Life in a Box

Contributor: Nicole Chapman

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The night before, my mother extracted the box of ashes from the back of my grandmother’s minivan where it had been resting for three days. I expected an ornate vase, a velvet drawstring bag, or a porcelain jar, something (anything) other than a plain cardboard box sealed with packing tape. The box sat on the dining room table overnight. I crawled out of bed and tiptoed through the house by the glow of the hallway nightlight to check to see if it had shifted.

In the morning, the box was gone and so was my family. I searched the house and then found them, sad silhouettes performing a ceremony in the early morning sun. The sliding glass door felt cool on my cheek. With one hand on the smooth, black door handle and the other clutching my grandmother’s beige, lace curtains, I watched through the glass as my mother and sister struggled to open the box under the evergreen pines. My grandmother sat beside them, observing their antics from a beach chair, sun hat on, folded crossword puzzle in lap, half-melted gin and tonic in hand.

My mother broke through the packing tape with a quick slice from my grandfather’s pocketknife. The cardboard flaps flew open in the breeze as if to let something inside escape. I was afraid the ashes would be carried away by the wind. Could a gust steal them from their rightful resting place in the rose bushes and deposit them instead in the neighbor’s lawn where the dog pees? I stole a quick breath of air and clutched the curtains tighter, as if I had the power to still the wind.

You’re being silly. Just go out there.

I slid the door open and stepped on to the water-worn deck. Leaning against the wooden rail, I squinted to see my family awkwardly shake dust into dust. The rose bushes were blooming with new buds, and I imagined for a moment that the flowers were a deeper pink, a purer white, a stronger red – all the colors I wanted them to be. But, I knew they would wilt at the start of next week’s cold front. My mother waved me over, but I stayed up on the deck, not wanting to walk through the grass in bare feet.

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Nicole Chapman is a Creative Writing MFA student, poet, and screenwriter at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL.
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