Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Boxed Girl

When I posted this short story on a writing site many years back, a lot of people didn't get it. Yes, weird it is, but sometimes we have to suspend belief, especially to take in a metaphorical idea. I chose this particular story to post first partly because I am really quite fond of it despite its inherent "weirdness," but also because I am reading Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys at the moment and suspending my own disbelief while doing so. 'The Boxed Girl' came about while I was reading 'The Girl in the Flammable Skirt,' a collection of oddball short stories by one brilliant Aimee Bender.

Don't take it too literally, suspend your disbelief and above all, enjoy!
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The Boxed Girl

The girl had become a maze of tangled parts. Her limbs were a sorrowful mutation, her neck folded at an odd angle, her spine curved in a beautiful arc. She was crinkled and crumpled and small.

But the girl knew nothing else.

She had lived in the confines of her box for many years. She had in fact grown into it as the years had passed, her body passing into puberty and then further into adulthood. Her misformed limbs were tattered and weak, but they were her own.

Her box sat on the edge of town, in the abandoned warehouse in which a clothing manufacturer once had its home. The girl lived there inside her box, breathing and eating and sleeping and doing all of the things one could never imagine doing inside the walls of a three-foot by three-foot box.

They would have melted in there, melted down. But not this girl. She knew nothing else after all and had never ventured out of her box. She never questioned the man who came each day, gave her a ration of food and left the way he had come. She never questioned him, although perhaps she should have felt like an animal imprisoned in a wooden cage.

The box was sideways and without a top, so that the boxed girl could peer out, observe the world through her eyes. Her eyes were not deformed and sad. They were bright and expectant. She was happy there, happy to see no one but the man who delivered the food.

On occasion, a blank-faced teenager would enter the abandoned warehouse with a prospective lover and the girl, staring, would catch their attention. These teenagers never stayed after seeing the girl. It was too weird, they said.

The rumors began then. The stories circled about a small girl trapped inside a box on the edge of town. No one believed it but those who had seen her and raced back out again. They’d never seen a girl in a cage.

The girl was unaffected by all of this. Unaffected by the fright she bestowed upon the visitors to her warehouse, unaffected by the stories because she had never heard them. She was more satisfied with her life than anyone could have known, maybe because she knew nothing else, but also because the girl seemed destined for this life. Alone and tangled, limbs crossing and uncrossing, hair flowing over her body like waves lapping at the rocks. She carried a song inside of her and showed it to no one. The girl was comfortable there, where it was quiet and slightly dank. It smelled like the abandonment of life, of money and of people. She knew this smell like no other.

It was summer when the young man entered the warehouse. She heard the steel door scrape open and as it usually did, her heart fell. A voice called out.

“Hello?” it said loudly.

The girl stopped breathing and was so still that her fingernails dug into the wood of her box and her legs trembled under the weight of her tension. She dared say nothing.

But there, this young man appeared. He was not attractive in any sense, but there he was, staring at the boxed girl without a word, soundlessly. He was as still as she, except he didn’t tremble and didn’t dig his fingernails into his box because he had none. He stared at her as though he knew her.

“Why don’t you leave there?” he asked suddenly, breaking the boxed girl’s silenced world. He broke a lot of things in the girl’s world. A lot of things, but she didn’t know it yet. She tried to shrug but she was too tense.

“I like it in here,” she replied simply. He laughed.

“No one can like it inside a box.” He approached and slowly extended his hand to the girl inside the wooden box, clinging to it with her fragile life. She looked at his hand, then into his eyes, swimming with sympathy and perhaps a bit of pity too. The girl was ashamed.
“Come on,” he urged. “It’s only one step. No one can stay in a box forever.” The girl knew this was true. Knew it with a fierce longing.

It was her time. She nodded slowly, but didn’t come right away. Her hand first crawled out of the box, creeping along the floor, crumbling cement catching under her fingernails. She was timid and terrified and eager all at once. Her foot swept along the floor of her box until it too, was no longer a prisoner of the wooden cage. It was cold and dirty and too unfamiliar.
The girl pulled her foot back in.

“It’s okay,” the boy soothed, extending his hand further. “It’s only one step away.”
She shivered and out came the right foot again, searching for the security of the ground under it. Dusty stones and grimy pebbles pierced the tender sole of her foot. She whimpered, but the young man pretended not to notice. Now her right side was completely out.

She began to laugh, a rush of feeling surging into her. She plunged the rest of her body out and it tumbled instantly to the ancient cement floor, dank and uneven against her arced back.

But she was out now.

Freedom had once been a long word for the girl in the box, but now she knew it, knew how to say it, how to spell it, how to let it roll over her tongue in waves. She was just starting to know it and yet she felt like it had been hers forever. The girl stared at the boy with her new knowledge and feeling.

She was free. And as she put her hand to her mouth to cover up her laughter, she began to soar.

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