The Oaken Box

Content Warning: This short story is really well written, and may make some people jealous. It also contains ‘PG-13’ rated profanities, and some violence.  You’ve been warned.


David stepped outside into the bright April sunshine, and winced as the glaring sun shone down. His eyes adjusted to the change in seconds and he walked over to the rusting metal bench which sat in the shade at the end of the alleyway. He reached his hand down to feel the temperature, and was glad that it wasn’t scorching as it had been all morning.

‘I really should move it at noon every day,’ David thought as he sat down on the bending sheet metal. He looked out on the busy street and saw a Ferrari at a stand still in front of a stop light and sighed. That should be him. He had worked hard for nearly fifteen years, nine of them in the criminal defense spectrum of law, and had gained a sizable reputation in the same field. He was at the top of his game, and should be a millionaire by now. What had happened? He pulled a box of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and grimaced. Tracy. That’s what had happened. Over the past three years, she had ruined him. “Bitch,” he said out loud, surprised by his own train of thought. He knew it was partially his fault. He should have stopped drinking sooner, but alcohol had been a staple for his college life, and he had carried part of that dependency on to his young adult life. She had moved out that morning, less than eight hours ago, and David was still trying to understand her choice. He had stopped drinking, and that had been the only thing she had wanted. He would never understand her.

He pulled a lighter out of his pocket and started the cigarette with ease. He leaned back and took a long draw on the camel, watching a homeless guy sell, well, try and sell newspapers to the people stuck in traffic. ‘Half of those newsies are probably carjackers’ David thought as he exhaled for the second time. Damn, the buzzes were taking longer to hit him as he smoked more. He had only taken it up a few months ago, as an alternative to drinking. Part of him was glad that he had quit, but a small voice sometimes crept up and tortured him, reminding him of the effects of alcohol. Was the smoking why she had left?  Hell no, he thought with a hint of relief on his face. She sometimes smoked herself. The buzz hit him after a minute, and he enjoyed the sensation, which was different every time. Sometimes, it was energizing. Others, he felt dizzy and disoriented. He probably wasn’t smoking them right. You were supposed to inhale cigarettes, right? Yeah, cigarillos were made to be taken only into the mouth. He still inhaled those all the way. If he was going to get cancer, he might as well get all the cancer he could. He would pick up a cigarillo on the way home, and probably smoke it in the car. He looked at his watch and dropped the cigarette on the ground, watching it tumble like a gymnast. It bounced once on the pavement, and rolled to a stop next to David’s shoe. He stomped on the glowing end, imagining he could hear a hiss as it was extinguished. He began walking towards the door of his office and pulled a stick of gum out of his jacket pocket. As the sharp taste of spearmint assaulted his senses, he felt even more relaxed. He opened the door and walked in to find his partner, Shane, on the phone.

“No Mrs. Park, we don’t do prosecution.” said Shane, with an annoyed look on his face. “My partner and I would prefer to not be hit by the Mafia. No. You need a divorce lawyer anyways, probably someone who has a family firm. No, but I could recommend a few. No, we don’t do that.” Shane turned to David and put an imaginary gun to his head. Mrs. Park had that effect on people. She was extremely stubborn and could talk for hours on end about the most boring subjects. David smiled and began to walk to his office, but Shane grabbed his arm. ‘Hold on’ he mouthed silently, as he continued his conversation with Mrs. Park. “Yes ma’am. I’ll do that. No… Yes… Alright yeah… Tomorrow. Bye. Yes ma’am. Bye. Good bye.”

Shane slammed the phone down, swearing in a scottish accent. At the office, there was a swear jar, but if you swore in an accent, it didn’t count. “Shite” had a good sound to it anyways. “She will not shut up. Dear lord, babbling on and on and on about her useless no-good husband. I can’t take it for too much longer. She’s crazy.”

“I agree” said David, as he walked over to the red office refrigerator. “She annoys me to no mortal end, although I still like her with some part of my being. I think we should block her number.”

“Can we do that?”

“Pretty sure. I’ll get on it tomorrow.”

Shane laughed. “No you won’t! I always end up doing it!”

“That’s mostly true. Sorry I’ve been out of it for a while.”

“Hey, no problem,” said Shane as he stood up to stretch. “By the way, how’s Tracy been? I haven’t seen her in a few weeks.”

‘This again?’ thought David with an annoyed look on his face. “Uh, she’s gone. Moved out this morning actually.”

“Oh man, sorry. I thought you quit drinking though?”

“Yeah, I did. I can’t figure it out man.”

“She probably left you for another guy. Women are fickle.”

“Your words are more of a hindrance than they are a help,” said David.

“Sorry. Well, I mean, there’s always a silver lining, right? You can go home and pop open a cold one.”

“Get thee behind me Satan,” said David with a smile as he sat down. “I can’t do that again. I’m at the top of my game.”

“David, one drink isn’t going to make you an alcoholic.”

“I already am an alcoholic, Shane. Another drink would just ignite the urges again.”

“Whatever man. Do what you will. Have you closed the Myhre case yet?”

“Crap, you had to remind me,” said David, “I’ll finish that up real quick. We should be able to have a bullet-proof alibi if that bartender can be persuaded…”

The time passed quickly, and at 5:15, David closed up shop, and headed towards his Ford, a beat up pickup truck from the last decade with spots of rust littering its chassis. He got into the driver’s seat, and was closing the door when he saw a piece of yellow paper fluttering in the dusk wind, clipped beneath one of his windshield wipers. He pounded his palm into the horn of his car, and a loud peal rang out from the truck. A slow stream of curses (none of them in a Scottish accent) poured out of his mouth. He reached over the hood of the truck and snatched the ticket in a shaking hand. This was not what he had needed today. He thought about crumpling the note, but his childish anger left him in the gravity of the situation. ‘How will I pay for this?’ David thought as he climbed in his truck for the second time that afternoon. ‘Headlight out?’ he read with a look of disbelief. ‘How the hell could someone tell if a headlight was out when the car wasn’t running?’

