The box

Pic by Scott Zeigler

The old man was by now quite frail. He cursed Father Time for making the years weigh so heavily on him, simply by letting him live for so long. Some would be envious of his longevity and he had indeed outlived all of his contemporaries... there were none left, he was the last; alone; and he was so tired. He would welcome the end when it came; he longed for it; every new day was a curse. He muttered to himself a lot, and shambled rather than ambled; even in its sparsity his frame was at times just too damned heavy.

He coughed.

There was something he had to do.

He was in a big room. An empty room. It hadn’t always been empty. It was at one time full to bursting, but he’d been busy emptying it of all its contents. It had taken a long time; partly because there was so much in there, so much to clear out, to sort out, to get rid of, to chuck way, to dispose of, to dispense with, to jettison. And partly because he was just so damn old. And with age comes slowness: and he was very old indeed.

He shuffled. Once, he had been fit, athletic, toned. A long time ago, he could hardly remember. Or was it yesterday in crystal clear clarity? Time goes so slowly and yet so quickly; time means everything and nothing; time is just something you have to experience; tough for the young who don’t know anything, tough for the old who know too much. His glazed and rheumy eyes gazed around the room, barely registering what he could see. But then there really wasn’t much to see, the room being so dim, so vast and so empty. And so still. And so dead.

He sighed a sad, resigned kind of a sigh. 

He had to continue his search for although he could feel the end coming, he had this one last thing to do. It worried him. He longed for the end, it felt so close; he could sense it. He fancied that on more than one occasion he had glimpsed a dark shadowy hooded figure, with the glint of a curved steel blade in a bony hand. But that was probably just his imagination. At least that hadn’t stopped working. But before the end he wanted to find...

... a box. One. Last. Solitary. Final. Box. An anonymous plain brown cardboard box. It could contain anything, but he hoped and feared it would contain this one last thing. It hadn’t been in any of the other boxes. None of the thousands of other boxes he’d opened in his exhausting exhaustive search had contained it. So it must still be here; there was nothing else left. So it had to be here; still inside the box. Inside the otherwise empty room.

If only he could find it before the last grain of sand slipped through the narrow glass neck of his time.

He felt something brush against his hand and he stopped. He hadn’t seen it, so focussed and intent was he in looking for it that he’d missed it, but there it was. A box. Perhaps THE box. He contemplated it and as he did so he was aware his heart was beating faster and more strongly than it had for many a year. It was an unremarkable brown box. And to think that this could contain...

Gnarly old hands fumbled at the tape that had been used to seal the lid. Hands that used to be so dextrous, so strong, so sure and so gentle. The box wasn’t heavy and his clumsy movements moved it easily. It was a fiddle but finally the tape was off, the lid was loose. He trembled with trepidation and... 

...as he opened it he was suffused by a gentle warm light that glowed from within the box and which pierced his dulled eyes that had become accustomed to the dim dark room for so long that they shed tears, but he couldn’t look away.

The brightness spread and warmth radiated outwards, enveloping him with a sense of well being, of being alive; physically able and mentally alert the years sloughed away, his pulse was strong, he felt revitalised, rehydrated, nourished, reborn and the memories flooded back, filling his mind; the room was no longer empty, dull and dark; quite the reverse.

The light from the box grew stronger and he felt feelings he’d forgotten even existed. He thought he heard a whisper, felt what may have been the gentlest touch, or breath, or kiss even and he was overcome, he hadn’t expected this memory to be so strong, buried as it had been so very deep and for so very long.

The pure sound of her voice, the sense of her delicate movement, the impression of her being there filled him to the brim with joyous elation, a numbing and tingling ecstasy that fizzed around and through him. She turned and faced him, her magical mysterious multi-coloured eyes made contact with his, seeing through him as they’d always done and the last thing he felt, the last sensation, the last thing he was aware of, the last thing he knew, the last thing he experienced in life before oblivion engulfed him, was total and utter love.