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  • Writer's pictureSylvia Schwartz

The Boxes

A small girl is riding her bike back and forth, trapped in a long, rectangular enclosed box. She does not see that she is confined; her eyes are cast down at her feet. Happy to be pedaling. Happy not to have fallen. When she stops, one hand braces herself against the wall for what she perceives as welcomed support. She doesn’t venture far, turning before reaching the end, as if unconsciously aware of the limitations the way a swimmer with closed eyes turns without touching the pool’s edge. She rides back and forth, content.

When the girl is seventeen and rides to the end, she sits slumped against the wall, calling out to her girlfriends, each in a rectangular box of their own. They talk. Laugh. Smoke dope. Their imaginings drift to someplace grander. A bigger box. A hundred miles long, perhaps, long enough that it would take them days to reach the end. Their imaginings are always about improving their box. Or meeting someone whose box is like theirs.

Years pass and the girl becomes a woman, a wife, a mother, a productive member of society—where everyone has their own box. She rides as she has always ridden. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Motion, she has learned, is not the same as movement. But at night, if she is lucky, she dreams of her daughter’s now youthful days of riding, knowing, for the time being, her daughter is happy. And, in those moments, so is she.

When the woman turns fifty-five her riding slows so that she notices all the smudges along the wall where she had stopped. Her fingerprints. Imprints. Part of herself left behind; part of herself entombed in time. She has heard that in some boxes, at the place where the wall ends, there are a tangled mast of tire treads and scarring flecks of blue, red, green, orange or yellow paint where the rider deliberately crashed the bike into the wall. She tries not to think of this by counting. She counts each time she reaches the place where she can’t go on.

At the age of eight-five, the woman labors to pick up the bike. It wobbles when she rides. One day she gets off to rest her back against the wall and then lays down to nap. When she wakes, she feels refreshed, invigorated. Her legs, arms and body feel like going for a ride. But when she looks around there is no bike and the walls are gone. She remembers herself in the past tense and now wonders. Was there really a bike? Were there were really any walls? Her eyes gaze upward and there is nothing above but an expansive, pearlesque white that almost blinds. She closes her eyes and inhales the brisk air from above.

She rises— and for the first time—walks with no end in sight.

Originally published in The Airgonaut

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