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Give a Poet a Box
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Dorothy’s daughter was prone, rump up, on her living room floor. Bubbles escaped her mouth. In one chubby fist was a purple crayon. In another, a red one. Dorothy slumped on the sofa with Withersmith, the doxie, on half her lap and Rutherford, the furze-pig, on the other half. Mr. Henry, the moggy, batted at shadows on the wall behind Dorothy’s head. Dorothy kept snoring.


Chet packed his laptop and sack lunch, softly kissed his wife and daughter’s brows, patted the family’s pets, and left. His new job demanded that he begin his commute at six in the morning to beat the parkway traffic that often unsettled him as he rode to the train station.


Besides, he meant to arrive early at work since his new boss had offered the sales department a challenge. If someone could sell plain boxes to Acme, that someone would be promoted to department manager.


Chet sighed as he avoided a  pothole. His supervisor was a nincompoop. On balance, surprisingly, sales commissions paid better than technical writing gigs, and Dorothy’s ongoing therapy was not fully covered by insurance. So, it was to his fiduciary advantage to appreciate his situation. What’s more, Dorothy kept insisting that she not return to her former, full-time hours at the law firm.


Her community mommy group, her newfound love of cooking Ukrainian food, and her part-time work perusing legal documents satisfactorily filled her days. Plus, her psychoanalyst had encouraged her to neither increase her workload nor give up therapy. Rather, that expert had insisted that Dorothy and Chet add a new expense, marriage counseling, to their budget.


Chet’s train was on time. Rather than plug in his earbuds, he closed his eyes to meditate on the essence of stiff paper cartons. Their child, Addison, liked it when Dorothy plopped her inside one and then gave her crayons. That talented child would decorate her entire surrounds. What’s more, Dorothy insisted that the activity kept Addison occupied for at least half the time that it took Dorothy to make stuffed cabbage rolls or potato pancakes (his wife likewise insisted that white rice and white potatoes didn’t count on her doctor’s list of the carbohydrates that she had to avoid.)


Maybe, in the future, when Dorothy’s new belly bulge became Addison’s sibling, Addison would enjoy other diversions. It would be four more months more, however, until Chet and Dorothy found out. In the interim, used delivery vessels would continue to be repurposed for Addison’s amusement.


Before Chet climbed up from the subway, he tossed his coffee cup into a heavy-duty, paper-based receptacle designated for recyclables. At street level, he exhaled a gratitude that a doughnut chain had bought property near the main train station. He regularly relied on that bakery to furnish the solid component of his breakfast after he disembarked.


Once in his office, he greeted Romi, Maylee and Aryeh. Their sundry manners of dress made his costumes seem modest. Romi had multiple facial piercings as well as hair tinted, simultaneously, in lemon, pineapple, and canary hues. Maylee’s skirts featured higher and higher slits and were always predominantly cerulean or lapis in tone. Aryeh experimented with mahogany, merlot, garnet, and crimson ensembles, claiming that artistic fluidity arose from his soul, not from his secondary sexual features. Once in a while, though, Aryeh owned that his rigouts helped him with his identity.


As per Chet, neither his ruffled shirts nor his plaid ties elicited as much as a notice from his peers. So, he began to emulate his boss by making khakis with button-downs his work uniform. Only Dorothy appeared to have perceived his change in style.


At the time, she was puking up the previous night’s meal, so she gave her beloved a thumbs up while she vomited. Not only the first trimester of pregnancy, but all of the months that followed, were unusually hard for her.


Regardless, when Chet walked into the agency, he observed that his officemates were quietly working. Hush was an aberration among his peers. Chet expected to daily don his noise cancelling headphones. More exactly, Romi liked technopunk, Maylee favored Victorian tunes, Aryeh was keen about Pride music, and their boss insisted on playing pop. The office was a cacophony of notes and lyrics.


Chet glanced over his peers’ cubby walls to see if any of them were trying to prize the management position away from him. To his consternation, not only were all of his mates halcyon, but all of them were all working on the box project.


Shaking his head, Chet regarded his desk. A stack of storyboards and a tenth generation script for voice actors for the next Tell Bell commercial awaited him. That Internet Provider had been one of his first clients and as such needed to be his morning’s priority.


Though Chet was supposed to be laboring over smartphones and wearable technology, all he could think about was the box project. He called to mind how Nancy Lynn, the family’s young neighbor, liked to build forts and castles out of boxes. Mr. Henry appreciated Nancy Lynn’s architecture, but Rutherford, who once had been caught by an avalanche of falling cardboard, did not. Given his mental distractions, it was only half of an hour before Chet was due to leave for home that he passed a twelfth generation voice actor script to Aryeh and then asked Maylee to check his latest rendition of Tell Bell’s storyboards.


Sometime during the day, UPS has delivered a package to his cubicle. It was probably a prototype of Gee Whiz’s latest party hat. Chet sighed as he again eyed the box. It would have to wait until the next day. At least, he was building a client roster. At least, the marriage counselor had praised him for increasing his earnings.


Upon descending the subway stairs, Chet noticed that graffiti had been sprayed over his favorite insurance ad. He frowned; as a youngster, geckos were only found on sunny rocks or in science books. A few years later, as a young man, he had found that campaign enthralling. These days, remaining posters were far and few and now someone had defaced the one he had most often viewed.


