The box was sitting in the corner of the apartment like a present that had been sent to time-out. I discovered it late January, the day we (finally) threw the tree out. It was sitting in a pile of dead pine needles, one inch safe from a teeny pile of cat vomit, looking expectant, like it had been patiently waiting.
"Ange, what's this?"
I picked it up.
She was flipping through a magazine, her inaction to help take down the tree as willful a protest as getting it. The planet's dying, but we cut down trees to "celebrate." "Dunno. It's not mine."
For a second, it felt like the last page in The Polar Express. I'd open the box and there'd be a bell and a note inside from Santa: "Get that pocket fixed." Only this box wasn't wrapped in brown paper and there was nothing Christmas about it. It was plain cardboard, the size of a baseball, and unmarked. Six or seven varying lengths of tape held it shut. Like whoever left it needed to make sure it was closed and stayed that way.
"Should I open it?"
"I guess so, Matt," she said putting the magazine aside. "Though if you didn't leave it there and I didn't leave it there, where'd it come from?"
Angie always had to make something of nothing. She called it being a deep thinker. I (privately) called it being dramatic. She got up, took a bottle of white from the fridge and poured herself a glass. The box was now sitting on the kitchen counter. We both stared at it. She handed me her glass. I took a healthy sip.
"I mean, what's with all that tape?" I asked.
"Maybe it's a shrunken head. Or, like, human teeth."
"Why would it be teeth?"
"Why would a box be randomly sitting in our living room? Plus, where else are you supposed to keep trophy teeth."
"Oh, now it's a serial killer's box?"
Holding the glass of wine out in front of her like it was bait, Angie led me towards the bedroom, "Only one mysterious box I care about tonight. Bring that bottle."
Later that night, in the dark, we heard mice sounds from the kitchen. Scurrying sounds. We lived in an old third story walk up. Still, we'd never had a mouse problem. We had Jasper.
"Jasper," I called from the bed. "Mice. Go do cat things."
But Jasper remained sitting on the dresser, alertly looking out the bedroom door. "Weird," Angie said, sitting up in bed, pulling the covers with her.
"Maybe it's not mice. Maybe it's the box."
"Then shut it, box, people are trying to sleep."
Coincidence, I'm sure, but after that it was quiet.
The next morning, the box sat in the middle of the kitchen floor. Angie called an exterminator. I tossed the box on the pile of junk mail that accumulated by the unused sandwich press. I wish I could say I forgot about it. But I felt that box every second I was in that kitchen. It didn't help that Angie began sending me pictures of it. One in the morning. Another in the afternoon with the caption, "Box moved."
The afternoon photo was maybe an inch to the left, but Jasper could have done that. Next morning, out at a client coffee, she sends a picture of it on the floor, caption, "Box fell."
When I got home that night, I felt inexplicably angry. She was at the sink, washing our two day old dishes.
"What the fuck?" I asked, red faced.
"What, what the fuck?"
"Enough with the box already. I was in a meeting. It's not funny."
"I wasn't joking. The box fucking moved. I heard it. That scurrying sound again," I started to interrupt, "And it wasn't Jasper, he was with me."
"It can't move," I sputtered. "It's a box."
"Well, what if something's alive in it?"
But I'd lifted it before, it didn't feel like there was anything in it. I picked it up again. Shook it, hard. Sure enough, no sound at all. I set it back down.
"Clearly we're opening that fucker tonight."
"Well I'm not doing it sober."
Angie made cheese dip with the weed chili oil her friend gave her. We watched old reruns of Parks & Rec until it took effect. I figured this would be another night when we went to bed sleepy, stoned, at peace. The box could wait. Only, shortly after Poehler does her Fresh Prince rap, when our eyes were so squinty we could barely open them, Ange ran into the kitchen in that tiny white T-shirt with her not so tiny ass falling out of those red undies and squealed, "I'm opening the box."
"Don't," I said, falling off the couch, stumbling after her.
But she'd already grabbed it off the counter and slid her finger under the tape. I swear it sounded like a guillotine dropping. There was a whoosh and the box was open.
"Oh that's just weird," she said.
She set the box down on the counter and backed away from it. A moment later, she went into the bathroom and vomited. Later, she would swear it wasn't the box, it was the food from that Japanese place I liked. "It's not untraditional to put mayonnaise on everything. It's just chubby."
Have you ever gone from being perfectly stoned to perfectly sober?
Me neither, but it happened that night, because taped to the bottom of the box was a tiny doll hand. It was half curled as if it was meant to be holding something, but lost it. And around the doll hand was a perfect curl of hair. Brown. Fine. The kind you clip from a young child to preserve, the kind you take from a lover you'll never see again. Maybe it was the food. Suddenly, my stomach didn't feel so hot either.
"Why's there a box with a doll hand and human hair sitting in our fucking living room?" Angie called from the bathroom.
I reminded myself about that study that said intelligent people swear the most. Then I thought about all those weeks the box had sat around. All the times Angie said it had moved.
"What should I do with it?"
"Throw it the fuck out."
"Alright," I said sharper than I meant to. "Alright."
Only, throwing it out felt wrong. So after I closed and shut the cabinet door that had the garbage can hidden behind it, I shoved the box into the back of our coat closet. Right next to Angie's cowboy boots that required both our efforts to put on and take off.
Over the next few months, things didn't go so well between me and Angie. Her humor became grating. Her drinking became overt (at least I controlled my lush-ism). Maybe we would have broken up before box, maybe not. When I (jokingly) told her I blamed it, she snapped, "It's not the box, it's that you're emotionally insufficient."
I prefer to think it was the box.
My name was on the lease. She decided to move out. I suppose it was only a matter of time. When she packed her coats and shoes and unused tennis rackets from the front closet — I could have said she had become sportingly insufficient, but I didn't — she found the box.
"Tell me this isn't...."
She didn't look inside to confirm. We both knew it was. That night with a door slam and an "Unfollow me on everything immediately" also a "And I'm keeping the Netflix log in" still ringing in my ears, I sat down with the box at the now sandwich press-less counter and poured a sturdy glass of rye. Three glasses later, I added a few more pieces of tape, then carried the box downstairs and outside.
I took it into the bodega on the corner. Not the one with the good breakfast sandwiches, the other one, where chocolate chips cost $7.50 a bag and the kid always ID's me for my guilty pleasure pack of smokes. I went down the canned goods aisle. There I stashed the box behind a $2.50 can of SpaghettiOs. Telling from the accumulated dust on the lid, it would probably take them a few weeks to find it.
It could want a few weeks to settle in.
Corrie Wang is co-owner and operator of Short Grain food truck. Her debut novel, The Takedown, comes out April 11, 2017 through Disney's FreeForm Books.
Tim Showers is an art-making cyborg from the year 1984. He awesomely lives in Charleston.