A Plain Brown Box: A Story by Peter Lin

A Plain Brown Box

In the middle of the street is a box. It is six foot six inches by three feet, with cedar planks on the sides; two three-by-two pine boards hold the sides together with dovetail joints. Smiling children, women, men, pastors, and morticians walk pass the box with candy in their hands.

In the box a woman is motionless. Her face is powered white, and her lips are painted magenta. I walk into a nearby store and question the clerk.

“Excuse me, but who made the box in the street?”

“Oh, you mean the carriage?”

“The one with the woman in it?”

“The carriage was left there a few days ago. No one knows who put it there.”

“Isn’t anyone going to put it away?”


“What if it gets damaged?”

“No.” he says, and turns to help a customer. I walk out to the carriage and look at the construction. The side planks are 8″-by 6’6″-by-1/2″. There are no nails holding the sides together, only dowel rods on the corners. A man walks up to me.

“What are you looking at?”

“This carriage.”

“It’s nice carpentry.”

“Yeah, notice the dovetail joints at the end.”

“Are you a carpenter?”

“No, I just appreciate good carpentry. I make little things, like shelves, tables, rocking chairs, and beds.”

“Look here,” he says and points at the inner corner of the carriage, “The bottom is tongue and groove, so the wood can expand and contract, without splitting. The wood is marble smooth and feels warm from the sun.

The man looks at me and walks away. I walk around the carriage and notice carvings. “Here lies S…. born on 1…, died on T… J…. 2.., 1… This wagon was made by MF.” All the letters are carved in scribe with delicate tails on the H, S, T, R, and Ls. I notice the lid has carvings in it. It is the story of the body, and begins,
“This body was found on Saturday 1.. at 4… It was carried to the sheriff’s office on Sunday 2.. at 8…, but the sheriff wasn’t in. The traveler who found this body left it on the porch. In the morning the sheriff found the body. The sheriff couldn’t find the traveler, or the body’s name. The face reminded him of a woman he knew and so he gave the body her name. Unfortunately the sheriff couldn’t remember her name, but only her first initial. So here lies S… She was born on a unknown day, so the sheriff decided to give her the woman’s birthday, but he also forgot the date. The date of her death is also unknown, since her body decays extremely slow, and seems to rejuvenate at times.”

A man with a badge walks up to me. I greet him and shake his hand. His hands are rough and splintered.

“Hi, how can I help you?”

“Who made this carriage?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you the sheriff?”

“No, I am a deputy.”

“Who made this box?”

“MF, I suppose. Although there’s no one in this town with the initials MF.”

“You’re not MF?”

“No” he says, and I ask, “Can I have the carriage?”

He says, “Sure!” and empties the body in the middle of the street. I notice carvings on the bottom of the carriage. It’s the dimension of the box and directions to build an exact replica. He says, “I know someone that looks like her. She’s a housewife of a wealthy, powerful man. He treats her as a servant. He thinks she is beneath him and orders her around. She’s unable to escape.”

“Who is this woman?” I ask.

“I don’t know her name, I think it begins with S or M or F or something. Any how, it doesn’t matter. Here’s the bed. I hope it pleases you.”

“It does.” I say and walk away. He carries the woman like a suitcase to the porch of the sheriff’s office, but the sheriff isn’t in. He plops the body on the porch. I look at my pocket watch. The minute hand is over the hour hand.

I put the carriage on the train and lie in it. The porter walks up and says, “Ticket please.” I give him the ticket, he punches the corner and walks away. A traveler walks up with a crate and sits on the edge.

“Hi Miss!” he says.

I reply, “Hi” The train puffs steam, the wheels roll down the track. The traveler and I head towards the next station.

The traveler says, “You remind me of a woman. I found her sleeping in a crate. I was transporting her to her burial ground, but the body was thrown from the train.”

~by Peter Lin (USA)

Return to Reflections: Poems & Stories about Self-reflection and Spirituality (Asian Voices)

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