What’s in the Box?

My husband poked his head in my office. “I’m going down to the lobby to pick up the FedEx,” he said and disappeared.

I hadn’t even realized that we had a FedEx – had been too busy at work that day to even check my personal email. His statement distracted me momentarily: what could it be? Had I ordered something online? We have not fallen into the practice that so many people have during this stay-at-home period of ordering everything and then some online. We order groceries for delivery every week – my husband because he doesn’t like exposing ourselves to other shoppers and store employees – me because I got tired of carrying huge bags of groceries .25 mile from the store by myself. We have ordered liquor for delivery. Pizza, every now and then. And I’ve ordered a few things for my office, to make myself more comfortable… but I hadn’t ordered anything recently. Perhaps my sister in law, who still sees her brother as her baby brother, had been shopping at online Costco again and had sent us another case of crushed tomatoes or another two enormous jars of peanut butter stuffed pretzels or another Bingo set.

Perhaps it was my Christmas present? I had, while shopping for Christmas gifts this year, stumbled across an ad for a mushroom farm in a food magazine that someone keeps renewing the subscription on. The ad made it look glamorous, an adjective I associate with my sister. So I dogeared the page and later ordered it for her. My husband, casting about for a gift for me, saw the dogear and thought that meant I secretly yearned for a mushroom farm, and ordered it for me, as well. Neither mushroom farm has arrived, my sister’s seems to have been the victim of a misdelivery. Mine just seems to have disappeared in transit (which is secretly ok by me because where the hell in this tiny apartment would I squeeze in a mushroom farm?). All these thoughts floated through my mind after my husband announced his departure, a momentous event, since he is averaging about one trip out every two weeks and even descent to the lobby and back is reason for awe.

My focus returned to the call I was on, although a corner of my mind noted the sound of his return, the locking of the door, the sound of water running as he washed his hands, and I wondered again: what is in the box?

When I finished my call, I went right onto another one and then another one and then another, and then scrambled to finish a couple of last minute things for the day. Finally, I turned off the computer, the foot warmer, the chair warmer, the bluetooth mouse, the lamp, and emerged, done for the day.

The box sat on the dining table. “That’s a large box,” my husband said. My heart quailed: how big was this mushroom farm? I began to worry where I would put it. Not in the kitchen: we’d trip over it. Not in the bedroom – I like to sleep with the window open and the January air would probably not be good for mushrooms. NOT IN MY TINY OFFICE, which has become the junk room, much to my displeasure, a place filled with stacks of old magazines and empty boxes and abandoned bicycle equipment and backpacks and Bingo sets, with just a tiny path to my desk and the old couch where I meditate. Not in the living room or dining area because, in order to heat my office – which does not have heat of it’s own due to the addition of the wall that carves off that corner from the living room, carving the forced air radiator in half, the controls are in my office, but the heat comes out in the living room – so, in order to heat my office, I have to crank up the heat in the living room each evening to unbearable levels and leave the door to my office open so that the heat seeps in there. In the morning, I turn off the heat and hope that it lingers until lunch. On warmer winter days, it may; in January and February, it usually does not. Perhaps we could fit the mushrooms in the bathroom, under the sink.

We started to work out my mom, which we do three nights a week, via Skype. It’s the only exercise she gets and, to be completely honest, some days it’s the only exercise I get, too. Half way through, mom had to take a bathroom break so we disconnected. I made a B-line towards the box.

It was certainly large. “And heavy,” my husband said. I spun it about. The outside was marked with cryptic words and abbreviations that probably meant something to a warehouse somewhere. Was there an address label? There was but the return address meant nothing to me. Finally I opened it with a pocket knife. Whatever was inside was nested in some very expensive packaging. I removed it carefully, looking for a card or packing slip or mushroom farming instructions…nothing. I kept digging and eventually revealed…

…a very large planter pot containing only a couple of plastic bags of tiny clay marbles.


I spun the box around. The helpful guys at the front desk had scrawled our apartment number on every side and the top of the box. Had they gotten it wrong? I discovered a second shipping label: it had our apartment number. But, looking closer, that wasn’t our name on the label.

And, in fact, it wasn’t our building number on the label either. FedEx had dropped it off at the wrong building.

I carefully replaced the expensive packing material and re-sealed the box. The next day, my husband donned his mask and returned the box to the concierge with instructions to deliver it to the building across the street, a building with many balconies, one of which was clearly missing a giant planter pot.

The box, which had seemed so tantalizing when closed, so full of possibility, when opened became a disappointment and then a burden: something that had to be carried back to the lobby, something that required us to expose ourselves again to the possibility of catching the virus.

An unopened box is a mystery, full of possibility: it could be something wonderful, something special, something that will transform our lives, make us urban mushroom farmers. It could be something unexpected: a bingo game or a case of canned crushed tomatoes, a challenge to our culinary skills. An unopened box is a Christmas Tree with piles of gaily wrapped gifts beneath it.

Once the box is opened, reality sets in: it’s a misdelivered planter that now has to be returned to the lobby. It’s another thing that needs to be stored, or food that must be consumed. The possibility is gone: now it’s a certainty.

Which is better?

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