I live with my wife in a northern exurb of Westchester. My poems derive from human nature and my mind has been shaped by years of pop culture: countless hours of music, films, television, news, and more. Through teaching, I get to share my love of literature and the importance of responsible journalism. My poems and short stories have been published in numerous journals. My first collection, Small Consolations (Aldrich Press), can be found on Amazon.com. A chapbook, Memory Marries Desire, will be out momentarily. It can be ordered at FinishingLinePress.com.
He never got a good look at the distressed woman’s face,
the one who placed the shoebox eagerly into his hands,
then vanished into the marching bridge-and-tunnel masses,
a tired crowd of men and women headed home to pristine lives.
What she said (in plain vanilla voice) in passing was,
“You look nice. Do the right thing.” He barely remembers
hearing the words. They only now form sentences on the 6:03
as it pulls out into the crepuscular edges of a cold clear night.
The travel rumble moves through him, but the box is undisturbed.
It remains there above, on overhead rack, resting lightly upon
his fine designer microfiber overcoat, a folded accessory to the
businessman’s distinctive wardrobe that makes him one of many,
a hint of sartorial splendor, an attitude of sarcastic skepticism,
well nigh indistinguishable from the hundreds surrounding, a mere
cog in this giant hamster wheel of workaday existence, spinning to
and fro as monthly commuter passes trade names off the colorful
nature calendar that enlivens his mundane cubicle workspace.
He ponders this item’s infinite mystery and endless potential,
what it might contain. The possibilities race through his mind:
whimsy, misery, glee, grief, fear, appeasement, enticement,
shared lottery winnings, a crime’s missing weapon, a deadly virus,
a missing link, an answer to life’s riddling questions, some type of
philanthropic challenge, laughter, tears, or shoes. Already
he took pride in his being chosen, and how it had become a game.
He would wait until safe at home before lifting the lid to know.
When the moment arrives, he tries to hide his disappointment
at gazing into what seems no more than an empty cardboard space.
But as he peers into that void, a stranger’s name pops into his head
and he suddenly is inside her thoughts, a woman struggling
with a dilemma. She has come far from her native land for love,
and now struggles to raise her son alone after the sudden death
of her once handsome hero of a husband. Unsure what to do, and
overcome with her shared exhaustion, he replaces lid on box and
heads toward bed, where restless dreams await – her job,
her health issues with that lump discovered, her worries about
her son’s social awkwardness, her sister’s abusive relationship.
He truly experiences her life, and feels compelled to pray for her,
for a resolution to all this anguish. Not that her problems are any
different than anyone else’s – only that he has found a
way to empathize, to expand his world with love for this stranger
who is a stranger no more. Her seeming plight has changed him.
He who rarely ventures outside the confines of daily routines
stops the next day at various points, thinks about her, each time
issuing silent prayer. As he boards the 6:03, this woman,
her name and life story, evaporates from his mind completely.
The box is forgotten too. When heading under the covers,
he rediscovers it on the bedside table. He lifts it up.
The closed box puzzlingly is heavy, and if shaken
seems to hold something of promise. Slowly he lifts the lid
and peeks in. Again, emptiness, a virtual vacuum. And yet
another name and persona suddenly is revealed, infusing
his whole being with its existence, the nagging barbs of
how to reconcile the pain of a wife’s leaving, admitting
she is unable to deal any longer with the day-to-day of
raising their severely autistic son. The hours, effort, and
money required leave him exhausted, spent, and he feels
there is little reason to go on. Yesterday this man was told
his own job hangs in the balance, that he is not producing,
that he has lost focus, and needs to turn things around soon.
Another problem added to the enormous pile confronting him.
These are the very real dreams, someone else’s difficult life,
and the next day prayers go out for extra consideration, for
unconditional grace and understanding to perhaps alleviate
this man’s horrible depression, the hopelessness and despair.
It goes on like this as days turn into weeks, the curse and
blessing bestowed by this mysterious yet magical shoebox,
providing troubled lives to share clandestinely, as he allocates
thoughts, hopes, and wishes, forms deep emotional ties
with these oddly intimate strangers who come and go
from his mind, an inexplicable and intense enchantment.
He is surprised, not only at how profoundly this affects him,
but at how this daily distraction seems to smooth over
rough spots that used to annoy him, the same way sandpaper
abrades into a finely polished smoothness, as if somehow
these additional burdens relieve him of concern for his own.
The supervisor, a woman with an M.B.A. and little patience
for the numerous corporate underlings that she feels exist
mostly to plague her swift progress in the world, takes notice.
She senses something different about him, a confidence and
strength that suddenly speaks volumes. There’s a charisma,
a palpable passion for everything he does, that makes being
around him fun. In between her numerous meetings, high-
powered luncheons, and client hand-holding, she starts to
flirt with this one who seems so different from the others.
She reads through his personnel file, hoping to find common
ground, but ultimately is disappointed. He lacks the criteria
that might allow for rapid advancement and has been stuck at
this level for far too long. Ultimately, she realizes that,
regardless of how much she enjoys his company, he is beneath
her, not helping her own career. As any further time spent
with him is ill-advised, she forces herself to end this before
it really begins. In the heartless way that has characterized
a stellar corporate career that’s been nothing less than meteoric,
she finds ways to avoid him, keeping their contact to a minimum.
When her doorbell rings late on a Friday, she looks up
from the hefty stack of paperwork that has kept her from enjoying
her evening. Even though it is her birthday, she has work to do.
She is expecting no one and isn’t prepared for visitors. Curious,
she approaches the fisheye lens, but sees no one. When she
opens the door, she finds a shoebox, wrapped in a simple bow.
First published in Small Consolations (Aldrich Press)
2016 Gary Glauber
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