Mark looked up the next name on the spreadsheet, and put it through the company search engine to find their contact information. “Maybe Michelle won’t be too curious” he thought.
Michelle knew she wasn’t supposed to check her personal email on the work computer, but how else was she supposed to get through a Wednesday? She scanned through Facebook notifications and ads, and clicked on a message with the subject line ‘object holding corps’.
Thank you for volunteering your time to participate in this important and vital service. Tomorrow, promptly at 7pm, a box will be delivered to your home. Please put it in a safe place. You will be responsible for the box for one week, during which time it belongs to you. Know that the contents are not illegal or hazardous, but we recommend that you do not open the box. At the end of a week the same man will return to pick up the box, and your service will be completed.
“What on earth?” thought Michelle. She looked for a signature but there wasn’t one, and the return email address was her own. She spent the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out who might be pranking her. Michelle vaguely remembered signing something in college about holding special objects, but she had been really drunk at the time and attempting to flirt with the clipboard boy so she had no idea if this was the same thing.
Out for drinks with Beverly after work Michelle told her the story, still trying to make sense of the email.
“Wait, so some random guy is going to knock on your door tomorrow night? Maybe he’ll be cu-ute."
“Beverly, that’s not the point. How did they get my email address, or know where I live? Who are they? This whole thing is kind of creeping me out.”
“It’s probably some new viral marketing campaign. Stop worrying, start drinking.” With that Beverly made her way back to the bar for a refill. With a sigh, Michelle followed.
The next night at 7p exactly, there was a knock on her apartment door.
“Hello Michelle. Thank you again for volunteering.” The man took a box out from underneath his arm and held it out to her.
“Wait. Who are you? What is in the box? Who are you working for? Why isn’t this box locked somewhere safe? When –“
The man held up a hand to stop Michelle’s stream of questions. “My name is Mark. This box is your responsibility for the next week.” He touched the box to her stomach and she took it automatically. As soon as it was out of his hands, Mark turned around and walked away.
Michelle still had so many questions, but somehow knew he wouldn’t answer any of them. She went inside and tucked the box on a shelf behind her winter sweaters, and tried not to think about it for the rest of the night.
Friday at work Michelle was even more distracted than usual. She texted Beverly to tell her that the box-man was real and had shown up, and then spent most of the morning trying to recall what he was wearing to answer Beverly’s queries. They spent the afternoon speculating about what could be in the box. Beverly made her promise not to open it until she got back from the beach on Tuesday. Michelle agreed easily, she wasn’t sure she wanted to open the box at all.
The weekend went by too quickly, as always. Monday at work was awful, and with Beverly still out of town Michelle didn’t have anyone to entertain her through the day. Later that night, Michelle reached behind her sweaters and pulled out the box. It was made of dark wood and about the size of a box of file folders. It had an elaborate metal latch, one that couldn’t come undone accidentally, but no lock. It felt heavy, but whatever was inside didn’t move as she studied the box. She set it on the bed and was about to open it when she remembered her promise to Beverly. Michelle decided she could open it now and act like she had never seen the contents before, if Beverly even remembered about the box before Mark returned to take it back to wherever.
Michelle tried to remember exactly what the email had said. They recommended she not open the box, but it was hers for this week. “Whatever, if it’s mine I want to know what it is.”
Michelle opened the box. It was lined with velvet, and held in clips was a revolver. Pinned into the velvet was a small tag that read “Chekhov’s gun”.
“You have got to be kidding me. All of this for a theater prop? Maybe this is a weird marketing thing after all.” Michelle picked the gun up, it felt heavier than she thought it would be. She put the gun back and moved the box to the side table. She went to open a bottle of wine, never mind that she had already brushed her teeth. Some weirdo had given her a gun, she deserved alcohol.
Mid-morning on Tuesday Beverly began texting the story of her romantic, exciting weekend at the beach. Michelle’s phone was chirping nearly every minute, so she put it on silent. She knew she was going to hear the whole story again when Beverly came over for dinner that night, but giggling at her phone was better than spreadsheets.
They had finished their takeout and were into the second bottle of wine when Beverly asked about the box. Michelle couldn’t remember if she had put it back in the closet, or if it was still on the bedside table, so she tried to head Beverly off. “I don’t know if we should open it – it’s kind of old-timey looking and we might hurt something.”
“You are being silly. They gave you a box, even if they’re taking it back. I want to know what’s inside.” Beverly stood and went into the bedroom, taking her wine glass with her. Michelle quickly followed her.
