Little Boxes

He liked to line them all up in a row.

Sometimes he could sneak his father’s old tape measure, which wasn’t a tape measure at all. It looked like a bundle of sticks that, when unraveled, extended to form one long stick. His father had caught him last time, so he was skittish about trying to sneak it again. He remembered the crack of the spoon on his rear end, and didn’t want to repeat the experience.

It was hard to keep them all in a straight line without the ruler, but he had little tricks that helped. In the summer, the sun would crest past his window in the late evening, before bed, which made it easier. He’d get the boxes ready to go, and wait for the shadow from the windowsill to cross box-land, and he’d quickly line them all up with the edge of the shadow. He’d usually be in bed soon thereafter, which was helpful; if he tried this in Winter, either his mother, father or sister would come in and either put the boxes away or, in his sister’s case, kick them around the room.

Danny hated his sister.

It wasn’t that she was mean, although she was that, but more that he got the sense that she barely tolerated his existence. In fact, on more than one occasion during a long roadtrip, Danny felt her eyes on the back of his head. When he’d turn around, the look in her eyes suggested that she’d be more than happy to kick him out the side door and continue on to their destination without him.

Those trips were the worst. His parents never let him take his little boxes with him, so he’d end up lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, trying to count the joints between the ceiling that separated his parents room from the living room where he slept.

Sometimes he’d hear a noise that would break his concentration and he’d have to start all over again. One night, during a thunderstorm, he didn’t get to bed until morning.

Danny reserved his most ardent hatred for the tents, though. It didn’t happen often, because his mother complained for the duration of each trip, but three times the family had gone camping. In those days, rain during summer was more than rare, so his father would set up the tents with no rain fly.

“Sleeping under the stars is the best part of camping,” he’d say, ruffling Danny’s hair.

Danny could never sleep that way, though. He’d stare up through the bug-mesh, and try to count the stars. There was no end to the stars though, so he’d spend the entire night counting to 500 (the highest he’d ever gone) and then starting all over again. He’d tried once or twice to visualize his little boxes, all in a line, but it just wasn’t the same.

But right now, he was close to getting them all straight. He adjusted the last box and looked down at his creation. It filled him with something approaching joy, but with a severe undercurrent of relief. Later, when he was much older, Danny would shoot heroin for the first time, and before he drifted off on that opiate cloud, he recognized the feeling as being similar to when his boxes were all lined up in a perfect little row.