The Business of Boxes by Matthew Vasiliauskas

Most of his life had been spent building boxes for the dead.

His hands were stained with an oily finish, and the aroma of splintered wood leapt from his pores.

The trade had been his father’s, and he remembered floating as a boy along the mist of Fontanelle Forest, leaving his hand prints on the dew-stained bodies of oak and cedar.

Often it would take days to find the right tree.

He associated his father with fire, those evening nights in the high country, sparks floating between their pupils, where the language of inversion would whisper into the fleeting glowing embers between them.

As a teenager ,he would help lower the bodies in for measuring.

The scent, formaldehyde he guessed, was glue for the crisp Penny’s shirts and dresses, the faint shadows of lines and numbers invading the rouge of workshop flesh.

Sometimes he would lie in a newly finished box, his eyes closed, witnessing through the shifting splotches of color a face moving cloud-like along a bubbling horizon.

He was in charge of combing their hair, the men’s at least.

The consistency was the past, the grass of memory, Kubat’s pomade shimmering in the glow of candlelight.

His father died unexpectedly.

He spent days going beyond the familiar footpaths, deeper into the woods, the breath of perpetual night hardening as he placed his ear upon hundreds of trees, taking in the circulation of growing echoes, waiting for the cushioned voice that would hold onto his father.

The business became his, thriving more than it ever had due to his willingness to venture deeper into the forest, gathering rare wood and creating boxes born from silt and shadow.

A short time later, he met Emily.

She was one of the Great Wave, arriving in a caravan of rust where the floating aged faces of desperation bore the scars of blowing sand.

Walking by his storefront on her way to clean the homes, she would pause and wait for him to look up from his work.

As their eyes met, their silhouettes took root in the ground and their reflections traveled in the light of passing vehicles.

Dancing, swimming and dinners soon followed.

They would make love in the boxes. The flicker of wind-tinged flame seeping through the cracks, melting into the gathering sweat, revealing a world of glistening flesh.

The locals though claimed her head would sink, a phrase the mothers would whisper near the river during laundry time.

His body was wood, so much so that whenever Emily tossed over a chair or table, he felt himself plummet through the stinging pangs of freezing dark.

They tried everything with her, until finally deciding on a hospital.

He was told the treatments were for the best, but he hated the smell of burning and couldn’t decide whether it was smoke or her soul now leaving the veins that seemed black.

For her box, he went deeper into the forest. Deeper than he had for his father.

He listened again to the bodies brimming with bark, feeling some kind of language caressing the tops of his eyes, but this time it was colder and the echo nothing more than a faded ping, as if everything had descended underwater.

Some years passed. A hundred. Maybe two hundred. He had become an old man.

His grandchildren now ran the business, focusing on the shallow regions for wood or importing it from the north.

Much of his time was spent resting in a chair near the water, rocking and gazing into the shimmering expanse littered with the pulsating blurs of diving birds.

One day a local boy walked up to him, and the old man pointed to a dirty stack of rotting wood, asking what box he thought would be right for him.

The boy looked towards the water and pointed to a canoe tied to the dock.

He extended a hand towards the old man, and slowly, the two boarded the canoe and pushed off into the water.

The familiar echoing language from within the dark became whole again, and the soft whispers of rolling waves blossomed from the exploding white crests of bursting surf.

They lied in the box together, the glow of the sun and their whistles mixing with the locusts.


Matthew Vasiliauskas is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. In 2009, he was awarded the Silver Dome Prize by the Illinois Broadcast Association for best public affairs program as producer of the Dean Richards Show at WGN Radio. His work has appeared in publications such as The Newer York Press, The University Of Wyoming’s Owen Wister Review and The Pennsylvania Review. Matthew currently lives and works in Los Angeles.