Author: Inklet PM
A young woman finds a cardboard box abandoned on her doorstep. Inside the box is one simple word: hope.Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort - Words: 2,887 - Published: 10-15-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2961325
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I was having one of those weeks. The kind so unbelievably bad you would have no other choice but to throw heavy curtains over the windows and bury yourself in the covers until it all blew over. But, of course, I didn't have a choice and I had to drag my reluctant feet into work everyday for eight long hours of torture only to return defeated and deflated. By the time the downhill side of the week rolled around, I was the living undead - no more than a ramen-eating, reality TV-watching zombie drone.
I woke up the next day to heavy rain pounding against my window. Globs of water seemed to pound relentlessly, keeping me from falling back into blissful sleep. I had no other choice but to throw the blankets off and haul my sack of bones out of bed. 5:30. Not even 6 o'clock. I had three hours of soggy, empty time to kill before I had to be at work. I opened the blinds to a darkened world…by all accounts, rain or not, the horizon should have been growing brighter and brighter but there was not even a sliver of light across the sky.
But, there was one glimmering sliver of hope: my third anniversary with Austin. Just eight sluggish hours of work and then a quiet dinner. I held on to this one nugget of hope to get me through the day. I started the coffee pot and tried to will myself to hum a little, but it seemed embarrassing and I felt self-conscious even in my empty house.
It was only when I went to bring in the dampened cat food that I saw the box. It was sitting, oddly enough, wedged between my screen door and the heavy wooden one that led into my kitchen. It hadn't been there the night before and it seemed odd that a package would have been delivered so late. Regardless, I brought it into the house along with the cat food and sat the lot of it on my countertop. I was surprised by the weight of the box. It felt full of paperweights. The cardboard wasn't wet - of course it had been protected by the awning. There was no indication that the package was for me other than its ominous drop-off location. And there was no return address. Just a plain brown, cardboard box with a ribbon of shiny tape running around its middle.
Except for the inscription. It was written across the top in plain, simple print.
"Remember that the one thing remaining in Pandora's box was hope."
I almost laughed aloud. It had to be a joke…Austin's way of starting our day early?
Or maybe - and most likely judging by the way my week had been - a group of punk kids leaving nasties on doorsteps.
I thought that I should put it back. Go out the front door for once.
I thought that I should put skepticism aside and open it.
I stood in my kitchen as the rain came down outside and stared at the box. To open it or not. I could fill up my empty three hours with the conundrum. But…if it was from a Austin I'd have to open it before our date so I could make the appropriate display of appreciation. And if it was a prank, I'd need my remaining time before work to pull myself back together.
I brought over a steak knife. Slowly I drug the blade through the gleaming tape. I opened the box, half expecting a pile of doggies suprise. But what I got was much, much worse.
The storm outside blasted through a window, bringing a great gust of wind ripping through my home, blowing paper and bills everywhere. Tiny bits of paper with tiny bits of writing came up and out of the box and scattered like confetti across the room.
In the bottom of the box, one tiny sliver of paper remained. It was written so tiny that I had to put on my glasses and even then I had to squint.
Well, wasn't that a coincidence?
I cleaned up the strips of paper, sweeping them up and depositing them back into the box from whence they came. I didn't bother to read over them - my curiosity not piqued by a box of shredded sentiments. Instead, I settled in front of the television with a cup of coffee in hand and watched the news.
The storm soon subsided, but even then it remained dark and gloomy outside. I pulled on a thick sweatshirt over my blouse and packed my flats into my purse. Allowing for drivers who don't yield to pedestrians and the occasional detour around a train, it normally took me around twenty minutes to make the trek from my house to work.
As I walked, a peculiar feeling came over me that I couldn't quite place. A little ball of warmth knotted inside my stomach, pulsing and growing. The ball grew and crawled across my abdomen like wildfire. My finger and toes and knees were stiff and hard, like a deep cold had taken up residence in my joints. My head became airy and woozy. It felt too heavy for my body. I wondered briefly if I had ate something that disagreed with my stomach, but realized the only thing I had was weak coffee. I shrugged it off and kept walking; it would pass soon, just a fluke I decided.
