck,” I lamented. Then I found a box lying outside on top of an orange rind atop a juniper bush, which was itself straddling a gin mill. I didn’t hesitate—I grabbed it, steeping my senses in its ablutional aromas.

Now, embracing my own box with the desperation of a man who wants to show off his foxtrot with his wife at a ballroom dance in order to impress his mistress who is foxtrotting with another man only to find that his mistress’s lover has invented a whole new variation called “the fox gallop” that is faster, more rhythmically impressive, and just plain groovaliciouser, I approached the original Box Man on the path.

By now, though, box-toting was rampant. Everywhere you looked, there were men and women carrying boxes, boxes carrying men and women, and most of all, boxes carrying one another, having done away with the middlemen, along with the appetites, petty jealousies, and other inconveniences that had gone with them. The box I was pursuing, I realized, was no longer the one that I had set out to find. I heard a chorus, chanting, “This End Up! This End Up! This End Up!” getting closer and closer, but my view was occluded. And then it happened: I was swiftly inverted. Just like that, eye to eye with an ant, a divot—holy rhythm.

How sweet they felt, then, that first time it rained, the dolorous globules, reaching my head only after caroming off the long-suffering bottoms of my feet!

Edgy and Enlightened Literature, Art and Music in the Age of Dementia
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last update: October 14, 2008