Sandra K Barnidge
Three years before the box, I packed a bag and flew to Provence. I went because a childhood friend had settled there; she, too, wanted to travel before she went into her box. But unlike me, as soon as she put her feet in the icy-clear stream at Fontaine de Vaucluse, she vowed she'd never leave. She gave back the key to her box and chose instead to serve wine and multi-colored cheeses at a modest hotel that overlooked the water. I stayed in her two-room flat, and together we poured water from a plastic bucket to fill her toilet tank.
In a tin can of a car we nicknamed Thor, she drove me to Roussillon, the red medieval village perched on top of ochre cliffs. My friend told me the story of how the valley got its color: Once upon a time, the Lady of Roussillon grew estranged from her noble husband and took up with a musician lover. One day, her lover sang about their affair within earshot of the suspicious Lord. The Lord cut off the musician's head and sent his heart to the kitchen servants. They mixed up the heart in a thick yellow sauce, and when the Lady ate it, the Lord told her what he'd done. The Lady complimented the meal so as not to let the Lord get the better of her. Then she walked to the top of the tallest cliff and threw herself down, her blood splattering the hills.
"I'll take that story with me to the box," I said to my friend. "You'll need it," she said back.
I bought earrings in Isle sur la Sorgue to wear the day I went into the box, pearls set in silver and encased in a purple box. Another box to take with me inside the box. When I went in, I planned to stack all the boxes of my belongings along the longest wall of the box, small boxes on top of bigger ones, until I made a staircase I could climb. I imagined setting the earring box as the very top step and balancing on it with my right big toe. I imagined strange things about life inside the box. We all did, those of us still outside. But unlike my friend who fled to Provence, I wasn't afraid of the box. I wasn't always eager for it, but I didn't dread it, either. The box just seemed inevitable to me, the place where I'd end up because of course I would.
"You don't have to go in, you know," my friend said to me as we hugged outside the airport. "I can't just stand out here forever," I said back.
Some of us spent a lot of time planning for our entrance into the box. I didn't, because I knew that how I approached the door wouldn't change what waited for me inside. For me, the box would be brown and narrow and clean and quiet. My box would not be as heavy or weighted down as other boxes were. Mine would be light enough to sometimes catch a breeze and roll down a hill, maybe float across a lake or two. Probably not an ocean, though. I knew my box would be amiable but not waterproof. There was only so much it would withstand.
"The box will be as tall and wide as you make it," my mother told me. Her own box was squat and windowless, but on its walls she'd painted stars.
On the day I entered the box, I put on the pearl earrings and called my friend. She didn't answer, and I imagined her swimming in the Sorgue, upstream, toward the chasm in the rock from where it sprang. I thought of the sun lighting up the algae below her, rendering her water verdant. I smiled as I approached the threshold of my box. In my hands, I carried yellow flowers.
Sandra K. Barnidge is a writer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her work has appeared in Atlas Obscura, Nimrod International Journal, Allegory Ridge, Heron Tree and elsewhere.