I made my last memory box when I had an abortion after getting pregnant on the pill. I was that point oh one percent which keeps it from being completely effective. Still a teenager, if barely, in a long-term relationship with a man almost twenty years past my age. The timing couldn’t have been worse. We’d been fighting, I was about to move out, sitting on the bed with supper, “My period seems to be late”, didn’t even break the silent treatment I’d been receiving all day.
I took a small, square, Cuban cigar box from my mother’s basement and blackened the outside with permanent marker, then enameled it black. I crackled the enamel, then did it again, and repeated that, then buried it for a week. Once I brushed off the dirt as carefully as I could, I painted it again, then began work on the inside. The outside looked as if it had depth, by then. It glowed like it was made of stone.
Inside, I lined the box with perfect blood red satin, a colour rich enough to fill your mouth. I wanted the effect of a thriller movie coffin, but without the puffy quilting of a tacky television drama. I stitched tiny clear glass and pewter beads into the fabric and some lines of poetry in silver thread that I no longer remember. I wasn’t satisfied until it was flat, shiny, smooth, delicious, and very carefully glued at the edges so nothing would fray. There was to be no chaos in cloth. It was to be as precise as possible, to emphasize the medical tones the box was to frame.
In the center I affixed a tiny baby doll to the satin, likely the off-spring of a Barbie or a Skipper, with the palms of it’s hands and the soles of it’s feet painted a delicately pale robin’s egg blue. Over the face, I affixed a silver mask in the shape of a steer skull that I had carved from a craft store lariat pendant. While I had been killing the growing knot of cells inside me, my then partner had been neglecting me to work on a show called Bull In A China Shop. It was meant to be his big break, though it never panned out that way. The mask was my required embodiment of death, not for the incorrectly labeled ‘potential child’ which I never thought of as anything but a parasite, but for our relationship. All fall down.
When the baby was done and glued in place, forever reaching out diminutive plastic arms, I filled what space there was left with crushed flowers, the hearts of roses left over from our failed Valentine’s Day, black and silver thread from our clothes, and strands of our hair stolen from our hair-brush, mine plum purple and his chestnut brown. I closed the box when it was finished and never made another, though I used to fill my shelves with them like the captured shadows of saints.
Lady Anomaly, dear creature, has sent me a memory box without knowing of my history making them. Opening the box was like drinking forgotten water. What she sent is love and thankfulness and enigmatic sweethearts curled in bed together in night-dark places.
There is a walnut shell inside, split in half and painted inside with the colours of an abalone seashell. I’m not sure how she did it, (perhaps it is nail-polish.) There is a tiny tube of paper curled into a fitted into a piece of vine as if the plant had been coaxed to grow around it. When slipped out and unrolled, it has two elegant hands gesturing in black and silver, with the words THANKYOU FOR YOU PRETTY. Everything tangled in a soft bed of dried flowers and lilac thread beaded with amber.
Wonderfully, oddly, delightfully, our boxes seem created from the same language, (which leads me to wonder if it’s a girl thing or if her and I are simply the same species). Even the ambient spaces are filled with a similar mixture of petals and vines and glitter and wire, and as with my memory boxes, there is a definite centerpiece. (Without any focal points, the sensual riot of colour and fragile textures of memory boxes tend to be interesting but not compelling.)
Hers is a lovely coup de grâce, a reconstructed silver locket in the shape of a heart. On the front are two flowers, like something a grandmother might give, but inside, she’s glued subtle little cogs, transforming an innocuous piece of jewelry into a clockwork heart, amazing and perfect in every detail. Aged and burned and polished again. Examining it, I can taste how much care it must have taken. The song of it fills my entire room.
I wonder now what happened to my boxes. If the man I gifted them to kept them or if they found their death in an alley somewhere. I wonder, too, if I still have the skill to make a new one. It’s been a long time. I don’t remember anymore why I ever stopped.