My mother has a box. One day she will pass it down to me because mothers are supposed to give things to their daughters. But I don’t want it.
Inside my mother has eggshells, small bones, carved sticks.
My mother has told me the story so many times I should know the details, but I try not to listen. Sometimes she quizzes me, but even if I know the answer, I say that I don’t know.
She was younger than me when it started. It was smaller then, shoe-boxed size. There was a path made out of stones and paper children walked along it holding toothpick daisies. There were mountains colored in with purple crayon. One day she peeled away the children and the stone path, and that’s when it became her box.
Inside my mother has some strands of hair from her sister and a popped balloon.
There was another box after that, an aluminum bread box with a hinged door. I wonder how many loaves she displaced to keep it going. Now it is a large wooden box that sits in the sewing room. It is beyond a box really. It is almost coffin-sized. That’s what I tell her. My mother says if it were a coffin, it would have plush velvet and the top would swing apart in pieces. I ask her what it is then, and she says it is a hope chest, what mothers give their daughters to fill up with tablecloths and dishes.
Inside my mother has a cracked frame and an iris pressed in wax.
My mother keeps a list of everything she has in there, but she never looks at it. She has it all memorized I think. When we are sitting in traffic or on line at the supermarket, I’ll ask her questions. If she doesn’t answer, I know she’s going over the list. I think it should have a melody by now, but she’s never sung it to me.
(Sometimes I imagine it goes: diamond ring, sharp thing, broken plate, clean slate.)
Sometimes she makes me lift the box. I tell her I couldn’t lift it even if it were empty. She says, not by yourself. So we lift together, but my mother’s not a strong woman. I think the box weighs more than she does. I think I’m doing most of the lifting.
At night I dream about the box. It looms like a great storm cloud, and I watch it hover, thinking any moment it will fall on me. This never happens. Instead it turns over and everything that is inside falls out. I can feel wind, and it blows the box clear over the mountains and away.
I am trying to make the box lighter. First I started taking the heaviest things I could think of, one at a time so she wouldn’t notice. I thought of hiding them under the sofa cushions or in bags of flour, but eventually the bag will empty or she’ll vacuum the couch, so I decided to bury them in the backyard. I go outside while she is napping and drop them in holes and cover them up. It is like a little funeral except I don’t say any prayers.
Inside I hear the sound of something shifting.
I don’t keep track anymore of what I take. She might ask me where something went, so if I don’t know what I’ve taken I can look more surprised. Besides it bothers me how much I know what’s in the box, so now I pull things out without looking and put them in a little sack. When I drop the sack into the hole, I don’t even listen for what sound it makes, not a thud, not a twinkle. I just push dirt over it.
I’m starting to ask questions about things I know. If she doesn’t answer, I tug on her and ask again. I make her tell me what’s in the box. She begins her list and when she gets to something I’ve taken out, I challenge her. I make her show it to me. But she says it doesn’t matter if she can pull it out and show me because it’s still there.
So now I’ve taken everything out. Even the dust balls in the corner which probably don’t mean anything. I want to be absolutely sure. And I say to her, there’s nothing here. And she says, if there’s nothing here then let me see you lift it. Let me see you lift up nothing.
So I bend down and begin lifting by myself. It is lighter without all the junk in it, but I can only get my half off the ground. I hold it there for a long time to show her I can. I am still holding it.
Photo by p-a-t-r-i-c-k