All things being unequal, Chet gifted a panhandler with some coins and then passed through the turnstile. He noted that the vagrant was using an old-fashioned bandage box for his dosh.


The aroma of borscht and of garlic fritters wafted to the front door. It was odd that Chet’s wife could eat alliums by the bucket, but not keep down coffee or eggs. Nonetheless, nausea and all, she glowed. Accordingly, Chet reached to kiss her.


Dorothy frowned. She had propped up her cookbook against an empty biscuit tin and was muttering about onions versus shallots. Chet had encouraged her to use her cellphone instead of relying on bound sets of recipes, but Dorothy hadn’t wanted to get her screen dirty. So, she continued to use her cookbooks.


Addison toddled into the kitchen, sat in front of the cabinet beneath the sink and began to pull out cat food cans. Babbling all the while, she stacked them.


Dorothy laughed at their child.


Chet sighed. It had been a long time since Dorothy had laughed at his cuteness. He had never imagined he’d miss her cackles. He missed them. Inhaling the lovely cooking smells was small compensation. He headed for their bedroom.


As he changed into more leisurely clothing, he thought about how, postpartum, he and his darling, together, had overcome her newfound aversion to his chewing sounds. Rather than

anger and disgust, as guided by her therapist, Dorothy had confronted Chet with descriptive words. For his part, Chet had learned to take smaller mouthfuls.


Another change they had weathered had been Dorothy’s agreement to participate in the local ladies’ coffee klatch. Prior, Chet’s wife had been isolating. Baby blues had proved to be an unexpected watershed for the couple.


Looking further back, Chet mused over how marrying Dorothy had meant adopting her critter companions. Not every newlywed man provided sanctuary for a wiener dog, a cat, and a hedgehog. Not every almost-newlywed man sheltered a prelingual toddler, either. At least Addison was grasping rudimentary spatial relations. Living proof was Dorothy’s insistence that cannisters of wet cat food be removed from their bundle before being stored beneath the sink so that Addison could build with them.


The next day, when traveling to his office, Chet contemplated Old CDs stored in recycled tennis shoe boxes, donated clothing chockablock in secondhand stores’ crates (he had thrifted for his tuxedo shirts), loose disposable cutlery safely ensconced in kitchen drawers within the squares that other plastic utensils had been packaged, his father’s coffin, and the enthusiasm with which Mr. Henry had claimed the crate from Dorothy’s new computer screen. If only Chet could isolate the common denominator in those pasteboard cubes, he might get promoted.


Then, again, boxes could be made from metal as evidenced by footlockers, stuff boxes, and junction boxes, or from plastic as made manifest by modular and stackable storage boxes, bins for fabric, and Vanlife carryalls. Perhaps, the answer was not what a box could hold, but when a box could be considered a holder. Maybe, he still had a shot at winning.


Beyond corrugated fiberboard, the advertiser thought about wooden chess boxes, wine crates, and pallet-styled containers. He mused over ammunition boxes, international shipping containers, and safes. Additionally, Chet brought to mind jewelry boxes, cigar boxes, cigarette packs, braille cartons, five-panel wraps, and trinket boxes made from blown glass. He was so absorbed in his mentations that he missed his stop, had to deboard, to reboard and then reapproach his exit.


In the office, he deconstructed his visualizations but remembered that his boss had said plain boxes. “Plain” would have to be his pivot. Chet responded to a few emails in his inbox, opened yesterday’s UPS box, which did, indeed contain a prototype of Gee Whiz’s latest party hat and then tapped some keys that enabled him to research the Acme Corporation. Laughing, he wondered why he hadn’t thought of investigating the organization earlier.


Pet carriers! His submission would have to include small, portable cages used for ferrets, guinea pigs and more common pets. Afterall, Acme advertised on its website that “quality is our number one dream” and bringing small critters to their medical appointments while remaining unscathed was a fantasy. Chet had the scars to prove it.


He shook his head. Short weeks earlier, he had been so worried about Rutherford when the wee hedgie had caught a virus that he could think of nothing else. Now that the episode was behind him, he had dismissed all thoughts of animal transport. Yet, conveying creatures with spiney protuberances, with claws, and with teeth was exactly the sort of plain, yet necessary, use for a box that might win him a promotion. Ignoring the rest of his email, his binging smartphone, and the ongoing, odd silence in the office, he wrote up a campaign for Acme.


At home, Chet watched Dorothy fold Addison’s pants and shirts on their dining room table. Usually, his wife just towered their daughter’s miniature socks on his nightstand and stashed their fading bath towels on a sheet on their living room floor. Their pets appreciated those temporary nest of warm, soft fabric. Essentially, it was abnormal for her to be operating on a clean, raised surface when sorting clothing.


More atypical, Dorothy was neither complaining about nausea nor throwing verbal grenades at him. Contrariwise, she was humming some riffs and strumming them on her bass.


“What’s up,” Chet tendered. He shrugged his shoulders toward his chest and was about to raise his arm to block his head when he noticed his spouse’s beatific smile. Dorothy might lob more than words.


“Not much. Nancy Lynn’s mom and Nancy Lynn took Addison to the park. Mr. Henry coughed up three hairballs. Rutherford’s sleeping under the refrigerator and Withersmith is under our bed. I made varenikis and okrashka for dinner. Oh, and your boss called and said something about giving you a promotion.”




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