By Norma Zimmermann
The first time I saw the box, I was cleaning out closets, packing away woolens, encasingsweaters, skirts, jackets, and coats in moth balls, giving them a proper burial for the summer season. The box was far back on a top shelf, almost as if it had been forgotten, neglected behind mounds of winter caps and mismatched mittens. I took it out and placed it on the bed. It was a small box, about six inches square, and was wrapped in a heavy gold foil paper. The paper seemed old, almost Victorian. It was not worn, but it was dusty, and had a mustiness about it that suggested many years of storage in a dry-cellar, kept wedged between pickled beets and canned tomatoes. There were no seams in the paper, no opening of any kind. I ran my hand along the top smoothing away dust, and felt bumps, like raised braille letters, on my fingertips. I brought the box to the window, and looked at it closely in the sunshine. It was textured, embossed, with hexagons, large and small, all connecting with each other forming an intertwining array of benzene rings. The doorbell rang, and I put the box down on the bed and went to answer it. When I came back, the box was gone.
I was having tea with my neighbor, the next time the box appeared. It sat on top of the breadbox, next to a plate of white powdered doughnuts. Sugar and doughnut crumbs had fallen all over the side of the box, causing the hexagons to shine out in relief, giving them a harder, sharper edge than they had had when I looked at them shining in the afternoon sunshine. I was shocked to see it there, and choked on my hot tea, spilling some on the clean white, linen table cloth, scalding my hand. I gave a little cry and watched my skin redden. My friend ran to get some ice, and when I looked again, the box had vanished.
I saw the box several more times that week, each time was as mysterious and unpredictable as the last. It was in the collection basket at church, half-buried under coins and commitment envelopes, being passed along from row to row, each additional contribution covering it a bit more. It was there in the grocery store, settled in the produce department, surrounded by thick leafy heads of romaine, chicory and iceberg, keeping cool on bits of shaved ice. I saw its reflection in the mirror that was angled above the row of vegetables, the gold glinting in the fluorescent lights, surrounded by deepening shades of green.
I started to get used to seeing it in odd places. It was comforting, seeing it there, in the garden, between the rows of marigolds and zucchini, or at the library, neatly stacked, appearing in Adult Fiction between works by Andrea Golden and Samuel Goldstein. And I didn’t feel a bit surprised when I saw it there in the laundromat, resting on top of a vending machine that carried laundry detergent, Tide, Clorox and All, squeezed in between a massive Coke machine and an old ugly brown coin changer.
I started to look for the box during the day, hoping to catch a glimpse of it in the big round mirror that hung from the roof at the self-serve gas station, or at the mall, nestled in among the fake palms, and miniature fountains.
One day, I did not see the box at all. And the next day was the same, and the next. I started to search for the box, anxiously peering around every corner, nervously contemplating its whereabouts. I became hyper-vigilant, sensitive to every noise, every shift of light, every alteration of sensation.
Finally I gave up. I felt cheated, depressed, as if I had been given a gift and had had it snatched away again. Life took on a dull, monotonous routine, and I shuffled through the days, watching one take the other, all flowing together into a small tributary that moved slowly, bound with silt which sifted down from its bank’s eroding edges.
After what seemed to be a very long time, the box reappeared again. Not fully disclosed, glaring in the sunlight, but out of the corner of my eye, a peripheral vision, a half-felt presence. When I turned my head and looked, it was gone. I tried to trick it, by turning quickly, or glancing sideways into a nearby mirror, but it seemed to know my thoughts, and would not allow itself to be revealed. After a while, I gave up trying to catch it, and settled for feeling it near, warming to the glow of the gold, acknowledging it’s presence as an independent spirit. Little by little the vision faded, appearing only as a hazy dim glow, a fistful of gold dust someone threw up against a black background, a dull smudge in the corner of my eye. But sometimes when I look in the mirror, I can see it there, softly glowing, the edges of the hexagons creating a solid lattice, a flexible chain of resilience, coiling around, coming in tight, right in the center of my eye.
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Norma Zimmermann worked in health care for many years, and this is her first flash fiction story. She lives with her husband of 47 years in Massachusetts.