Short Story: The Box

She’d been standing on the sad and dirty little beach for hours with a box at her feet. She didn’t want to touch it. She didn’t even want to think about it. Instead, she focused on the foam formed by the tide of brackish water that always smelt of dead fish from a red tide that never fully went away. She could see the little island with the abandoned mental institution from the shore and, out of the corner of her eye, she could see the fiddler crabs skittering in and out of their holes. You wouldn’t know to look at it, but this had once been a place for happy family memories. She supposed that’s why she was here now.

She hadn’t heard him approach until the wheezing from the exertion of walking from the boardwalk to the shore was practically in her ear. He was too close. After so many years of silence between them, having him near again was as uncomfortable as an ill-fitting raincoat on a hot and dry day.

He nudged the box with his toe, “Still holding onto this thing?”

If it weren’t for how angry she was, it’d be nearly impossible to take him seriously. He looked so much like a walrus. The resemblance was there even before he’d let himself go; all that bushy mustache was missing was a pair of tusks. Now that he’d ballooned to near four-hundred pounds, he might have been mistaken for a pinniped who’d wandered away from the zoo.

She refused to look him in the eye or to look down at the box. “I don’t want this. You should have given it to your wife.”

“We’re divorced. Anyway, she wanted you to have it,” he shrugged noncommittally.

She let out a heavy sigh, rolling her eyes and finally turning to face him, “I know that’s what you told your girlfriend. You can’t help it, can you? Lying is just so easy for you.”

He tried to interrupt but she held a hand up to silence him.

“No. This is the last time I’m going to have a chance to say this, because I’m done with you. After today, you’re just a bunch of bad memories,” she kicked the box like it was a rabid animal that might bite her, “I tried my whole life to be the perfect daughter and what did it get me? You threatened to ruin my wedding. You tried to break up my marriage. You threatened to take my children from me. And I’m the lucky one. I was the favorite. We all knew you’d only wanted one child, but you didn’t have to go out of your way to hurt her. My sister—no, I won’t say her name and I won’t call her your daughter—wanted you to love her. Did you know she was thirteen the first time she tried to kill herself? Jesus Christ!”

For a moment, he looked ashamed, then sad. The orange and red sunset sinking into the filthy water leading out to the gulf nearly made him look like a man and not the monster he was.
“Please don’t take the Lord’s name in vain,” he said, shaking his head as if that was all, out of everything she said, that mattered.

She stepped back, her spine straight and shoulders squared. Her eyes flashed and she snapped, “We’re done here. I have nothing more to say. Since the day I got this stupid box, I’ve cried myself to sleep every night because I felt guilty for cutting you out of my life. No more. You don’t deserve my tears.”

Before he could argue further, she scooped up the box and bolted onto the pier, faster than she’d ever run in her life. She tore open the lid and dumped the contents into the water, watching him fade from view as the tide washed his ashes away.

She smiled.

She was free.