The Brown Cardboard Box

by Anna Hallett

The brown cardboard box with the smile logo rested on the table in front of Emma. It didn’t belong there.

Work had been, as usual, long and boring. Tedious tasks and stupid customers she had to serve as though they were always right. Even when they were so, so wrong. Like that ridiculous old lady with the expired coupons. Her manager let the old bat get away with it again. Some people get all the breaks.

Emma seethed on the way home, slammed her palm on the steering wheel at every red light and cussed out the idiot driver in front of her who kept putting on his brakes even though the road was clear.

A few blocks from home, stopped at a stop sign, she saw the brown box on the doorstep of a two-story yellow house with white shutters. The house looked cozy and spacious at the same time. The kind of house with a mom, dad, and two kids. The kitchen would be fully stocked and the closets stuffed with clothes, shoes, and toys.

There were no cars in the driveway and no neighbors about. The package sat just outside the front door. Emma thought about expired coupons and empty closets as she stopped her car at the curb in front of the stone path that led to the front door of the yellow house. Without urgency, she stepped from the car, walked up the path, removed the package from the front stoop, and brought it back to her car. She drove home.

The label on the box which now sat accusingly on the table said it was for “Janet Hastings.” Emma wanted what Janet had. Emma now had what Janet wanted.

Emma looked up as her daughter came out of her room.

Sara walked by, ignored her mother, and went to the kitchen. She opened cupboards that contained canned vegetables and boxes of pasta almost at their expiration date and slammed them shut again. She searched the fridge next, rejected the expired yogurt, mealy apples, and wilted lettuce, and pulled out the open carton of shelf-stable milk. She poured the milk into a plastic cup decorated with a chipped cartoon face of Elmo. She put the carton away and went back to her room, closing the door behind her.

Emma lifted the brown cardboard box from the table and carried it to the coat closet by the front door. She tucked the box into the back corner of the empty closet. Maybe tomorrow she would open it. Maybe she would return it to Janet. She closed the closet door and went to the kitchen to fix dinner.

Maybe the box contained kibble for Schrodinger’s cat.