The Box and the Stars

SHORT STORIES: The Box and the Stars

"You do not fall asleep to a ceiling of stars; you fall asleep in a box, which exists in another box, all the while staring at the box in your hand."

Have you ever looked at the stars before falling asleep, and wondered about your place in the universe? Does it sound like something you would do? Of course not. You do not fall asleep to a ceiling of stars; you fall asleep in a box, which exists in another box, all the while staring at the box in your hand. You exist so much in boxes you forget that there is a whole world outside you, a whole universe, a universe that was created from … another. Let me explain.

Initially, there were two three-dimensional universes that moved alongside each other; they are separate and distinct, but there will come a moment where they will inevitably collide. This collision produces kinetic energy, that results in quarks, electrons, photons. Because the collision occurs in some places at slightly different times than others, this creates variations in temperature, and those variations are why we have galaxies, and why we have stars. The same stars you don’t look at before you fall asleep.

It makes sense doesn’t it? All things begin and end with a collide. The universe; the collision of sperm and egg to create life; the Titanic hitting the iceberg; my parents colliding with each other on the train platform as they were rushing to get onto their respective trains. Their first reaction is that of irritation. Watch where you’re going! But as he picks up the things that she had dropped, and she receives them from him, they feel a kind of kinetic energy that bounces away in their veins, rushing to the surface like the skin of a flushed concert goer. They spent the whole day together, unable to comprehend why they were feeling this way, and why their bodies were drawn to each other. Maybe it’s just sexual chemistry. So, they sleep together. They carry on like this for a month, parting every day at the train station before hurrying to each other at night to satiate the needs of their bodies. The energy never dissipates, so they had me. This is still the beginning. The ending comes in the form of a side collision with a drunk driver who never gets to pay his dues, because he dies along with them.

Which brings me to the beginning of my story. It is not a simple story, just like how the creation of the universe is not a simple one. It begins the same way, with a collision, a mesh of bodies going at full speed, the frantic grappling but grasping nothing but air before the backward fall into the soft part of the ice. There is a loud sense of cracking, like the popping of a soda can, only amplified ten times as you feel the sound surround you, drowning out everything else, even your own cries of help. Strangely, this is when you decide to look up the sky, admiring the gentle glitter of the stars as they sparkle against the backdrop that is inundated with the deepest shade of blue. There is a plunging, your agonised scream barely leaving your mouth as you feel yourself sink into the icy depths of the water beneath you; you are trapped between solid and liquid, desperate for air as you try to push yourself against the ice. When this doesn’t work, you use your feet. Thump! Thump! Thump! But it is not enough. This doesn’t feel like the beginning does it?

Maybe the beginning looks like this. It is a day where clouds float like soft cotton balls in the lazy azure of a warm Sunday morning, the kind of day you would have a picnic, with a bright red mat laid out on the green grass, and a wicker basket filled with sweet treats. The basket is opened to reveal the moistest (is that even a word?) chocolate cake, dripping with chocolate sauce that gets all over your fingers. You laugh as you try to lick the stickiness away, and then someone does it for you, their mouth sensuously sucking on the length of each finger, till you find yourself getting caught up in other kinds of bliss. Because you are distracted, the ants start their march towards the cake, and laughingly, you lift the cake up in the air, over your head, while trying to trample them with your feet. Our feet.

You marvel at how beautiful she looks as she feasts on the piece of chocolate cake you cut for her, the sunlight dancing about in her hair like golden stars, while you lose yourself in the blue of her eyes. She has the prettiest eyes you have ever seen. Every little glimpse of those eyes has you falling deeper, till you find yourself in a well, knee-deep in water, with no way out. You know it is not right to feel like this, but no one has ever made you feel this way before. Only Sarah, with her blue eyes that burn with a secret fire, a mouth you couldn’t stop staring at and a gentle smouldering presence that makes you feel sparked and alive when you are with her. This must be love, you think, as she grabs your hand and tugs you towards her, kissing you gently all over your face before settling her lips into yours …

… I lose the memory as my entire body starts to tremble from the lack of air. I realise that I am sinking, and kick my way back to the surface again. I need to find an opening, or a softer part of the ice to kick my way out; I am running out of time. As I reach the surface, a face pops out in front of me, existing in the world just beyond the layer of ice. He seems to be trying to tell me something, but I can’t make anything out. I try propelling my legs away from me to prepare to kick out at the ice, but they refuse to budge; like blocks of lead they drag me down with them. I feel my body shutting down, rushing all the oxygen from the various body parts to my brain in order to keep me alive. I feel it is too late.