“So where is this crazy box thing?” Beverly asked, while digging through the closet.
“Uh, it’s on the side table.” Beverly turned to look at Michelle for a beat and then moved next to the bed.
“It’s open already.”
“Yeah, I decided I had to know what was in it last night. I meant to put it away so you wouldn’t know but I had some wine…”
“You broke your promise.”
“Look, Beverly it’s just this weird, stupid box and -”
“And, you were planning to lie about it to me.”
“What? No, I just – look this isn’t a big deal, it only has some fake gun in it. I didn’t mean to open it without you, okay?”
By this time Beverly was looking in the box. She put her wine glass down, and carefully picked up the gun. She flipped the cylinder out, spun it, then flipped it back in.
“This isn’t a fake gun.”
“What are you talking about – look at the tag, it says-”
“It’s not a fake. It’s an actual revolver, with actual bullets in it. Whoever these people are, they gave you a loaded gun.”
Michelle tried to grasp what Beverly was telling her through the wine haze. Why would a theater give her a loaded gun? “They must be blanks. Or it’s a starter pistol or something.”
Beverly looked over the weapon one more time. “I don’t think so. I think this is a real gun, hanging out in your bedroom.” She put the gun back into the box and picked up her wine glass; her hand was shaking. “I don’t believe you broke your promise” she said quietly.
“Oh, come on Bev, it’s not that – I’m sorry. I’m sorry I opened the box without you.”
“You know you sound like a six year old who was told to apologize by her mother.” Beverly dropped her glass of wine on top of the bed and walked out.
Michelle ran into the bathroom for towels to blot the red wine from her grandmother's white comforter. She heard the front door slam while trying to limit the damage.
Michelle stumbled into work late. She hadn’t gotten much sleep after running to the store and buying every stain removal product they had, and then trying each of them one by one. The wine stain was now a very pale pink, but it was still there.
Michelle had just booted up her computer when Tracy, her boss, asked to speak to her in the conference room. They walked into the room together and Tracy closed the door.
“Michelle, we’re letting you go. Your output has not lived up to our expectations. You’ve also broken our company policies regarding personal internet and phone usage repeatedly, which means we are firing you with cause, and there will be no severance.”
“Wait, I-” Michelle tried to get words out past her bone dry throat. “I can do better, work harder.”
“Michelle, HR has spoken to you twice in the past six weeks and nothing changed. IT went through your internet cache and you’re obviously breaking policy. We’re done. Please pack up your personal things; Terry from HR is at your desk to observe you and will escort you out of the building when you’ve finished.”
Michelle packed and left as quickly as she could, making eye contact with no one. She drove home and went inside with her small box of belongings. Bewildered about what to do next, she took a long nap.
Waking up, Michelle decided to text Beverly an apology, even if it was her heirloom comforter that was ruined. She needed her friend. She grabbed her phone from her purse and realized she had missed several texts and a call; the phone was still on silent from the day before. Michelle glanced through the texts, they were all from Beverly, who was upset and wanted to meet right after work. Michelle saw it was nearly 8pm as she dialed her voicemail.
“So you’re not here, even after I texted you about meeting me tonight, more than once. I even waited around to see if you were maybe just running late, but - Promises are super important to me, you knew that, and you broke one, and you don’t even care enough to show up - It’s not like you’ll be out with anyone else or at the gym or staying late at work, so I guess you really don’t care. We’re done. I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”
Michelle stared at the phone as the recorded voice asked if she wanted to save or delete the message. She heard the tears in Beverly’s voice, and knew this wasn’t just a tantrum.
She flopped back onto the bed. No more job, no more best-friend. No family, not really, and the only memento she had was ruined. There was no one to notice if she never left the apartment again. Michelle huddled into a ball and began to cry.
It got dark outside. She rolled over to turn on the lamp and bumped into the box still sitting open on the side table. She picked up the gun and cradled it like a doll. She thought about the words she had heard twice that day, “we’re done”. She carefully put the gun down, and backed away to the far corner of the bed.
“No,” she said shaking her head. “I’m not done. Not yet. Not completely. I’m not. Am I?”
Mark sat in his car with the box in his lap, waiting for it to be 7pm exactly to knock on Rosa’s door and make his delivery. Maybe Rosa wouldn’t be too curious.
***This is my entry for week 15 of the craziness known as LJ Idol, see what other people did with "Chekhov's gun" here.***