I rounded the corner of 21st and Hickory next to the old elementary school. The wind was still howling around the trees, whipping leaves and dust up and around. Over it, I could hear shuffling. I slowed to a stop behind a great old elm tree. Just a few feet away from me was a woman, probably middle aged and wearing a mid-length skirt. She was fussing with one of the straps on her heels - one of the reasons why I never walked to work in my heels. Her purse was hanging dejectedly from one elbow. She seemed oblivious to the wind and traffic, and even me.
I group of boys came from another side street, behind the woman. Still fussing with her bag she didn't notice them. They were young - 17 maybe 18, with patches of dejected beards they wore proudly. I tried to decide if they were hoodlums. They should have been heading to school, but were a few blocks off from any route to the High School. They wore hoodies and jeans, not unlike the rest of the teens in town. They twittered in low voices, gesturing and pointing at the woman.
One boy, the most daring, began to approach the woman. She straightened up, her purse still hanging half open as she watched him approach. The same thought must have dawned on the both of us at the same time. We both cried out as the boy, with a smile on his face, reached forward and gripped her purse. No one seemed to hear me. I shouted again, thinking naively that one of the other boys would hear me and pull the other away. But again, no one heard me. The other boys simply stood nearby, rocking unsteadily back and forth on their heels, like they didn't know whether to stay or to run.
I remained frozen to the spot. I wanted deeply to run forward, somehow help the woman, but I didn't I stood there with my mouth half open, shouting fruitlessly and wondering why no one heard me. I kept my purse tight against my side.
"What are -" she exclaimed as she yanked the bag back out of his hand. A great flurry of motion erupted. From the force of her pull, crumpled receipts and tampons exploded out from the purse and scattered across the ground. Her wallet landed just inches from his feet - almost touching even. I looked of triumph dawned slowly across his face, and he grabbed the thing - worn and torn leather - and took a few hesitant steps away from her. He ripped it open. Inside were two crumpled ten dollar bills, which he removed and pocketed.
"Don't you dare!" the woman shrilled. "I'll call the cops." It was an empty threat as no cell phone had tumbled down from the bag. She reached halfheartedly toward the boy, as though her clawing motion would make him think twice. But the boy merely gave an easy grin at his buddies and began an easy jog away from the woman. I knew that her shoes would hinder any chase she'd try to give. The others followed, with uneasy glances over their shoulders at the woman.
Unglued from my spot, I began a hesitant trot toward her.
"Are you okay? I can't believe what just happened!"
If she heard me at all, she gave no acknowledgment, only continued to pick up her items. One item after another were deposited into her bag with no rhyme or reason. Even the emptied wallet disappeared back into the black leather. Tears were streaking down her face now, narrow rivulets of mascara caressing her chin. I stopped a few short, trying to give her time to compose herself.
"Do you want me to call the police?"
She straightened up, rearranged her clothes, sniffed a little, and then promptly turned and walked quickly back the way she'd come. I stayed were I was. Had I somehow upset her by not stepping in sooner? Was she simply so shell-shocked that she didn't hear me at all? Maybe I should have done something. Stepped in and pulled the kid off, or called the police at the very least.
I re-shouldered my bag as guilt settled heavily in my stomach.
The clock at work ticked along slowly, the hands making a painful crawl against the face. I stayed at my desk for the most part with enough work that I seldom got up. I remained focuses at the task at hand, my fingers typing effortlessly away and my eyes never leaving the screen. My mouth and throat became dry from underuse. I felt as though I had gone the entire day without so much as making eye contact with another person.
At quitting time, I got up slowly from the chair. The creak in my knees told me that I had gone too long without standing. Most of the lights in the office were already out - most of my coworkers had gone home early. I switched off my computer and stepped back into the windy street. It had picked up substantially during the last eight hours. Bags and leaves tumbled across the street and minuscule shards of rain lashed around.
I decided, guiltily, to take the bus to home. Maybe it was economical or healthy, but it kept my clothes from freezing to my skin my hair from frizzing up again. Then again, I could go straight to Austin's and surprise him early. He wasn't expecting me to come over until six, but I hated the idea of spending any more time in the wind and rain than necessary.
I waited in the steady glow of a streetlamp for the bus. When it finally came - a great, groaning beast in the October gloom - other riders crowded on and off with no thought or respect to me. I was jostled around not unlike the desolate bags floating about. Finally, I was able to crawl aboard the bus and find an empty seat in the middle right before the doors slammed shut behind me.
