Friend in a Box by Russell Waterman

I cry a lot these days.

It started when a delivery driver showed up at my front door with a box. Knowing what was inside was of no consolation. My eyes welled up as I signed his paperwork, intentionally looking away.

“Have a nice day,” he said unwittingly, rushing back to his truck.

I stood cradling the box as if it were a newborn, thinking about life’s unfairness. Gripping it harder, I felt my heart beginning to race. It rose into my throat. My body began to tremble. Gradually my breathing intensified until it sunk into my gut. I felt I would burst.

Feeling I had little time, I centered the box on my empty coffee table, slumped into a chair, and bawled like a baby.

The box is perfectly square and wrapped in heavy brown paper. It’s nondescript, knotted with twine, and has that musty cardboard smell that lingers in your nostrils for days. If I was a bowler, my Brunswick would fit nicely inside. The box is heavier than you’d expect, although I had no clue what to expect. I’m hesitant to unwrap the package. I fear the heartache and the finality it brings—inside is my friend.

Attached to the box is a letter. It contains all the particulars of the deceased and documents the details for the disposition of human remains. There were no surprises. We had already spoken about such things years ago on a backpacking trip, so his wishes were clear.

Our last conversation was from his hospital bed two weeks ago. He was on the downward side, but still present.

Weak, his eyes glassy and far, he struggled, “I love you.”

I leaned in, and with raw emotions, I said, “I love you more, brother.”

In the end, his breath shallow, he whispered one last thing, “In God’s country.”

Understanding his meaning, I answered, “Yes, I know the place.”

My friend accepted the future; I fought to deny the truth. I battled my emotions and screamed to God that it was all a lie. Then the box arrived.

Sitting in the dark, I light a candle and place it next to the box, praying. Tomorrow, I’ll take my spiritual brother on our last adventure together and give him to God.

He was thirty-six.

I wept.

Russell Waterman is an Amazon published author, including his latest, “The Adventures of Dave Diamond,” a short story complication. His fiction has also appeared in The Blotter, The Daily Drunk, Jerry Jazz Musician, Literary Yard, and SIA.

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