She did up her curls and fastened them with a golden comb, then sprinkled the Christmas tree with festive strands of silver. Chipping away at sticky tape with her fingernail, she unwrapped a box that she guessed might have been placed there thirty years before. When it was finally opened, the ghastly, withered fingers of a familiar hand reached out and plucked the comb from her hair—the curls coming undone one by one, and framing her bright eyes, which danced with shivering excitement. Without warning, the same hand reached out and grabbed her fingers, crushing and draining them of blood, until they turned white with surrender. Once the grip had slackened, her lips started to move, but her voice stayed deep down in her throat.
‘I’ve been waiting for your touch for a very long time—waiting for your embrace to smother my shadow.’
The hand caressed her cheek, then tugged at her curls, but she pulled away, leaving a handful of hair in its tightly-wrapped fist. Never-ending swirls of wrapping paper danced at her feet, and suddenly off balance, she fell onto another box—one trimmed in glittering red and knotted white ribbon. Cutting through the tangled bows, she sliced into a sliver of fingertip. Drops of blood decorated the package with spiral twists. The box came undone as it tumbled to the floor, and a familiar voice from it uttered her name. When she dropped to her knees and leaned towards it, its fiery breath brushed her cheek, singeing an abandoned curl, which fell across her face and stuck between her lips. Freeing the ringlet with her fingers, she opened her mouth to speak. The words got tangled in the few strands of hair still clinging; even so, she managed to whisper.
‘I’ve been waiting to hear my name once again—waiting for your tongue to scald my lips.’
She puckered and blew a kiss to the wind, but the draft came back, sweeping her fragile body across the room. Landing in a gold-leaf trimmed mahogany box, her legs hanging limply, her arms confined, she felt a flash of pain—or was it comfort? A hand neatly tucked her legs inside, placed her head on a satin pillow, closed the cover, tied the package in blood-stained spiral twists, and then hauled the box by its ornamented bronze handle. When the scraping along the floor suddenly fell silent, a voice rang out in monotone chants, making her drowsy, evoking child-like dreams of multicolored ribbons twirling and swirling at the soles of her feet. They slowly crept up, dancing and prancing across her belly; climbing further, mangling and dangling around her neck—one hand and two hushed lips, left untouched by the velvety, smooth ribbon.
Feeling completely abandoned by time itself, she lay there comfortably until the clock ran backward. Relishing in her newfound solitude, confinement inspired her to drift through thoughts of deathlessness and timelessness. Yet, she wondered whether there were still boxes left to open, or whether lifting the lid just to have a peek, would distract her recent musings. She raised the lid with brute force, only to see five fingers moving to and fro, gesturing her to step out of the confinement. A voice summoned her by a name she no longer knew. Slowly and calmly, she started to speak of traveling to a place that could only be reached by words, her hollow stutters reeking of death and senselessness. The voice changed octaves and sang in organ-like tones to smother the babble that oozed from her mouth, while the hand stopped wagging long enough to curl its fingers around a head of ringlets and adjust a satin pillow. She felt content, and she felt alive—in a ghostly sort of way.
She said her own name in a kind and familiar voice—just as a slivered fingertip pressed her lips to deaden the sound, burying it somewhere deep beneath. The silence was sudden.
Author’s Note: Boxes of grief should only be unwrapped one at a time. Each box contains a potent portion of shock, anger, and depression. Once we confront those demons, calm and familiarity will eventually return—‘in a ghostly sort of way.’