Soon, the bus groaned to a halt shortly before Austin's small, unremarkable house. Four solid walls, discolored from lack of upkeep, with a pebbly, gray roof that seemed to just be hanging on. I went to knock on the front door. It was muddy near the bottom from the splash of boots. Through it, I could hear the roar of the television - maybe a war movie. I dropped my hand down. I wanted to surprise him. It would be so much better if he were across the house and I could tiptoe across the floating floor and wrap my hands around his waist. Of course this was the case. Of course Austin would be across the house, near the sink, maybe straightening up in the back before I arrived. He wasn't expecting me yet; therefore, he'd have no reason to be on the couch, lounging in front of an overly loud war movie. This was the vision I constructed in my mind, erecting a boyfriend who be rushing about to impress me. With no real good cause, I convinced myself that this must be true. There was not a shadow of a doubt that Austin wasn't in the front room.
There was a wheezing sigh as I shut the door tightly but quietly behind me. I was right - Austin was no where to be seen in the living room. A pang of disappointment shot through my gut. There were bits of clothing - a sock here, a t-shirt there - scattering across the living room. Last night's take-out was still sitting in oily cardboard boxes on his coffee table. Was that kung-pow chicken? Well, surely he was working on the kitchen. It had always been warmer on that side of the house so we normally spend all our time sitting around the glass dining table. Again, I convinced myself that I was somehow right, and, slipping off my shoes, padded as quietly as possible through the house.
Midway through the darkened hallway, a wave of flora assaulted my nose. Flowers! Of course he would have bought me flowers. But then again, it was a little too heavy to be flowers…perfume then. I wouldn't put it past him. His bedroom door was shut; that was odd. Over the roar of the war movie - I should have turned it down a bit - I could hear shuffling through the door. A smiled flitted across my lips. Of course, he must be wrapping my present.
I tapped, one-two to given him time to hide away the gift, and pushed open the door.
The room was dim, the curtains pulled tight. I could just make out a mound mid-bed. I flicked on the light, which gave an audible shutter as it flickered to life.
Mid-bed was Austin, on all fours, the heavy down comforter draped over him but failing to conceal his bare shoulders. And next to him…I was surprised and not surprised. Crushed, devastated, steamrolled. It all became painfully clear now. Why he wasn't in the front room, or cleaning like I have naively assumed. Why the hallway smelled so sweetly of roses. Under the great hulk of Austin's body was a splash of golden blonde hair across the pillow. Beneath the rhythmic pulse of his hips, the hair flicked back and forth.
Neither of them made any sign that they had heard me come in or even noticed the light had shuddered on. Breathlessly, they continued on, lost in their own little world.
I thought, stupidly, that it was my own fault I had walked in on this. He wasn't expecting me; I interrupted him during his little tryst. Had I waited until our date I would have been spared this image. But, impatiently I had barged in on him and caught him mid-act.
And then it dawned on me, like it should have in the first instant I entered the room. This wasn't my fault. I had done nothing to deserve this. Here was my boyfriend with another girl settled over him. It was not my fault.
I stood in the door for a few hesitant moments, wondering if either of them would notice me. Then I stood in the door for a few bold moments, with my hands haughtily on my hips. Still they didn't notice me. I huffed. And hawed. And hummed. And still they didn't notice me standing in the door.
My resolved crumbled away like stepped on fall leaves. The breath rushed out of me all at once and I was left feeling breathless and alone. The utter gravity of the situation steamrolled me. My boyfriend. Another girl. My anniversary. I'm not even being acknowledged. A thousand questions wavered through my head. What had I done to deserve this? Why was I not good enough for him?
But even as I thought those things, something in the back of my head rejected them. Something whispered that it was not my fault. And moreover, that this was a good thing. I now knew Austin for who he really was.
The peculiar feeling, which had reignited upon entering the house, sparked. I felt it spark. A brief, bright flare of sensation deep in the pit of my stomach.
Austin suddenly looked up, eyes locking with mine, and scrambled off the blonde.
I smirked. Turned. Walked out the house. With satisfaction I knew that this was all for the best, and that really all I had - all I needed - was hope.