THE BOX GIRL

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The first time Box Girl awoke to a peculiar psychological disconnect it had been years and years ago during a surgical excavation she would not discuss openly if prodded. The excavation took place in a small office after she had been ‘put under’ despite her begging for any other way, as anesthesia did not mix well with her brain but still the office drones shushed her and clamped her wrists as fluids flushed into her veins. Hours later, a forever later, she opened her eyes and found herself in a white bed with a white plastic bracelet, the hardened lump in her tummy now a shallow, shoveled thing. Women flanked her in similar beds, similar positions. Palms pressed tight against tummies. Soft clucking moans curdled the air, delicate in their strained weeping. That had been a disconnect of Box Girl’s ultimate choosing, a regret reversed, something of a bittersweet grim reaper to quell the pain of a pain specific to itself. The particular disconnect she now faced was uniquely worse: a separation of mind from soul from body.

“He would’ve been six,” Box Girl murmured, and her head suddenly produced an incredible sharpness at the base of her skull. Her mouth gaped in a vomitous shrieking and yet, no sound escaped her. A dribble of stomach acids spilled from her and onto cement. A camera flashed. And another. Catalysts to a symphony of recording devices so loud in their artificial shutter noises, so blinding in their lights, that Box Girl forced herself to look up. Her brain still lagged though, and it took a full moment to truly understand her reality in relation to the reality existing beyond her. The reality observing her. And could reality truly split like this? she wondered.

The box holding her was not much larger than the twin bed placed carefully against the wall. A desk claimed the other end of the box, wooden to match its old wheeling chair; apropos of the classic college dormitory. A cat stood still in one corner, a watchful eye on Box Girl while she tossed on top of the bed. Its statuesque paralyzation eventually gave away a cheshire secret: thing’s stuffed, thing’s not alive. Thing’s an imitation cat, you see. Do you see?

The walls, crystal-clear glass, so clean were they that Box Girl’s eyes could not right away adjust, and they were this way to allow for a stalking crowd, a sinister herd of salivating strangers. Children smeared oily foreheads against the box. Adults did the same. An old woman knocked to get Box Girl’s attention. A man dressed as a security guard escorted the old woman away. A roaring throttled the box and half the crowd dispersed checking watches, dragging luggage behind them; muttering. The box did not have a ceiling and this allowed for Box Girl to hear such things as, “New York is a rainy mess today,” and “Fuck her, fuck her to hell, I fly out to see her and she does this? Now she breaks up with me? It’s a shit-show.”

The throttle died out to a distant hiss overhead. An announcement bleated: At Denver International Airport, your safety is our priority.

~ ~ ~

Another day might have passed. Box Girl couldn’t be sure – watches and clocks were covered from her view in a way so that when she looked at the giant itinerary screens beyond her glass castle, the numbers fuzzed and disappeared. Her own clock, a thing shaped as a jaded owl, appeared to favor a perpetual midnight.

The crowd was erratic now, a sniveling stream of families smacking their children for eyeballing ‘that girl.’ Men would stand at the farthest end and stare with lifeless eyes, lips parted. And while the men seemed under a spell, some of the women touched the glass with gentle hands, frowns twisting their faces.

And yet still, other other women sneered at Box Girl, spit disgusting words.

“She’s not even that pretty.”

She had a face, then, she still had that. Box Girl touched her lips, felt the soft curve of a cupid’s bow. Pink smeared off on her finger. Rubbed her eyes and charcoal black painted the back of her hand.

“Look at all that makeup. Where’s she gonna go? Huh?”

~ ~ ~

Box Girl writhed in bed that night. She woke with a start at one point to see a ghastly man taking her photo. Box Girl’s awareness of his presence aroused his attention further, and he pressed himself against the wall, gyrating. And then he left, pushing thick glasses up his nose.

Young women passing by scoffed. “Asking for it, look how she positioned herself,” they spat.

The airport was dark.

Box Girl cried.

~ ~ ~

Maybe she chose this? Maybe she had signed a contract. A paper. Did she choose this? Box Girl ripped the desk apart in search of documentation, in search of something to show that this was all, indeed, real. The crowd cheered on the destruction, a growing gathering.

Fine print could not be found. Box Girl sat at the desk, scratch marks grooving into its grain. The notebook she’d found earlier enticed her to draw. A scribble at first and then thorns. And then something of a rosebud.

A little girl pressed closer than the rest to watch, enamored. She and Box Girl made eye contact. Box Girl put the paper up against the wall and the girl smiled.

The crowd ooh’ed and ahh’ed, clapping.

“An artist!” someone shouted. “I knew it!”

“She’s really got something!” another said.

And then a woman barked: “You just wanna fuck her! My dog could draw better!”

A flurry of murmured agreement. The crowd dispersed to catch flights.

~ ~ ~

The next time Box Girl woke up, she was manic. Drawings littered the floor, beautiful and terrible ones alike in a scattered mess. An artist, yes. A struggle, yes. Laughter overwhelmed her in churlish waves, eventually devolving into chittered giggles.

The little girl had returned, dark circles under her eyes. She had dragged her mother who screamed into a cell phone nearly as large as her head, something or other about cancelled this and delayed that. The girl knocked on the glass and Box Girl stopped laughing so quickly that the girl took a step back, disturbed.

Box Girl slid off the bed and to her knees. Crawled in a spidery stretch toward the end of the box. The little girl swallowed a lump in her throat, eyes wide.

“Can you hear me?” Box Girl said from the bellows of her throat.

The little girl nodded.

Box Girl touched the glass. “No matter what you do, no matter what has broken you, no matter how you look: they will watch you as they watch me, but I am trapped in my box and you are free. Bad things will trap you just as good things, beautiful things, will hold you hostage. I have learned a lesson but I am still trapped here. I think that in some ugly way, I have chosen entrapment. I have embraced it.”

The little girl stepped forward.

Box Girl ran her sweaty palm against their barrier. “But as much as these strangers see me trapped, they try to make my box smaller with their words, their pains, their own boxes in their own heads. Everyone is trapped, you see. The same will happen to you, this entrapment, but you are strong enough – stronger than me – to break glass that is meant to be broken.”

And they stared at one another for a long and lovely while, sounds melting into each other as planes passed overhead and the mother kept screaming, and the cameras kept flashing. One such photograph would later headline feel-good news, child and Box Girl connecting despite their glass separation. Internet comments about this ‘news’ would lash out that the little girl was much too plain to be of any interest to the Box Girl and her deranged artistry. That hair! they would type. Those dull eyes! What does this child think she is? Special? 

The Box Girl would dig deep into her own flesh that night, mania now a spreading infection. She would sleep forever that night. The box no longer imprisoned, but protected, that night.

The cat in the corner stayed still, collected dust, but some would swear up and down and on their mothers’ dead, swollen bodies that its tail twitched if you looked close enough.

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