Boxes by Michaël Wertenberg

Boxes: metal boxes, wood boxes, cardboard boxes, plastic boxes; long boxes, tall boxes, narrow boxes, wide boxes; from inside a cramped metal box, surrounded by levers and buttons, I drive a long series of boxes, loaded with people: short people, fat people; young people, old people; pretty people, ugly people—mostly ugly people. Sometimes they can’t all fit. But they’ll push and scrap and elbow and squeeze their way in.
I’m one of the good subway conductors; I wait for them to bustle and bump and cram and claw into my box–not like Sanchez, who won’t even wait a half-minute. I’ll wait. I know how badly people need their box.

At the end of my shift, I pick up trash left from the filthy box crammers, and put it in a can. I have a drink at Joe’s, just to unwind. Then, I get in another box— the 117 Bus to Astoria. Tonight, as usual, I stop off at the corner take-out for two boxes of food before I go home.

There’s no smoking in my home. (The box doesn’t ventilate well). So, I go to the rooftop of my five-story box to have a cigarette, just to unwind.

There are always six tasks I need to finish at home. When I smoke, I itemize, imagine, and visualize each task—I don’t like surprises. Tonight, I will shower (1); I will eat (2); I will finish the remaining twenty-six boxes of my crossword (3); I will watch the news on the idiot box (4); I will shave my moustache (5); and I will clean Cynthia’s box (6). It’s important to have a plan.

I am not a man without a plan. I am not just a thing in a box.

Tonight the sky is clear, black with a touch of blue. I see Manhattan from the rooftop, and a bit of Queens—lots of boxes. I pretend to pinch the boxes with my thumb and index finger. I’m a grown man, but I still make squishy sounds as I fake pinch, as if I were a kid playing in a bubble bath.

I smoke a second cigarette—so many rooftops to squish. I don’t usually smoke a second cigarette. But as long as I finish the six tasks, I am allowed to deviate.

Tonight, I plan to finish the first task in fifteen minutes—it’s important that I finish each task by midnight. I won’t turn into a pumpkin or anything silly like that, but if I don’t finish by midnight, I find I am visited by strange and often horrific images in my dreams. I don’t like that. I get plenty of strange and horrific images at work.

The first thing I see when I enter my box is a surprise–a strange and horrific surprise—Cynthia is not in her box. The window is open, and a draft seems to have blown my crossword to the floor. This is not good. This is very Not-good.

Before I can accomplish the first of my six tasks, I have to shut the window, pick up the crossword from the floor, and naturally, pace and worry about Cynthia. I wrack my brain remembering, visualizing, and re-visualizing the morning tasks. I did, unquestionably, tie her hands, lock the box, and double check that I’d locked the box. Those were tasks four, five and six! They are always tasks four, five, and six, and I always complete them.

Pacing and wracking my brain are not on my list of tasks. But as long as I finish the six tasks, I am allowed to deviate.

I shower, but I can’t stop worrying about Cynthia. It’s always difficult not to worry before the tasks are completed, but tonight it’s especially difficult. I sit at my table next to the window, and I eat my box of food. I eat fast and finish my crossword at the same time.

I turn on the idiot box. They are talking about Cynthia on the news. This is not really a surprise; but, this is not good. This is very not-good. I turn off the box after the newscasters wish me a pleasant evening.

Despite Cynthia being on the news, I worry slightly less now that I’ve accomplished most of the tasks. I step into the small box that serves as a bathroom, and I work on my moustache.

I’ve shaved nearly half of it off when I nick myself with the blade. The sting is disproportionate to the tiny cut, and blood seeps out at an obscene speed.

Before I can apply a piece of toilet paper to the cut, the police bang on my door.

“NYPD! Open up!”

This is not really a surprise; but, this is not good. This is very not-good.

I shave the other half of my moustache much faster than I would like.

The police break down my door.

I nick myself again, and finish the last three swipes with a bloody razor— but I finish.

I look terrible without a moustache, especially with two cuts under my nose trickling blood.

A policeman grabs me, handcuffs me, and pulls me out of the bathroom. He reads me my rights as he pushes me toward the busted-down front door.

“The box,” I say. “I need to clean the box.”

“Don’t worry about the box,” says the other officer. “We’ve got a nice, clean box for you downtown.”

My new box is smaller than my old box, and I share it with a criminal named Boris. Tonight I have six things to do: eat (1); clean the toilet (2); give Boris a blow job (3); smoke a cigarette (4); write in my diary (5); and give Boris his second blow job (6). Tonight, I don’t imagine and visualize the tasks before doing them. But as long as I finish the six tasks, I am allowed to deviate.

Michaël Wertenberg is a French-American writer of dark fiction, rumoured to be living in Budapest with his cat, Zvyezda.He is a self-proclaimed sane citizen, though his blog, My Disease-Ridden Mind, offers evidence to the contrary: https://michaelwertenberg.wixsite.com/mysite.