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A Box of One's Own by Matt Armstrong
published in Volume 2, Issue 3 on May 21, 1995

When Carrie was brought to her new home by her mother and introduced to her new family, with her new father who awkwardly offered his lap, not sure if a girl just into her teenage years would appreciate the gesture, and her new sister who regarded her with as much indifference as could be afforded an unwanted roommate, and her new older brother with his bulky oversized body ensconced in his own private world, she was too numb to care. As she explained to Sarah, her sister pro tem, there comes a time along the lines of watching your father's slow disintegration under the pressure of cancer that you realize there is no longer any safety, so why bother. Well, she didn't exactly say this, but she had always wanted to when Sarah would cast a stony look her way and ask her what it is like to have a dead father.

Besides, Sarah wouldn't understand. She has found her place of safety. She knows exactly where to hide. She has her box; that monstrous construction of unfinished oak that sits at the foot of her bed. Its sturdy grain is stenciled around the border in a light pastel of pink two-legged pigs with little patches of red and blue flowers gracing the corners. It has a lid anchored by a simple hook that for the most part is left dangling, because the weight of the lid is more than enough to hold it down. It could easily house every old toy or shoe or piece of clothing in their room, but it remains empty, doubling as a bench mostly.

It is in this box where Sarah hides when Pete shuffles down the hall every few nights from his comic book dungeon of adolescent delights and climbs into Carrie's bed. It is also what Carrie focuses upon when Pete rolls on top of her and stokes his pecker against her stomach and pinches her nubile budding breasts between his slurping lips. Sarah always leaves her yellow pompoms on top of it, and they hang off the sides reminding Carrie of the golden epaulets that always adorned the shoulders of the handsome prince in one of her father's bedtime stories. But the stories are gone now, dead like her father.

It must be dark in there, she thinks, looking over Pete's fumbling head towards the box. It must be a darkness so pure, so perfect, that you can't even see your hand before your face. It must be so quiet in there that the only sounds are your own. Breathing must be so loud, she thinks, how melodious is the batting of an eye. Yes, safety must be found in there.

These thoughts hurt her, though. Like the fresh sting of his dull teeth pinching her nipples. And she is pulled back to what is happening to her right then by the turbulent gyrations of the ball of fat that is riding on top of her. He releases himself all over her, and it oozes around in the dark, soaking into her clothes and sheets, and he collapses on top of her. He slinks off the bed, not even looking at her, then slides his pants back on in a dark that has now become darker, and shuffles towards the door with his head bowed. When the door closes, Sarah pops out of the box and climbs back into her bed.

They lie in silence for a few minutes.

"When are you going to do something about him?" Sarah asks.

"He's your brother," Carrie says. "Besides, he said he'd kill us."

They remain quiet contemplating this. Sarah has nothing to fear, they both know he won't commit incest; he's just sick enough to obey this taboo. So as long as she is able to crouch in the box of safety, why would she care?

"Do you really think he would kill us?" Carrie asks.

"Yes."

Neither of them sleeps that night.


The next evening, they sit down together to a light dinner, which they pass in the customary, but tasteless routine of questions on daily life and answers which border on careless resplendence. Carrie hides her doleful demeanor behind a somewhat false account of her goings on in junior high. Her new father seems interested, but caters more to Sarah's silly accounts of cheerleading practice and some fight over a new head cheerleader. Sarah's usual mendacities, however, have been tempered today by last night's exhaustions, and Carrie can detect a note of indifference in her description of the day's activities.

Carrie is alarmed, though, because she notices in Pete's eye that he is planning to pay another visit tonight. He is looking right through her. She considers telling her mother, but she is reticent, worried about the effect such a revelation might have on the first happiness she sees in her mother since her father's death.

Alone in their room, she sits before the box, tracing with her finger the outline of one of the pigs. Their pink is so soft, like the petals on the roses her father once grew, so delicate they gave themselves over to the wind and drifted carefree into the sky. The pigs all face the same direction, each with their nose in the butt of the one before it, like a carousel of pigs, and those patches of flowers in the corner, made by the lightest dab of a brush, astound her with their frankness. She can still see the brush strokes. The creator left her mark. She flicks absently at the dangling hook.

All she would have to do is climb in. He would walk in and she would be gone, lost in the box, lost in the world Sarah is able to flee to, a world of impenetrable darkness and a silence broken only by one's self. She would be away from this world that causes so much pain. Her sister walks in and sees her slumped over the box. Carrie looks up at her.

"I need a box of my own," she says to her. Sarah looks down at her, silent, but with her eyes filling with tears.

In all their months together, this is the first actual look she has received from Sarah. Though a hug or any type of touch seems appropriate at the moment, they decline and dress for bed in a clouded stupor.

As they climb into their respective beds, the low hiss of the swaying trees filters into their room, and the night rescinds into a tired silence. Through the midnight light which her eyes slowly adjust to, Carrie can see those epaulets hanging on the box, and she begins to tremble. Up the hall, she can hear the faint clicking of her brother's door, sliding open, but she can't be sure because it sounds no different from the house settling.

"He's coming," Sarah says, suddenly standing at her bedside. “Quick, get into my bed." She pulls back the covers and drags Carrie towards the other bed.

"Get in," she orders again.

Carrie climbs into her sister's bed and pulls the covers up tight. Her sister then jumps into her own bed. Carrie manages to whisper, "He'll know it's you," to her before the door opens.

He walks in like he always does, cautious, a guiding hand drifting before him as he stumbles across the dark room. Carrie glides out of bed, confidant that his eyes still burning from the outside light are unable to discern her features. She lifts the lid, pink pigs faintly visible in the darkness, and steps in. She crouches down into a ball, rolling into a fetal position, as the lid clamps down on top of her. A cold darkness envelops her, and this she imagines--or remembers--is what it must be like to be in the womb, with the slightest movement pulsing in her ears and a liquid blackness that hides even her hands before her face.

She hears a faint sound, however. It is a sound that drifts in between her breaths, between her slight movements to find comfort. It is a quiet whimper, like a baby's cry, seeping in from the outside, and this makes her think of her father, who in his last days, just before the cancer had totally eaten him up, had told her that hell knows no bounds.

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