And a Cherry on Top
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You stop—you were spent, anyway—kneel down, and open the case to find absolutely nothing inside. You continue your run but never get any rhythm back, walking the last half mile. You treat yourself to a chocolate milkshake on the pier, convincing yourself that your day has evened itself out.
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You don’t stop to examine it, as you’re making record time. After your run—your best by forty-two seconds—you jog back to where the briefcase was, only to find a couple of tweakers with a three-legged dog laughing and throwing money into the air like they’ve just won a gameshow. The briefcase is still half-filled with stacks of cash, twenties wrapped in bundles, spilling onto the ground. You walk back to your apartment, stopping at the pier for a chocolate milkshake, saying Fuck it, asking for whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry on top.
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You look around to see if it belongs to anyone, but you’re the only person within a hundred yards. You kneel and open the case and find a birthday cake inside. The cake is a round, two-layer cake, vanilla cream frosting, pink flowers and green leaves adorning its edges. The cake says Happy Birthday John! in cursive pink lettering—your name is John. The cake also has forty-five candles—you’re 45 today—all of them freshly lit. The physics of the cake don’t make sense—it’s twice as tall as the briefcase is deep, and the candles should not have remained lit inside the airtight case. You close the briefcase and reopen it, again finding a cake, but this time it’s chocolate frosting, blue squigglies instead of flowers. You count forty-six lit candles—it still says your name, John. You close the case and run home, skipping a milkshake stop at the pier. You find your partner waiting on the couch and want to yell, How old am I? How long have I been gone? but they speak first, say, “I was beginning to wonder where you were. Did you get my milkshake?”
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You are holding your partner’s hand, skipping more than running, sweaters tied around your shoulders, newly in love, not caring about anything else in the whole world. Your partner wants to stop, however, see what’s in the case. You say the owner’s probably in the water, or ran up to their car, that you should leave the briefcase alone, continue gliding along the surf, staring into each other’s eyes. Your partner kneels and opens the case, washing their face in a bright light from within. When you ask what it is, your partner closes the case and pulls it into their chest, squeezing it tightly. You ask again what’s inside and they tell you that you should go, to run along without them. “I love you,” you say. “Go,” they say. “Now.” You want to plead but see the conviction in their eyes—you will not change their mind. This is where they are. This is where they will be.
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You stop, kneel, and open it. It’s filled with papers and file folders filled with more papers. There’s a baggie holding some kind of sandwich. There’s an apple. It’s red. You’re examining the top piece of paper, figures and tables and charts, when someone yells, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” It’s a guy in a suit, a gray three-piece, with black socks and loafers. His hair is perfect. He grabs the briefcase out of your hands and shuts it, tells you how you shouldn’t look inside other people’s briefcases. You resume your run, knowing what the man said to be true.
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You stop and kneel and take hold of it, finding it cool to the touch. Inside you find blue Jell-O, stiff and wobbly. It’s like someone filled a briefcase to its brim with Jell-O and stuck it inside a refrigerator to set—only it’s on a beach, on a ninety-degree day. Inside the top of the briefcase in a slotted compartment you find a metal spoon the with letter J inscribed on the handle; your name is John, though the J probably stands for Jell-O, making it a Jell-O spoon. You look around to see if anyone’s watching—you’re the only person within a hundred yards—then dip the Jell-O spoon into the Jell-O, piercing the perfect surface, and take a bite. It’s refreshing, even chilly, likely blue raspberry, hitting the spot near the end of a long run.
Running along the beach, you encounter a briefcase in the sand. You look around to see if it belongs to anyone, but you’re the only person within a hundred yards. You kneel and try to open the case, but it’s combination-locked. You try 1-2-3, and when that doesn’t work, 6-6-6. Then a few random sequences. Nothing. You take the case with you to the pier and order a chocolate milkshake, then walk to the end. You look out at the ocean, sipping your shake. When you’re finished, you drop the cup in the trash and throw the briefcase over the railing. You’re not ready for this. It’s not the kind of baggage you, or the world, needs.
Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of four collections of stories, most recently The Amnesiac in the Maze (Braddock Avenue Books, 2023). He serves as Editor-in-Chief of Moon City Press and Moon City Review, as well as Interviews Editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. On Twitter: twitter.com/MCzyzniejewski