Friday, 7 June 2013

The Box by Susan Tepper

Candle in the Wind  

On the 6th day of the storm I build a box. This is not a simple undertaking. The house has no power, all is pitch blackness including the basement. I struggle to get down the basement stairs with just my little candle in the glass to light the way. The flashlight died a few days ago and my car has about an inch of gas. Not worth using up that gas to scout around for batteries that probably don’t exist anyway. Gas either.

Near the furnace, I find some scrap plywood and planks in a barrel. My dad collected this wood when he was still alive seventeen years ago. He told me to save the wood in case of emergency. Often I thought about pitching it, but that seemed a sacrilege to his memory. He has come back from time to time, usually to help retrieve some house-related item I require. I don’t take that sort of assistance lightly. I believe they travel great distances (not just in space but also in time) to help. In life, my dad was my help-mate in all house matters.

Down in the dark basement I’m able to locate a hammer and nails fairly quickly. Thanks, Dad, I say as if he’s standing beside me. Then, with just the tiny bit of candlelight, I take the wood and go about building my box. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but it feels imperative.

A few times I smack my fingers with the hammer. Cursing loudly. The next time it happens I cry bitter tears. I cry for every single thing that ever went wrong in my life. Down there, I see my life spread out in front of me like a large patchwork quilt; each square representing some facet. It is the brightest, most terrible quilt I’ve ever encountered. I pick up another piece of wood pushing the quilt from my mind.

Hammer, daughter. My Dad’s voice swirling savory wood smoke though the basement is dry, frigid. I hammer and hammer, attaching the planks and flats of wood. Some time passes though I can’t say how long. Eventually the box is big enough for me to stand in. There’s room in there for me. Now all the box needs is a top.

I choose a flat roof. A piece of plywood serves nicely. Once I lived in a house with a flat roof. The winter storms found their way in through that damned roof. Eventually other storms came calling. But this roof makes the box cozy. I climb in using the step-stool, and slide the flat roof over the top.

Cross-legged, I sit in my box. The little candle flickers in my lap. 

About the Author: Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and poetry.  Her current title "From the Umberplatzen" is a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked-flash.  Tepper has received nine Pushcart nominations, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for her novel "What May Have Been" (Cervena Barva Press, 2010) which she co-wrote with Gary Percesepe.  This year she was first-runner up in the Glass Woman Prize.  Her new interview series UNCOV/rd features each month at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

Image: (c) Storm Crypt