Pandora’s Box

“What’s your favorite constellation?”

Lek was baffled. “I never thought about it. What’s yours?”

“It’s probably cliché but Orion.”

He laughed; he often found himself laughing at her. “Why is that cliché?”

“Because I feel like everyone would say that.” Dory leaned close, whispering, “You have to keep an eye on his belt. The gremlins will move the stars.”

He slid his hand into hers. He had always imagined what it would be like to walk with her on the beach, as they were now doing. The beach was so open, so public, at contrast with their secret relationship. “Why do the gremlins move the stars?”

She cocked an eyebrow before answering, “To make planes crash.”

He loved how she treated every topic with equal seriousness. Her response to the recent terminations at work had been parallel to this discussion of gremlins. She had a passion for the mundane and could make an emergency trivial.

“Gremlins are killers,” she said decisively, squeezing his hand for emphasis. A thrill ran through him as he imagined her hand squeezing other parts of him. He could smell her above the ocean, the sour smell of her sweat that brought him to life. The first time he had been close enough to smell her, that first time on the factory floor, he had known that she would change his life forever.

Dory felt so new but familiar. She felt right. It was as if he had been hungering for something his entire life but the banquet that had been laid before him had never been adequate. Then he had tasted her. And now he could feast on her daily. He had seen to it.

“It’s something we should know about each other…favorite constellations and things like that,” she continued. “I want to know things about you and trust that I truly know you.”

He smiled in a way that he believed she found charming. “I am happy to tell you anything you want. I don’t have secrets from you.”

“We are the secret,” she said and dropped his hand.

Her voice sounded funny. He tried to remember how it had sounded on that first day, when she had been brought around by the supervisor and introduced to everyone. She had smiled at him, and he had known the smile was just for him, but now he couldn’t remember her saying anything. It vexed him that he couldn’t remember.

“Look.” She pointed to the water where two dark figures were creating arcs along the surface.

He smiled. “Dolphins.”

“One for each of us.” She sighed. “Spirit animals.”

“And what do dolphins represent?”

She smiled mischievously. “Lust.”

“That is not true. Our relationship—”

“—is based on what?”

He wanted to argue that lust was a type of love and there were many ways to show love. He leaned in to sniff her hair. It didn’t smell like anything this time. He closed his eyes and forced the memory of her scent to become real.

“Sometimes I feel like I live only inside your mind.”

He stopped and looked at her, really looked at her. He loved the small freckle on the right side of her nose. He loved the way her hair curled over her ears, and the shiny star earrings that dangled from her lobes. He loved that her eyes were a sparking green…or were they a deep brown?

“That makes me sound crazy. Do you think I am crazy?”

She didn’t answer. She kept watching the dolphins. He envied how free the dolphins were. They could frolic as they wished. They could hide in the depths or bask in the sun when desired. They basically lived in two worlds, something he had been unsuccessfully doing.

When the layoffs had been announced, he stopped caring about keeping her a secret. He realized how transient everything was, how temporary.  He wanted the world to know everything. He wanted for their love to be remembered.

He took her hand again. The warmth surged through him. He felt it everywhere, radiating out from their conjoined hands. He wanted to make a joke about their burning love but thought the better of it. He didn’t want to say anything that would cause her to pull her hand away again.

“The gremlins never get in trouble,” she mused.

“For moving the stars?”

“For causing fatalities. It wouldn’t be a crime to simply move the stars. It is the impact on human life.”

“Some lives are more important than others. If the layoffs taught us anything—” He noticed a small drop of blood on her earlobe.

“Did you scratch yourself?” he asked but she ignored him. She was looking at the dolphins again and smiling as if they were the only things that mattered. Her happiness legitimized what they were doing. It justified what he had done.

He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. He reminded himself of how he had tasted every part of her. He repeated words inside his head that described the way she tasted. If he said the words enough times, they became real.

The water was glowing, and the dolphins were oddly stationary. Usually, they hunted at dusk.

“Dory?” He loved saying her name. It reminded him of the word “adore.” He squeezed her hand and another shock of warmth surged through him. “I don’t think the dolphins are playing anymore.”

“You made them stop.” Her voice was different again, a new voice. She wiped the blood from her earlobe with her free hand. “Why did you do it? Why do you make everyone hurt?”

He looked at the sky. He couldn’t understand why the stars weren’t visible yet. The sun should have set. The iridescent pinks and purples appeared as a frozen streaming video, like time was standing still. The water was an explosion of oranges and red.

She frowned. “You want to hide in the darkness. You can’t hide anymore.”

“I am not hiding,” he protested, “I am doing the opposite of hiding. I made a declaration. I made things right.”

As he said this, the sun dipped below the horizon, yet there was an extraordinary brightness to the sky. And smoke. He looked at Orion’s belt and a star seemed to be missing. He turned his head to warn Dory, but she wasn’t there. She had never been there.

The sun crawled up the sky like an alpinist climbing the sheer face of a mountain. This was not a sunrise; this was a reversal. The dolphins swam back into frame from left to right. They slapped the water with their tails and Lek realized that it was a firehose slapping the concrete that was making the noise.

He wasn’t on the beach; he was sitting on a gritty curb and the brightness was the flames engulfing the factory.

He looked down to his hand that was covered with second degree burns. It radiated with warmth. In his other hand, he held an earring that dangled a silver star from its hook. He turned the earring over, puncturing his thumb with the hook, hoping to draw blood to mingle with the drops that were encrusted on the jewelry.

“How many people were inside?” The police officer was asking the floor supervisor. They were close enough to Lek for him to overhear. He had been told to stay where he was. He was in no condition to move. The hand that held the earring was cuffed to a pole, and he had been hit by his own shrapnel. They would take him in after they made sure that they had not missed any survivors.

“Twenty-four. The ones unaccounted for…” The supervisor began listing names for the officer. Lek perked up when he mentioned Dory. “Those last three: Dory, Rodrigo, and Esteban, they didn’t really speak English. I don’t think they have family here to notify, anyway. They came together, like left their country and came here. They kept to themselves.”

“And what part of the building were they in at the time of the explosion?”

“The basement, near the boiler.”

“And him?” The officer was pointing at Lek.

“He wasn’t working. He…had been fired. Misconduct. He must have snuck in; security had been told to keep him off the premises. We had reason to believe…” The supervisor ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “It’s like we knew something like this would happen.”

“You can confirm he was inside the building?”

“Yes. He was seen; he was identified. Someone said they saw him…grab that woman’s, grab Dory’s earring, and then run out. And then the explosion.”

“He went straight to the woman and then the explosion?”

The supervisor nodded.

“Were they in a relationship? Was there any chance they were in a relationship?”

The supervisor turned his head to meet Lek’s eyes. “I don’t think she had any clue who he was.”

5 thoughts on “Pandora’s Box

  1. Wow! Unforgettable — poignant & fresh. Inside the head of a person with no conscious no feelings of guilt, just living in his own world perhaps like a star on Orion’s belt that will be moved or removed by gremlins of bombs & shrapnel & fire and …a drop of blood on a woman’s ear

    Liked by 1 person

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