The box surprised her. It was blue-green. Office colour. And light. She lifted the cardboard lid which fitted so neatly, so perfectly. She admired the sound of it coming apart from its other half. But it was empty. Its shape and form was a crucible for nothing. She walked across from it, leaving it sitting in the centre of the room—it was not what she was expecting: such air, such vacuity of purpose—and just looked at the empty box for some time, till dusk turned to dark and she closed the blinds.
The coffee was hot. She sat holding it. She’d ordered a venti latte and its richness almost made her gag. Starbucks was empty. Nina Simone played to empty tables and the coffee makers, graduate students mostly, looked restive as if capable of starting a revolution. Then she put the plastic cup on the table and looked through the vast array of glass to the outside but the street was silent for moment. No traffic turned the corner up the hill, no one walked past down to the centre of town, nobody came up from the station. All she could see were reflections of herself in glass windows. She didn’t know why she’d come in here really, except it was what she always did after work. She didn’t feel like filling herself with liquid.
She left the coffee half drunk and steaming and walked out into sudden crowds where she was safely subsumed.
The box hardly made a difference to her life. She took the rubbish to the binmen collection point on Thursdays, got up at a normal time, caught the 7:15 to the city, logged on at work, marked her mark in the electronic version of her existence. All was well. These were her outward signs of functioning. The box sat in her living room still. She put objects in it sometimes: a red ribbon, a yellow candle, a book of Chinese poems, an Ansel Adams mountainscape postcard, a steel framed mirror, an elm hairbrush choked with twisted red hair. Then she took them out again, one by one. And left them on the side. Now she forced herself to plan her day in hourly intervals—at this time I get up, at this time I do the washing, at this time I bathe. This is structure, she said. This is the way of moving forward.
But instead the house around her felt structureless and transparent, to neighbours or passing strangers; everyone could see her pathetic movements; if the house was see-through then so was her body. She had pellucid skin; she had bones made of glass, organs of crafted Perspex, genes as obvious as rainwater. Even her thoughts from her hollow head were written out on ticker tape and thrown to the eyes in the sky.
She drank gin in the early mornings/late nights by the French window and watched the moths desperate for entrance, and listened for the terrifying howls of suburban foxes that penetrated the very hollowness of her. It was a strange time of existence—neither night nor day. It was the middle of nothing. Limbo hours of breathing. Sometimes she opened the doors and looked out at the in-between sky and, though it was filled with zillions of stars, all she noticed was the enormity of the spaces between them.