I have an odd affection for Kafkaesque parables like the one below and write them periodically as a kind of exercise. A simple premise unreels thoughts I hadn’t known I’d been collecting. I don’t post these exercises as often as I write them because I’m afraid they’re odd, not quite story and certainly not essay, less interesting than curious, products of a dreaming irrational brain.
Nonetheless, as I’m busy buying gifts this weekend, I thought I’d offer this piece, particularly as it speaks—at least in part—to the possessive mania of this time of year…
In a closet, she kept a box of possessions no one ever saw. They weren’t embarrassing things—she didn’t have to fear someone finding them someday—but they were private, known only to her. Sometimes, she imagined someone spilling the box’s contents and looking quizzically at her collection. “What’s this?” they would say, and move on to investigate containers filled with more sensible and valuable, less personal, things.
She’d had the box a long time and moved it from place to place. When she was younger, she’d add to and subtract from it, but, as she aged, managing its contents grew impossible. She became lazy about culling, and, as her house morphed into a warehouse of memory, the box stretched its volume. Now she did not have any room to add and didn’t. The limited space made it complete. The hopelessness of rearranging it to find one spare centimeter meant it was finished.
And the box, the closet, and the house were really nesting chambers, each inside the other. She had few visitors to hide the box from, and, anyway, everything inside it sat in her brain along with everything else, part of the catalog every mind makes. Maybe, she thought now, it doesn’t matter where anything is.
She rarely opened the box anymore, but, occasionally when she couldn’t sleep, she’d try to remember exactly what was there, picturing each thing, its dimensions, colors, and how it felt to hold it, along with all its other material aspects. Most of the time, imagining gave her comfort that helped her doze again, but, increasingly, trying to visualize things only set off mourning. The loss of particulars was a bigger emblem of how her life had faded. The next day, she might think about getting the box out and comparing her memory to what she found, but she lost the will to investigate almost as soon as it came upon her.
Someone encountering the box might try to make its contents into something else, the way a photograph is one square of a larger scene the viewer envisions, but she didn’t see it that way. There were no photographs and nothing she considered a memento or keepsake. It was hard for her—as it would be for anyone—to think of those things as only themselves, without associated meanings and implications. They weren’t collected randomly, after all, because the act of collecting supplants randomness. But she believed more than ever that each object connected with nothing grander, and they had no relationship with one another, except that they were all in the same box hidden in the closet.
Invisibility was their only significance. She’d removed them from the world, squirreled them in the darkness. Possession, she considered, might be no more complicated than theft, taking from the general pile so something could no longer be shared or even seen. This box of things, being stored in her closet unopened, was not hers, really. Being nothing actually in the world at all, it was no one’s.
She’d long stopped thinking of life as infinite. She no longer visualized life stretching into the unknown and saw a terminal becoming definite ahead. She would no longer be traveling with all these things, and they would reenter the world without her, without her as their central sense.
If she had time, she thought, when her end was closer, her final act of control could be taking the box down from her closet and, without opening it, wrapping it in brown paper and a cross of string. She could leave it somewhere public, walking away before anyone could mark it as hers.
Then, maybe later, some bomb squad might find it sitting unattended and dispose of it properly.