By Jessica Kruppa
Janet leaned back in the chair, sinking deeper into the plush cushions as she regarded the cornflower blue box on the coffee table. It was lovely. Very lovely. A quick breeze slipped through the window, between the curtains and danced over the pink silk bow on the lid, making her shiver.
Shaking her head, Janet stood up and went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea but she got sidetracked by the cupcakes on the counter. All thoughts of tea vanished when she peeled back the wrapper and bit into the rich brown cake.
Who could have sent the box, she wondered. There had been no name, no tag, no card. Just a blue box with a pink ribbon. Very irresponsible, pink. That was the sort of color that could make or break an engagement, it was the difference between thank you and I love you, and it was the kind of color that could welcome a new baby or a lost job. It could be anything: that was the trouble with pink. But she wasn’t engaged, hadn’t done anything to be thanked for, had no suitors, and certainly no baby.
Janet licked the frosting from her fingers and tossed the wrapper on the counter. She stood in the doorway as if it were a doorway between realms and she was about to take her first steps into an unknown fantasy with unicorns and talking beavers, or as if she were about to step into the unknown of the men’s bathroom.
The box still sat on the table, right where she left it, still cornflower blue and still with a pink ribbon that ruffled in the breeze.
Right. The breeze.
Midstep Janet changed course and tied back the curtains. The window squeaked closed and Janet’s fingers ran across the cool metal of the lock, flicking it closed.
There. No more breeze. Just her and. . . the box.
She approached the box cautiously, circling the table. Twice she attempted a grab but chickened out. The third time though, the third time she withdrew and realized that she had it in her hands and her heart leapt straight into her throat.
Slowly she turned around, holding the box at arms length, and carefully she walked to the door carefully placing each foot on the ground and trying not to jostle the box.
Foot by foot the front door grew closer and Janet’s eyes kept flickering between the door and the pink ribbon until the door was right in front of her. Balancing the box in one hand, Janet reached down and turned the knob.
The door swung open.
A gust of wind bullied its way into the house, inviting his buddies ‘dust devil’ and ‘crumpled newspaper’ with him.
Janet stamped on the newspaper, cradling the box against her chest, and hurried through the door and onto the front lawn. She looked both ways down the deserted street with it’s dilapidated houses and boarded up windows.
Across the street a lawn mower, a tricycle wedged behind the back tire, rusted on a dead lawn. Stray dogs bickered over an ancient rib bone around some dented trash cans. Nothing with two legs in sight.
Janet tucked the box under one arm, careful to cover the pink ribbon, and strode across the cracked drive to her neighbor’s house. Gently she set the box in front of the door. Carefully she straightened the little pink ribbon. She rapped three times on the door and, like a bat out of hell, she ran.
She did not stop running until she was safe in her own house with her back against the door, panting and her eyes squeezed shut.
A moment passed.
Janet opened one eye, seemed satisfied and then straightened up. Perhaps it had been nothing. Perhaps it had been pleasant. She hoped they enjoyed it. She locked three bolts on the door for good measure before wandering back into the kitchen for another cupcake.
She poured hot water into a tea cup and plopped in an old tea bag from that morning. She sank down into a chair at the kitchen table, kicked off her shoes and sighed happily, cradling the warm cup in her hands. The tension drained out of her shoulders.
Just as she raised the cup to her lips an explosion rattled the walls, shaking loose a bit of plaster. Ah. So that was it. Janet sighed and used a handful of napkins to blot the tea off of her shirt and the table.
“They really need to rethink their layoff strategy. . .”