The Box

They called him the man on fire, and though he had strong shoulders and a warm face, I did not love him. Not in the way I was supposed to, at least.

On our wedding day, as he slipped a simple gold band around a very particular left finger, he told me I am yours and you are mine and gods and mortals will all look down on us burning with the envy of a thousand suns and we will shine. And in that moment it was true. I was his, and he was mine. But all I could think about was the sad smile on his brother’s face as he held the empty ring box at his side. He cried a single tear and all the wedding guests in their chiffon and silver would go home to their families and say, boy, that brother, was he ever the one who loved the man on fire, even more than the woman who became his wife that day, the one who was given to him by the gods. And they would be wrong, of course. That tear was for me, as I could no longer be his in the way that I was now his brother’s. But I couldn’t cry. I was made lively, and beautiful, and charming, and deceitful, but no god or goddess thought to give me the ability to cry, not even a single tear, not even on my wedding day.

I’ve always found weddings to be sordid occasions. People who you don’t know well enough get drunk on rose wine and celebrate your union with another being for a lifetime, not considering for a moment that a life is really an awfully long time, especially if you have just begun living yours, as I had, and then assuming all the while that you are sure and steady like a compass guiding a sailboat, and then forgetting the occasion they are celebrating in the first place and instead reminiscing on their own wedding nights, and how their life maybe didn’t turn out the way they thought it would when they were the ones serving, not being served, the rose wine. So imagine that is you, and you have champagne bubbles rising from your belly out the top of your head, and you would let yourself float away if it wasn’t for the fire man holding you down with a matching ring on his very particular left finger, and his brother, the one with the sad face and the single tear, sitting in a corner off to the side, and the hundreds of guests giving you gifts you will never use.

This is why I don’t like to remember the night of wedding. In fact, I don’t have much in the way of memories at all, which I think might be all as well considering they only serve to take up space in your head and make you feel emotions conveniently at the wrong times. But I do remember that on that same night, the night I said yes to the fire man and wore his gold ring, my father came to me with a gift. Being who he was, he could not appear to me in front of all the guests the same way he had appeared to me when I was created, the day he said, Pandora I am your father and you shall descend to the earth and marry the man who has given fire to the mortals. I thought it was awfully thoughtful of him to come to the wedding at all, and he wore a graying beard and matching green eyes, and he took me to the rooftop of the building on which I was wed and handed me a simple wooden box. Then he revealed a small golden key and placed it in my left hand and it sparkled like the ring on my very particular left finger, and he said to me, my daughter, now you and only you have the key to that box but you are never to open it, and though I admit I found it strange that my father would give me such a simple gift, all I could say was, okay.

It was dizzying, to be up so high, weighing the box, talking to my father, holding the key, and looking down at my own wedding, the people sprinkled on the pavement below like powdered sugar.

When I descended I returned to my new husband’s side, and I tried not to think of his brother, the one who didn’t know that while the fire man was wearing the golden ring that matched mine, I wanted so badly for it to be him who was wearing it instead.

What is in the box, my husband asked me, and then I told him it was gift from my father whom he did not know and only knew of, and he gave me a dry kiss on my forehead and he placed the box on the table with all the other boxes in periwinkle wrapping paper and satin bows, and though I still had the key, my father’s box was forgotten.

*

There are two types of people in the world; those who leap for change as if it is a thin sheet of glass that will shatter and break only to reveal a whole new world carrying with it the possibility of it being better than the one in which they are currently living, and then there are those who learn the rules of their world and do not wish to disturb any part of that perfectly balanced order even if it is not the perfect world they once wished it to be, and so they recoil from change like it is wine turned to vinegar under a soaking sun. My whole life, I have been the second kind of person, the one who does not enter through the door that says do not enter only because that is precisely what it says. I have been auburn curls and unopened boxes and running away from change.

And my world was a happy one. It was perfect, in fact, for bad things did not exist in it, could not exist in it, as the gods had made it so, and my fire man would always be there to return fire to the mortals if, by chance, something bad did happen. And as I passed the days, which soon became years, practicing and getting better at bearing the weight of that gold band on my very particular left finger, I learned that love is an impulse, like running out in the rain or jumping into a river, so if I wanted to love my husband and not his brother it would only be a matter of applying the same impulses onto him as that man did for me, the one who sat in the corner crying a single tear at not even at his own wedding. I wore only white to match my skin, and blue for my eyes, and I learned to bake peach pies and my husband would tell me that I was the most simple and perfect thing the gods could have ever given to him, and though he gave all the mortals fire, he wanted to give me the world.

