By Alex Weilhammer
They lived in a box by the side of a road, and within their box, they were gods whose thoughts came to life. With a sudden snap, they could collapse walls, raise ceilings, add stairs, re-do flooring, conjure statues, erect fountains, and more.
In all the months they had been living in the box, they still couldn’t quite discern whether the box had granted them these powers, or whether the powers were the magical consequence of the intense love they shared. They supposed it didn’t matter. In the box, they had food, water, and shelter. In the box, they need not face the brutal terrors of the road, of the cars that traveled the roads, nor of the people that drove the cars. The food and water were imagined, they knew, but they supposed that didn’t matter, either, for they hadn’t felt hungry or thirsty since they first found the box all those years ago.
When they first discovered their joint talent, they enlarged the box-world to resemble the interior of a mansion. To see how their powers had changed the exterior of the box, the man walked out the front door and found himself poking his head over the top flaps, staring at the same road they’d walked all those weeks ago. The façade was unchanged. Impressed, he dipped below the flaps, shut the front door, and walked upstairs to the master bedroom to share the news.
One evening, they put on an air of ironic elitism, wearing elaborate outfits fashioned out of their magical cardboard Play-Doh. After a wine-drenched dinner, they put on a two-person fashion show, and the woman laughed when the man walked out of their cardboard-marble bathroom donning a top hat, monocle, and cane, pishposhing back and forth in front of their cardboard king-sized bed. She laughed and laughed because the rich aristocrat he parodied was the image of what he hated most, and in the joke, there was also truth, and therefore, she thought, art.
After growing weary of the mansion, they shrank their home and themselves to a miniscule size. They reduced their movements, and even their speech, to no more than was strictly necessary. A spectator might have considered this a low point in their relationship, for they smiled rarely and almost never joked. But if that same spectator could peer into the souls of our man and woman, they would sense a quickening, an increasing sophistication. What might have taken them hours to articulate could then be expressed with a brief word, a tilt in the jaw, or the flutter of a sigh. This spectator could safely assume they had never been more in love.
Even the quiet lifestyle began to wear on them. The woman modeled their box in the style of her own childhood home. He watched her conjure detailed family photos, a sturdy but scratched kitchen table, and a tall ceiling in the foyer. He admired how she blended the past with the future, how she honored her siblings with great portraits and intimate, engraved commemorations on cardboard-stone plaques underneath. While she worked hard to remember where she came from, the man worked hard to do the opposite, as he’d vowed to replace his past with her and her alone. She loved his attentive face and patient smile, how satisfied he looked whenever she finished designing a room. She loved how often he asked if he could help.
The man asked the woman about starting a family. When she asked if there would be enough space for a child, they laughed, but when the giggles died down, she gave him a look that said: Give me time.
They experimented in the bedroom as the months rolled by. They roleplayed: upper-crust elite; beggars; Shakespearean characters (for they were very well read); cop and robber; lions. Each day seemed to bring up a new theme, both in intimacy and fantasy.
The woman found a way to render the interior walls see-through, while the box still remained unchanged to the outside world. They could see everything around them while no one else could see them. They made love in this way, shrinking the box to hold them with only a little wiggle room. They fucked facing the cars, almost thrusting at them, and they reveled in this safe exhibition.
Equipped with this new invisibility, the woman turned the box into an impossibly tall tower. A spiral staircase wound its way up the edifice in medieval fashion. Once standing at the highest point, they drank in rivers rolling through fields and gorged themselves on verdant meadows climbing up a mountain range. They watched the blood-orange sunset, wrapped in each other’s arms like an ampersand. They had forgotten that the world looked this way, forgotten how close it was.
In the spring, the woman whispered in the man’s ear. He was so happy he cried. He held her, contemplating the life (lives?) they would create.
They worked quickly to change their home into a luxury love bungalow, and they consummated their promise, their individual passions swirling into a grand harmony. Their mutual gaze fermented into a powerful, intoxicating moment, understood only by them. Love had never tasted so sweet.
A spring drizzle arrived in the morning. With tears in her eyes, the woman woke the sleeping, smiling man. He asked her what was wrong.
She cried a bit longer before saying, “Nothing is wrong, but it’s sad. What we have to do.” And he read in her eyes exactly what she meant.
“But we can’t leave! We’re only just getting started.”
“We have to leave.”
“Of course we don’t!” He sat up more, his eyes widening with his smile. “Think of the great things we’ll discover about this place. As a family!”
“But what about our child? What about their box?”
The rain fell harder into the silence that grew between them, tapping the box with a thousand insistent fingers. He sighed in a way that said: Give me time, give me time. I’ll get there.
He thought of the family he’d tried to forget. How crude and cruel they’d been to him. He thought of his vow to the woman. He thought of their child.
She watched him think, she was able to read his eyes like one who reads music and hears the melody in their head. And what a sweet song his eyes made.
The woman smiled, tears glistening on the bridge of her nose.
They rose from their bed, and together, they broke down their box, manipulating it back to its original form, back when they’d first replaced the world with each other. Holding hands, they exited the entrance and used their free arms to open the top flaps of the box.
They stepped onto the cold, rain-soaked grass and gasped at the feel of the soil’s smooth texture beneath their feet. Prickly with goosebumps, and with mud oozing between their toes, they gripped each other’s hand harder. At the same time, they gazed back at the box, which now looked more like a bush. Flowers had bloomed in abundance on all sides of the façade: roses, orchids, daffodils, and others, all thirsting for their first drink of rain.
Two cars zoomed by in opposite directions. One dragged a honk down the misty road like a brushstroke.
There was wind, and as the faraway brake lights painted them red, they remembered what it meant to feel naked.