Compared to the little woman whose personality could fill a football stadium and whose smile could brighten a lifetime, the cardboard box was anathema. Brown, beige, diminutive, it was pathetic. Delivered by FedEx, she’d sat patiently outside in hundred-degree Arizona temperatures until he’d finally arrived home from work, but hadn’t complained. Now the box sat on the kitchen table with utility bills, credit card offers, chances to win cars, holidays, and a million dollars in prizes.
He’d done his best to ignore her, the fact she’d left him was hard enough, but it was difficult. She permeated the house. Her scent was on everything he touched, her presence still apparent throughout what had once been a happy home.
She’d left clear instructions and in her final days had been adamant that he fulfill her wishes. Propped up in bed with giant pillows, she’d scribbled directions into a notebook, her gaze as weak as the lemonade that stood on her bedside table. She knew he would do as she asked. He always had. Why should the fact that she was going away change that?
He’d spent time on the computer perusing containers and vessels, compared and contrasted, priced and checked, for availability. Something worthy, not too expensive but not too cheap either. The sky was the limit and for a couple of hundred he could get a one-of-a-kind, signed by the artist, in a limited edition.
She wouldn’t want that though, she wasn’t that kind of girl. She’d never been flamboyant or ostentatious – subtle as a brick, effectively understated, disarmingly charming is the description she probably would’ve used. He’d whittled the choice down to two. A biodegradable container her politics would have agreed with; the other, a Victorian styled ceramic her eye would have adored. He opted for the ceramic. Sod the expense. What did it really matter anyway?
The container he’d ordered sat on the table next to the FedEx box. They’d stood together for the best part of two weeks. Two brown boxes side by side, like bookends, or those china dogs old ladies kept in front parlor windows.
He didn’t have the heart. Sure, he’d carried her over the threshold back when they were first married, and to the car in the middle of the night when she’d been pregnant. But she’d been lighter then, and it had been no effort at all. Now that she was cooped up in cardboard she may as well have been made from lead, the table she stood on the height of Everest. He couldn’t get past the emotion it would take to conquer either. Instead he had breakfast with her in the mornings, chatted with her of an evening and told her about his day. At other times they enjoyed companionable silence. He’d watch some rubbish on the television and she’d stand on the table.
As the weeks passed he came to understand that she really wasn’t gone, that she was still very much with him. Hadn’t they promised? Hadn’t they made vows to that effect? Weren’t they legally contracted? He was sure that he’d signed something somewhere. She still had that same effect on him, knew when he was sparing with the truth, knew that given time she would wheedle it out of him. But showing emotion wasn’t the manly thing to do. As he held her in cubed remembrance, he shed tears that coursed down his face and dampened the cardboard. He fought to control himself. He didn’t want to burden her any more than was necessary – she had enough on her plate as it was.
He knew that he must, but didn’t want to. How does one decant ones wife of thirty years? Should he open the box and let her breath for a while? Walk her around the house one last time perhaps before interring her forever, or does one shake-and-scoop like old cat litter?
The day before he’d put her in the car. Sitting on the dashboard like a plastic saint, they’d revisited all the old familiar places. He’d walked with her down by the river, visited the blue-bell wood where they’d first kissed, and placed her on the bar at the Kings Head so that they could enjoy a last drink together. Ignoring the looks of the other patrons he’d placed the glass of wine in front of the box.
He saw their glances, knew they would never understand.
He’d drizzled a little over her. If it had been old times she would have squealed with mock fear, admonished him for being childish. A man of sixty five years, what was he playing at?
The box was finally opened, the morning sun beaming through finger-streaked glass. Inside was a plastic bag that contained what looked like talcum powder. The only thing between her and freedom was the elastic band that held her captive within. As he released it, he watched as small mots of dust escaped from the bag and floated in the sunshine. Not so much dust, but her. He closed the bag quickly, his hands squeezing the bag a little too tightly. She puffed above the table, wafted in the draft, and slowly spread herself across the room.
He could hear her laughing as she draped herself on furniture, lounged on top of cupboards and danced across the tiles. She wasn’t the shy and retiring type, it was typical behavior. A social butterfly, she’d flit in an out of conversations at his Company parties, mist between guests, and waterfall her enthusiasm among friends and new acquaintances.
He poured her gently from plastic to ceramic, rather like a check-out a boy at the supermarket fulfilling the whim of an environmentally conscious customer. She didn’t complain, didn’t cry out, she simply slicked though his fingers and deposited herself. Task completed he looked at the bag. There was still a little of her left inside.
He took her to the sink, opened the faucet, and filled the bag with water. She swam easily with broad strokes, splashing and waving. He then carried her to the large-leafed plant she used to play music for and talk to, and emptied her into the plant pot. She’d sworn that it listened better than he did. She was right of course, even when she wasn’t.
He finally came to a decision. He couldn’t let her go. There was no way he was driving miles to abandon her in some secluded spot. Safely sifted and transferred he carried her gingerly and placed her next to the couch. The place where they cuddled up of an evening, where she’d asked if he still loved her after thirty years. Hadn’t she realized that thirty years through thick and thin were testament enough? Love etched in blood, sweat, tears, hard work, children, and second mortgages. But that was over now, no more worries, no more concerns. Now it was just him and her.
He turned on the television and flicked through the channels. The Antiques Roadshow – they enjoyed that. Some old boy was showing off a leather bound heirloom, avarice gleaming in his eyes. He turned to the porcelain vase. “What do you think Babe? Worth a thousand dollars?” Her silence spoke volumes.
“Expect you’re right,” he said. He snuggled down enjoying the moment. It was good to have her home.