The problem with my good world was only that it was too good, the pies tasted only as sweet as they need not be salty, the air outside never too hot or too cold, and then one day I started to get a sort of sour smell coming from the living room and I forgot what good feels like at all because it all felt the same. My heart would beat neither slower nor faster from the moment I woke up in the morning to the moment I went to bed at night, for the world grew numb with so much goodness in it, and I had trained my heart to absorb sensitivity like the clouds dissolve for a bird passing through. Soon it felt like even the most pure happiness you could ever conceive of was crusting over in front of your eyes, and it started to taste like metal between your teeth or biting on sand paper. Then one day I woke up and remembered the golden key that matches the golden ring I was still wearing, have been wearing, on my very particular left finger and I thought of the box that has been sitting on the top shelf for all these years while the good world around has started to go bad, and I asked myself for the first time in my short life if I would prefer instead to not be happy.

This was precisely the thought I was thinking when I took the box down from the top shelf and held the golden key in my palm that matched the gold ring on my finger, only now it was starting to leave a faint green stain on my skin. I looked at the box for a long time, so long, actually, that the sky began to turn yellow and then gray, until raindrops descended through the night and made an uncomplicated rhythm on my rooftop. I thought of the rooftop on the day of my wedding when I looked into the green eyes my father wore and I said okay like a small kitten waiting for milk, being very careful to keep all four paws on the ground.

The box was quite hollow and wasn’t very heavy, though as I sat under the rain rhythm I began to suspect that what was inside was sure to be precisely the opposite of hollow and not very heavy, as the gods love playing tricks on mortals, like the one they played on the sad brother from the wedding who had to watch the fire man marry me instead of him. The golden key slid into the latch almost too easily, and all it would take was a turn my wrist to the right to shatter the glass world I lived in.

Instead, I sat in my nightgown with the small box in my lap, and the golden key in the small box, trying very hard and for a very long time to make myself cry, which I could not.

*

Yesterday I attended my first funeral, which was a lot like my first wedding, all the same color and too many people and gifts that no one will ever use. The tulips and hyacinths in the garden turned their faces down as I watched the man from the corner of my wedding who shed a single tear for me be lowered into the ground, his heart having grown lukewarm so as to not take such an effort to beat when it knew it could never have what it truly wanted most, until it froze over and stopped beating altogether. A heart in so much pain did not belong in a world of so much goodness. Then when all the pairs of eyes and lips and ears passed over the grave and it came my turn, I let fall a simple golden key that matched the simple golden ring on my finger that I so badly wanted to drop into the grave instead, to tell the sad man in the corner of my wedding that if I was not his in this life, I could most certainly be in the next one. And when I returned to my husband, who just lost his brother, all he could say to me in that cold graveyard was that I am beautiful.

It is true; I am beautiful in a beautiful world, but I will always have that cold metallic taste in my mouth from too much beauty, and I will always tell myself that there was once a man who loved me as naturally as the spring becomes the summer, and that instead of considering giving up my beautiful life, I married his brother, the one who brought fire to the mortals, just as I was made to do. And my father will always look down on me in the same way I looked down on the powdered sugar drops from the rooftop and he will tell me that I am perfect, though I know sometimes he wishes that I was not, since I am not a god but only human. And even in one hundred years from now my husband will dress me in kisses and honey and remind me every day of his matching gold ring, even though people will no longer call him the man on fire, and he will sometimes pretend to not wake up in the morning when I slip out of bed so he does not have to face me and the world at the same time.

And me, I will always be the girl who was made by the gods, who did as she was told and never let anyone know how unbeautiful a beautiful world can become when you are drowning in it, especially when you were too scared or weak to turn the golden key that matches the very heavy golden ring on a very particular left finger, so instead you bury it along with the only person who had ever made your heart want to beat faster. And even if I last an eternity, which is an awfully long time, no one, not even the gods, will ever know that I’ve lived my whole life wondering why I didn’t open that box.