The Briefcase

By Mark Cox

Featured Art: Leaves by Sophie Rodionov

They bought it early in their courtship, at one of the
estate or moving sales they avidly frequented, piecing
together a life from the treasures and trash of other
couples—young then, oblivious, able to profit from
others’ losses, to foresee utility and beauty in the
discarded and worn. “Contents a mystery,” the
tag said, “Combination unknown.” Even so, it was
a bargain—a sleek, hard-shelled executive model, its four
dials frozen at 0009, the point of boredom at which someone
stopped trying. Even recounting this story, he aches with
methodical sequential labor, feels the idea overcome by
thought, the way her dinged muffin tins and Jell-o molds
signaled an end to each merged ingredient—became, finally,
intractable result, which, like good children, they shut up
and ate, year after year. When it finally clicked open at
9998, all he found within was another tag, one that showed
the combination he now knew, and directions for customizing
that code, making it their own, for which, obviously, it was
too late, there being nothing left of their early hope to
entrust there, that trapped air of possibility belonging,
now, to others—perhaps you, parking on their weed-ravaged
lawn as you have, walking arm in arm up the drive toward
the heaped folding tables and the garage door propped open
with a brand new broom.

Mark Cox teaches in the Department of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington and in the Vermont College MFA Program. Recent work has appeared in Brevity, 32 Poems and The Colorado Review. He has authored six volumes of poetry, most recently Readiness: Prose Poems (2018) and Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984-2015.

Originally published in NOR 6

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