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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