David stepped out of the cab a second time and walked to the back of his car. One of his headlights was indeed out. It was smashed completely, and David could only guess that the local adolescents had decided to release their anger with a baseball bat. He swore under his breath and got into the cab of the truck. He started the car (‘Thank God for that’ he thought), and drove in silence for ten minutes. He turned on the radio, and heard the guitar riffs of My Chemical Romance pouring from his stereo. He stayed on the station until a boy’s band came on, nauseating him. He saw his gas needle falling, and pulled into a Shell gas station.

David stepped onto the cracked pavement and swiped his card at the pump. He waited a second, and saw the word “declined” flash up on the screen. “Are you kidding me?!?” he yelled in annoyance. An old man at the pump next to David’s looked at him nervously, and continued pumping the gas warily. David tried swiping the card several more times before he stormed inside the station, nearly knocking the bells off of the door in his haste. He walked over to the cashier, who was a small oriental woman, probably from somewhere in Korea. ‘Hopefully South Korea’ thought David, ‘those are the nice ones, right?’

“Could you please scan my card?” asked David with as much politeness as he could muster. The lady nodded and took David’s card in her frail hands. She scanned it, and the same word flashed on the register.

“Is declined,” she said in halting, broken english with a toothy smile.

“Please try again,”

The lady swiped the card again, and the same thing happened.

“Is rejected, by bank.”

David felt a suspicion rise up inside him, and he pulled out his phone with a tight face. He opened his account online, and saw that his wife had drained their joint checking account while he had been at work. “Alright, screw it, I’ll just use cash.” He lay a wrinkled twenty-dollar bill down on the plastic counter, and pointed out a cigarillo on the rack behind the woman. “I’ll take one of those too. Pay for that first, and pay for my gas afterwards. Do you understand?” The woman nodded, and flourished towards several different cases.

“What kind you want?”

David scanned the shelf. Something dark probably, ah yes. Wine. He pointed it out and the lady scanned the bar code. David walked out to his car, cigarillo in pocket, and his gas pre-paid. He clicked the trigger into place and leaned against the side of the truck, feeling the cigarillo in his pocket. He took it into his hands and raised it to his nose. The slight scent of fermented grapes made him quiver. He could handle it, couldn’t he? This was just a cigarillo, not actually wine. He had given that up, and he wouldn’t fall back to it. Maybe just one drink. One shot. No! Had his life fallen that far that he was going to drink again? No. He heard the click of the trigger, hung up the pump, and screwed the lid of his gas tank on. He walked over to his door and got in, still shaking from his internal struggle. He pulled out onto the freeway and drove home with the radio turned down. He passed his childhood home, his school, and the coffee shop where he had held his first job. ‘Hell I’m old,’ he thought as he turned into his subdivision. He was almost thirty, and driving by his first job made him realize it. He waved at the neighbors who were walking hand in hand up the hill, and pulled into his driveway.

He stepped out of the car and pulled out his cigarillo. He fumbled in his pocket for the lighter, but couldn’t find it. He panicked and opened the car door. Oh, it was there. Thank God. He took a deep breath and pushed down the lighter, puffing on the cigarillo to start it. He could taste the wine on the wooden end of the cigarillo, and he could feel the smoke filling his mouth. He inhaled the smoke into his lungs, and sat down on the front porch, smoke rolling out of his nostrils. He felt a wave of ecstasy hit him, and he smiled, happy for the first time in several hours. He smoked it for five minutes, and dropped it when the smoke began to roughen. He watched it tumble again, akin to a star falling out of orbit, its lit end hitting the pavement and scattering ashes to the four winds. David stood up felt something rising up inside of him. He needed alcohol. He stepped inside and stopped to take off his shoes. No! He screamed inwardly. No more alcohol! Another voice rose up inside him: My life has officially hit the fan, and I’m taking a shot. The small voice that had been against drinking died, and David smiled. He had won. He walked into his bedroom and pulled “Pilgrim’s Progress” off of the shelf. Tracy had never like that book, and that was why he had chosen behind it as his hiding place. He stopped. No alcohol. Your life is screwed, do it! David swallowed, and decided to put it to a test. One last shot would end his struggle forever. Either he would go on to a better place in the universe, or he would descend to the depths of hell. This was it, one last shot. The small voice screamed at him. Don’t drink! He smiled and acknowledged the voice. “I’ll shut you both up,” he said as he reached up to find the wooden box in the bookcase.

The case was made of Oak, or so David had been told. It was state of the art craftsmanship, and David knew it. He felt the cool of the metal cylinder as he lifted it out of his case. He held it in his hands, and remembered the last few weeks, holding it every night, wanting to use it, but always denying himself. Tonight was it. The final battle would decide his fate. He felt as if his whole life had been leading up to this moment, and that this would be the turning point in his brief existence. He had always been dramatic though, and nothing would most likely happen. He wasn’t really going to do this, was he? He wondered if there was anything left, and looked down the opening. Oh yeah. There was at least one more shot. Maybe two. He’d only need one though. Yeah, he was going to do it.

David sat down at his mahogany table and popped his neck and wrists, wondering what the outcome of this night would be. He took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, heart racing, and mind wandering. “This is it!” he said as he put it to his mouth.

The rain started shortly after the sound of a .22 echoed throughout the quiet suburban neighborhood. The ambulance arrived within ten minutes, but David was out cold. The voices wouldn’t be bothering him again.

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