Nick Winkworth and Hildie S Block

Nick Winkworth

The Box
Hildie S Block

Inspiration Piece

I’m opening the box.

I’m breaking the law.  You aren’t allowed to do this after someone dies.  Not right after. Not race from the hospital to the bank right after.  Not grab the only child by the wrist from the death-bed-side to the bank, let’s go, right after.

I’m opening the box.  I wonder why we didn’t do this last week.

But last week I didn’t have the key.  The executor had the key.  I didn’t get the key until it was too late.  For it to be legal.

The box is nearly empty.

He says, “That’s all there is” and cries.  The executor seems to want there to be more for me.  I stare at him and wonder why this is happening, why him, why now, why this day.  His visage reflects mine, same age, same exhausted grief lines. I wondered for a minute what it was like to work in an office side-by-side someone as they were dying like he had with my mother.  Day after day.  Then to see it happen.  Actually.

I say, “That’s nothing.  That’s paper.  Paper.  Money, more paper, more money on paper.”  I don’t even know what it means.  Some of it looks like withdrawal slips.

But suddenly I resent the idea that my mother could be boiled down, reduced to something that could fit in a safety deposit box.  That she could be reduced to a line on a bank statement.

“This doesn’t matter,” I say and it’s true.  In the big picture, this isn’t matter, this doesn’t matter.  I search his face for an answer but it is not there, just a reflection of pain that is probably on my face.  For a second, I want him to embrace me, but that second passes.  I’ll be fine back home, with the cat.

“It wasn’t worth it,” I say and he takes it the wrong way.

He looks at me horrified, as if I am the monster.  He scoops up the remainder of the insides of the box, and deposits it into my lap.

“Put it away,” he snaps, “somewhere out of sight.  I’m opening the door.”

I shove, push, suffocate, poke — the money and the slips — into my bag.  I compact them down as deep as I can.  And cover them up.  Magnetic buttons close.  The deal is done.  Whatever sin I’ve committed by opening this box without the grace of the law, it is sealed.  Bile rises in my throat.  I swallow hard.  And cough.

The door is open.  The executor hands the box to the bank attendant, who takes the box and slips it back, wordlessly into its slot in the vault.  The glass door to the vault closes with a click.  The vault door slides shut, the gears and wheels are spun. All manner of lock engages.   A lever is depressed.

The executor runs the back of hand across his eyes and then puts that hand on my shoulder.  “That’s it then.”  I nod.  “You okay?”  I nod, the same untruthful stop sign of a nod.

Weeks later, I return with the lawyer and the executor to open the box, but it is empty now.  The lawyer shakes his head.  “There are things I’ll never understand,” he says.  And it is true.

I put a small urn into the box. And this is also true.  She did fit into the box.  And something else, too.  I’ve added to her ashes, ashes from the things I burnt.  Things that will always stay in the box.

Sometimes fire purifies.

Sometimes secrets are bonds.

I press the key into the palm of the executor.  He looks at me, “But we are done.”  His hand closes on mine.  Firmly.

I stare at him, into his face, his eyes.  “She wanted it this way, you know, just this way,” he said.  “She wanted me to rush you over there.  She whispered it to me, and gave me the key.”

I stared at him, tried to bore holes into his skull, his brain, his soul.  “She wanted this?  Then she didn’t really know . . . “ I trailed off and froze in thought.

“What?” he demanded.  “What do you think she didn’t know?”  What didn’t she know?  Maybe she didn’t know the law.  Maybe she didn’t know how I felt about laws, rules, being good.  But these seemed so unlikely.

Moment of clarity and I see.  The tangle.  The web.  She had a plan; this was no accident. “Take the key,” Again, I push the flatness of the safety deposit box key into his palm and then pull my hand back.

“But we are done,” he repeats himself, as if the second time I will listen.

I shook my head.  “You have no idea.”  And this, too, is true.

One Comment

  1. Posted December 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm | #

    Very compelling and moving. Worthy of the New Yorker.