Ariana and I had been best friends for thirteen years on the day that she became a box. She and I had been closer than the Earth and the Moon, for a long time. I was summoned to her room by none other than her wailing mother, who hoped I’d identify her. The box smelled like Ariana’s damp hair on wash day.
“Yes,” I said, as the room broke down and began to cry.
“Where has she gone?” her dog Cooper asked, always late to the party.
“She’s right here, Coop.” I motioned to the box, a sturdy cardboard number with photographs and images pasted on each side. On one side, a Wall Street occupier with a dollar bill taped to his mouth; on another, a placid sepia lake; on another still, a European painting, depicting what my lack of classical education told me was either a biblical scene or an elaborate Italian orgy. “Ari, can you hear me?” I asked the box. Ari’s mother, Mrs. Strand, looked at me, then at the box, her face contorted, her breath held tightly.
Ariana, the box, remained silent.
If you are curious to know how a person becomes a box, allow me to present two theories. The first: simply because a coin falls to the floor every time you drop it for a million consecutive days does not mean, come the million-and-first day, that the coin won’t fall upwards, or perhaps not fall at all, hovering in the air, where it might best destroy your certitudes. The second theory (my favorite) is that my best friend of thirteen years, who in recent times had exhibited the behavior of a vapid pail, within which I suspected no shred of my quick silver-tongued, gold-hearted love remained, had finally achieved to match form to function, becoming what I had known her to be for a while: an empty shell. It made sense, if you thought about it. You might call it an allegory, even.
In her final years as a non-box, Ariana and I had maintained appearances with admirable devotion: we still saw each other for dinner regularly, still hugged and posed for photographs, which we plastered over the Internet with the faith and energy of a dog humping a chair leg. I feigned interest in her life; she touched my face too often.
I remembered her leaning on the railing of a ferry boat in Ireland, twelve years prior. Her hair had flown horizontal, a flag, as the sun tipped into the water. I had struggled to hear the sound of her voice, which came to me as episodic bursts on a familiar wavelength. I had just nodded and smiled.
“Have you looked inside?” I asked Mrs. Strand, with the cool and precision of a medicine man called to the bedside of a feverish child.
I understood: it felt too intimate, looking inside her daughter like this. “Someone has to,” I said, peering into Mrs. Strand’s face long enough to ascertain I had her permission. I opened the box with the Mrs.’s head tucked behind my shoulder, and what we found inside, of course, was a key. I chastised myself for not having guessed it would be.
“Do you know what this is?” Mrs. Strand asked.
“I don’t, but I’ll find out,” I told her, with the debonair demeanor of a noir detective.
Coop and I set out for the streets, box in one hand, key in the other, just as the moon rose, floating in a light blue sky above the Douglas firs. Kids on skateboards zipped past us.
“Ever seen anything like it?” I asked the oracle, which was a rhetorical question, because by that age you would hope he had seen a key before.
“It’s a key,” the oracle said.
“God bless,” Coop replied, in veneration.
I fidgeted in my seat, my impatience bouncing against the ceiling of the deserted train station where the oracle officiated. “What does it open?” I asked, no kindness left in me for this fifty-dollar-note-gurgling charlatan prescribed to me by Mrs. Strand, whom I had left behind in Ariana’s room, hugging the box to her chest as though it might love her back.
“Your mind!” the oracle exclaimed. He turned to grab something behind his seat: a plastic cup filled with water. “Here, take the key with this,” the old man suggested. I placed the key on the tip of my tongue, where its iron taste spread between my tastebuds like an oil spill, and with one swift gulp ushered it into my stomach.
On the deck of the Irish ferry where I had stood twelve by twelve months ago, the water rumbled, relentless, below our feet. I could hear Ari’s voice, perfectly clear above the crashing waves, as though her lips might have been touching my ear, as though she were, perhaps, indistinct from my own mind. When she was done speaking, I nodded and smiled.
MARIE BALEO is a French writer born in 1990. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel, Litro Magazine, Five on the Fifth, Five 2 One Magazine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and Eunoia Review.