Outside The Box
She was working at the same station as me, our group handling and examining preserved brain samples. The use of preservatives meant we were holding brain tissue examined by thirty classes prior. Thankfully, as undergraduates we weren't permitted to use the university's illicit collection of Victorian-era samples. Ethics were different (or non-existent) then, and doctors felt no qualms taking organs from the dead without permission - organs which could be obtained at discount prices. Touching brains is always going to be a little gross, but there is comfort in knowing that the one in your hands was legally obtained. So anyway, this girl was holding a brain. She was also suppressing a sneeze. Though it wasn't said explicitly, sneezing on the dead is generally frowned upon. When she couldn't hold it in any longer, reflexes took over, bringing her hands to her face. With the brain still in them. Being face-palmed by an organ isn't a great experience for the person involved, but it is *hilarious* for those watching. Safe to say, she took the rest of the session off. Which is where the box comes into play!
Our dissection classes being mandatory, she had to return the next day to complete the second half, about the circulatory system. It would've been weird for her to spend over an hour just with the anatomy professor, so I joined her. It did help that the professor was super cute. I was also very conscious of how good our origin story would be if we ever married. Plus, I wasn't very good at the circulatory system. After donning lab coats, gloves, and notepads, we found him standing next to a metal box.
I'd noticed the box before, and to my eye it looked about the right size for freezing a whole human body, with some wiggle room for lifting it out. So when he told us that he'd be introducing us to his favourite specimen, an *exclusive* honour for our 2-on-1 class, I almost felt disappointed. Been there, done that etc. Instead, we find the box filled to the brim with heads and arms. Attached though - bodies cut off just below the collarbone. After a moment of intense side-eye with my friend, we watch the professor rummage and mutter. By piling unwanted specimens to one side of the box, he managed to find one at the bottom. He lifted it into the crock of his arm, with all the care of cradling a baby.
"This is George! He always manages to hide from me. Just look at that carotid artery. He's not my favourite for nothing!"
Dropping a wink, the professor leaned in conspiratorially. "Of course, no one's perfect. He has no jaw."
Looking into George's eye-sockets, he whispered "and he is French."
'Yes, of course,' replied Cath. But Dom's tone had really only given her the option of saying yes. She composed herself. 'Well, I thought, maybe I thought if you were going to, you might have-'
'I know. Bit spur of the moment. But it’s good to be impulsive.'
'Impulsive. Yes, that’s romantic,' replied Cath, more to convince herself than to agree with Dom.
'You only ever want to do it once,' said Dom. His eyes told her that she could never leave him.
'It?' she replied uneasily.
'Get engaged. When I’m earning ten times my current package, I’ll want to know that I bought you a ring that I can still be proud of. So I pushed the boat out. Is it big enough for you?'
Cath had always believed that the moment that a man proposed should be one of the happiest moments of her life. She found that place, worried she wasn't being happy enough for him. 'It looks even bigger out of the box. It's beautiful.' But Cath wasn't particularly good at hiding her concerns. 'It’s just that, it’s just that I thought that when I got engaged – we got engaged – I always thought there would be champagne.'
'They don’t let you bring bottles in here,' replied Dom. He swept his hand towards the stage, the large open grassy area where the audience were milling, and the assembled food and drink 'pop-up' stalls.
'It didn’t have to be here,' said Cath.
'I wanted to do it here.'
'And then queue for sausages?'
'That was my favourite band. You know that. And my favourite song. I always knew I would propose at the end of Love You Forever.'
Cath had never noticed that the song was Dom's favourite. She vaguely remembered him playing it one evening soon after they had met, fourteen months ago at a party of a mutual friend. She turned her hand so that the diamond caught the light, scattering a rainbow of colours across the festival site. The ring was beautiful; she was sure that despite a slight feeling of unease, this was temporary and deep down she was very happy. 'Oh it’s so exciting. Wait till I tell mum. I wonder what she’ll say. I’d like a summer wedding. I’ve had a venue in mind ever since I went to Michelle’s wedding last year. We’ll have to start taking notes at weddings, I’m not proud, we’ll copy the best ideas. Ours will be the most perfect wedding. I have to call mum now.' She felt the excitement rise.
'Pick your sausage first.'
'You choose. You know what I like.' She wanted to test him.
'Your mum knows.'
Cath's excitement disappeared. 'Why should she know?'
'I mean, she knows I’ve proposed.'
'How does she know?'
'I wanted to check with her that she was happy with me marrying you.'
'Of course she is.'
'I just wanted to check.'
'You had to check?'
'And your dad too.'
'My dad knows. When?'
'When I came to visit last time. I took them both aside and talked my plan through with them. I swore them to secrecy.' His smile was self-congratulatory.
She had never liked that one smile. 'That was three weeks ago,' she countered. They’ve known for three weeks?'
'I made a second visit. When you were away.'
'You saw my parents when I was away? When?'
'Last week. I was just passing on business. I have a client close by.'
'My mum and dad have known for three weeks that you were going to propose?' She was starting to see a different man than the one she had spent the last year and a bit with. A thought swung into her mind, crashing out every other idea.' 'So it wasn’t spontaneous.'
'Not really,' he admitted, but he was clearly impressed by his own planning ability.
'So you planned to celebrate by buying me a sausage after proposing.'
'Well not necessarily a sausage. Maybe a pie. Or a hog roast bap.'
'Well we’ve gone for sausage now.'
She knew that her best friend Michelle would be her bridesmaid. She had always known. She had been slightly put out that Michelle had married first; now it would look like she was just returning the favour. 'Wait till I tell Michelle.'
Cath was unable to process the thought immediately. It was one thing to check with your parents. There was a tradition for that, albeit one she would never have subscribed to. She was quickly seeing that Dom was in many ways a very traditional man. But she had never even thought that Dom had Michelle's contact details.
'Facebook,' replied Dom to the unasked question.
'So everyone knows.'
'But you didn’t know I’d say yes.'
'You weren't going to say no.'
'But you didn’t know for sure until you asked me.'
'And you said yes.'
As Cath raised her hand to take the sausage sandwich from the server, she paused to look once more at the ring. The clouds had obscured the sun and the diamond no longer sparkled. It even looked dull. Perhaps worse, the size of the stone was vulgar. She rocked her hand to try to catch the sunlight but there was none. It looks so different, out of the small box in which Dom had presented it to her.'
She took off the ring.
so I can’t help but think
outside it - it has no in.
All our boxes – the rickety crib,
the jewellery box meant for me,
the antique coal scuttle, the shapes
Dad’s arms and legs made
as he danced – all got destroyed.
Crushed because they represented
finer things denied to him,
smashed because they shoved his face
close up against the looking glasses
of my eyes, he laughed before
they squirted him with failing cream.
How loud he shouted, how he cursed
as he slapped his reflection
from my clasped face.
Found me so wanting
he was never seen again.
Yet he did me a favour
took contagious cruelty away,
forced Mum and me to learn
to thrive in this boxless world.
In a way he set me free
to run inquest after inquest
now he’s dead to me.