My mind returns to my last day with Sarah. We had brought a sleigh board out with us to take advantage of the snow, but after a few trips down the slope, we got distracted doing other activities instead. I buried myself in her neck, breathing in her scent, resting my face near the jumping beat of her pulse. My lips blazed a trail to her mouth and she responded ardently, her hands entangled in my brown hair while mine were caught in her smooth blonde curls. We heard a shout. It was my father. His presence brings me to my feet, and for a moment we stood there, he and I, with unflinching looks thrown at each other, as if we had imaginary guns holstered to our hips. Then he turned around and walked off.

I continued to stand there, unsure of my next step. Sarah’s hands were on mine, telling me to stay, to give him time. I ignored her advice, moving to go after him, pulling my hand aggressively from Sarah’s as she tries to keep me with her. I needed him to understand. I walked into the house to find him in the kitchen, his face unreadable in the low evening light that floods the kitchen. Then the yelling begins. The yelling brought my mom in, and she too looks at me like I am a freak, an abomination, though I did see some swirls of sympathy floating around in her stare. My dad said he needed to take a drive to clear his head, and mom follows him because that’s how it was between the two of them, always together, never apart … even at the end. I waited for them to come back, but they never did.

Suddenly, I feel two hands grab me firmly under my arms, and the next moment I am out of the water and plunged back into the world of air. I gasp as the oxygen returns to my lungs, coughing loudly into the cold wintery night.

“Are you okay?” asks the man who had pulled me out from my watery grave, as he whacks me vigorously on my back. I nod as I wheeze deep breaths into my body, and allow him to move me off the ice onto firmer ground. He leaves me there for a while and returns with some blankets, which he throws around me. I thank him as the shivering that shakes my body abates slightly. I gaze across the frozen lake, noting how it had come this close to claiming my life for its own.

The memory of the moments before I fell into the ice come flooding back to me, me skating furiously across the lake to escape a past that was twenty years ago, colliding with something before I went under. I ask him if he had seen what happened. “It was a deer,” he said. A deer? I don’t remember a deer. I vaguely remember a young boy? I tell him this. He insists on the existence of the deer.

“Where is the deer then? I don’t see it.” I am barely done with my sentence when I feel a knife penetrate my stomach. It goes in once, twice, a third time before he yanks it free, and I feel the blood pouring out of me like an unhinged facet. He looks at me, disappointment tinged on his face, as if I had made him do this. I wonder what kind of person would go through so much trouble to save a person only to kill her later. I press my hands over the gaping hole in my stomach, at the same time knowing it wouldn’t be enough. Either the cold would get me, or the blood loss. I find myself thinking about the reason I had been on the ice in the first place, my frustration bleeding through my skates as I tried to get rid of the image of Sarah in her wedding dress, with someone else getting the happy ending that should have been mine. I only had myself to blame.

So now, here I lie, staring at the stars, marvelling at their beauty, thinking about my parents – will this bring me back to them?

I remember the last day I saw them. My grandma had said, “Don’t they look wonderful?” No, they don’t look wonderful, Grandma, they looked horrible, fucking horrible, the makeup on their faces barely holding on to an appearance of life. I had the urge to scratch the makeup off, slowly flake it away with my index finger, to see what remained. Maybe they would look more alive underneath all that. I don’t do this of course. I just drop a few coins into each of their coffins, because I think money is useful to have wherever you go. After I buried my parents, all my relatives invite themselves over to my house.

They were so loud, talking and laughing, opening the fridge to take out food that people had sent over, helping themselves to the peach cobbler, to the casserole. I lose it when I see my mom’s cold spaghetti being hauled out as well. I grabbed the bowl from a cousin who was about to remove the clear wrap, screaming bloody murder at him. How dare he try to eat what my mom had made for me? My grandma tried to pull me aside, to stop me from making a scene or to comfort me, I will never know, because I dropped the bowl and took off running. I ran blindly, feeling the cold nip at me and going faster to swat it away. I stopped running when I felt the cold begin to overwhelm me, snuggling deeper into my sweater, knowing I couldn’t stay out here any longer.

I looked out at the lake, noting its gleaming white finish, remembering all the times I had been out here with my mom and dad, where they had taught me how to skate, patiently guiding me through each movement, helping me up when I fell. How could they be so patient and so loving for things like that, but so scornful when it came to things like love? Then I saw her, on the edge of the lake, her hands closed around a small part of her stomach, a gesture that is useless as the blood pours out of her, its redness pushing out the whiteness of the lake. She looked at me, her glazed eyes suddenly snapping into focus, as if in some state of recognition. In a panic, I leaned over her, to tell her I didn’t have my phone on me, but I was going to run back to my house and get help.

“Please hold on.” I told her, my breaths coming out in vapoury gasps.

“It’s too late for me, not for you. Don’t live in a box.” I don’t understand her words, but I knew I needed to get help for her, so I took off running …

… I look on sadly as she runs away from me, wishing I had understood then what I know now. With a final, lingering breath, I give myself up to the world of air, feeling my spirit meld with the wind, which carries me closer to the stars.

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