DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS- yeah, right.
| It's not uncommon for a box to show up on my front porch that I don't remember ordering. I'm drunk most of the time, and I'm a hikikomori who orders everything online. At least every other day, there will be a doorbell ring, and another box. I like to play a game with my alcohol-addled memory. Will it be Cheez-Its, tampons, or novelty Frida Kahlo socks this time? Unfortunately I have no one to bet against except the cat, and Luce already owes me.
Hikikomori is the Japanese version of shut-in. I call myself hikikomori because it sounds better than "shut-in". You say, "hikikomori" and you picture disillusioned young people beat down by the cruelties of life. You say "shut-in" and you picture eighty-year-old Grandma Pearl watching the Price is Right.
I'm not a grandma. I'm disillusioned.
I opened my front door once I heard the driver leave. Despite my attempts at being unapproachable (men's boxer shorts, t-shirt, and a bathrobe sent the desired message) the driver usually felt sorry enough for me that he'd ask how I was. How do you think I'm doing? I'm wearing wine-stained boxer shorts and I'm ordering Cheez-Its from Amazon.
The box made scratching noises. The box was didn't have the usual Amazon logo on it. In loud red sharpie, the box declared:
DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS
Un-fucking-likely. It was December seventh, and if I waited that long, whatever was inside would definitely die.
I carried the box inside. Whatever had been scratching must have froze in terror. I placed it on the floor, sure that whatever was inside would probably leap out the moment I opened the box. I didn't want it to fall from the counter or table.
One tentative scratch.
I pulled off the tape. Whatever was inside froze in fear again.
I lifted up one flap.
A black ball of furry rage leaped for my face. I screamed and threw my hands up, but not fast enough to prevent a claw ripping from my nose to my mouth. When I opened my eyes again and peered between my fingers, it was gone.
There had been a cat inside that box, I thought idly.
The cat was gone now, but the box wasn't empty. Lying on the bottom was a postcard with a photograph of the St. Louis skyline at night. I picked it up, turned it over. In barely-legible handwriting, it read,
I knew if the box said, "open immediately", you'd wait a few weeks just to be a contrarian. Love you. Take care of Bubba for me. He likes walks.
"BUBBA? The hell-cat?" I screeched so loud my neighbors probably heard me. Bubba was Amelia's notorious black cat with the attitude of Satan and the mass of a dump truck. Nobody liked Bubba except Amelia. I couldn't begin to guess why my sister had sent him to me.
I got to my feet and patrolled my house for wherever the creature had hidden itself. If I didn't find him quickly enough and confine him to my bathroom, he'd probably pick a fight with Luce. No, he'd probably kill Luce.
Two days later, I found the beast. He'd wedged himself between a bookshelf and a wall, and only emerged at night to steal Luce's leftover food. I finally corralled him in the bathroom after a battle in which I was armed with a bath towel, some tuna, and my nerves of steel. He was armed with a bad attitude and claws. He had the advantage, but I'm stubborn. He'd stay in bathroom confinement until I was sure he wouldn't assassinate Luce.
Three days later, the harness and matching pink leash arrived. I opened the box, hoping for Cheez-Its.
I cursed. It was cold outside. And there were people outside, some of whom might even try to talk to me, like Charlie the Amazon driver, or Sandra the homeschool mom from two doors down. There was air out there.
But I knew Amelia, and I knew Bubba. Bubba would never like me until I took him outside, and Amelia would never forgive me if I didn't take proper care of her hellish beast.
Bubba was positively compliant when I went to put his harness on. He only scratched me twice. Once the harness was snapped on, he raced to the front door, meowing all the way, his tail pointing straight to the sky, held aloft like a military banner. "Let's go," he was telling me, "let's storm the neighborhood, kill some birds, terrorize some children."
We made it to the end of my yard before I scooped him up and sprinted back to my front door. The air. There was so much air.
We tried again the next day. We were both better. Bubba only scratched me once when I put on his harness, and I made it two sidewalk segments away from my yard before I choked on fresh air and rushed back to my front door.
It was two weeks and fifteen six-packs of beer before I tried again. Bubba would circle me and meow outrageously. I knew I couldn't keep him cooped up any longer. I replaced my stained boxer shorts with stained blue jeans, and I tried for a third time.
Bubba didn't scratch me, not even once. I made it to the end of the block. I walked all the way back home, not breaking into a sprint, not once. I breathed deep and sat on the floor inside my front door. "High-five, Bubba!" I told him, and held out my hand. He high-fived it with a satisfied mew, then stalked upstairs to bully Luce, his tail held aloft.
My phone made a noise. I pulled it from my back pocket to take a look. Was it really time for Amelia's annual text? I checked the date first. Well, sure enough.
"Merry Christmas, sis!"
I swallowed. Then, for the first time in four years, I texted her back.