The box was bigger than Liyuan expected, and that worried her.
Because it was light, too. Oh so light.
Her aunt who was staying in her spare bedroom for a few days while handing out resumes and doing round after round of job interviews before hopping on a train going back to her home three hours due west had signed for it and left it in the apartment foyer, so the brown cardboard cube could wait expectantly for its true owners eventual arrival.
Xi Liyuan stared at it for what seemed to be thirty two seconds but couldnt be more than eleven. It had been a long day at the warehouse and even though all days were the constant rain of the season made the time on the floor and the commute back home go by particularly slow.
First she walks around it and into what could almost be described as a kitchen and fills a pot full of water and places it on the stove, cranking the dial to high.
And returning to the matter at hand she picks up the box and since she put more effort than needed it practically leapt off the ground and out of her hands as if she was playing with a toddler.
Liyuan gasps and almost does a spin in her foyer with the box as her dance partner before composing herself.
And thats when the concerns began breeding like rabbits inside her head.
The three cookbooks I'm expecting would be heavier than this. They would have used a much smaller box to ship it in. I ordered it only two days ago so it shouldnt have arrived this quickly.
So with little effort she walks the few feet into the half kitchen quarter living quarter dining room open space in her tiny little apartment, places it on the cubed coffee table and properly inspected the envelope assiduously taped to the top.
Computer printed with the correct name and address. Business class, so no colourful stamp. Return address was a big, faceless corporation.
Everything seemed to be on the up and up.
Liyuans nails were long enough that the tape was no match for her and she tore open the envelope to inspect the receipt or bill or whatever it was to get to the bottom of this.
There was no list of items contained within, no cookie-cutter thank you for being a valued customer.
(still spat out from a printer, mind you)
I kill you.
And its great.
You can live for now and die later.
Its a wonderful plan.
Its simple and economical.
And usually when you throw those words around it reeks of marketing.
And this time it has a hint of truth.
I'm slow poison.
Liyuan read this over three times.
No names. No signature.
She's blinking as if she was starting up a tiny machine in her brain that could be applied to solving this mystery.
Theories abounded and because she was kind of tired it was hard to dismiss the stranger ones outright.
It's a joke.
It's a crazy person.
It's supposed to be for a different Xi Liyuan.
It's Vivian from work, trying to scare her.
Liyuan cant even begin to formulate a list of suspects.
Its not the kind of life she lives, making mortal enemies, or becoming the butt of not very funny and extremely confusing jokes.
There's fun and adventure - which she would she certainly tries to find time for - and then there's this.
Which is getting in the way of fun and adventure. Well, just dinner really, for now.
Liyuan places the letter gingerly back on top of the unopened box and physically walks away, changing into a slightly more comfortable pair of tights and a loose pale yellow blouse. Not a single brain cell was used in this action. Her mind was still in front of the box, poring over the perfectly dotted i's and impeccably crossed t's of the letter.
Who cares, it's a joke anyway. Bring it downstairs and toss it in the outside dark blue dumpster.
Someone might find it. Open it. Something could go wrong and her name would be on it. Unless she removes all information regarding her from the box. But now she might be tampering with evidence. And someone might see her throw the box out.
She decides to call the police but searches online for a non-emergency number. The reception at the local police station.
But as Liyuan dials she wonders if she's overreacting. She tries to imagine what they would ask her, and how she would respond. So many questions about the box. About her routine today. And the last few days. And her friends and family and co-workers. They might send an officer over to investigate. Maybe some sort of investigation unit.
So she hangs up before anyone picks up the phone. And then she worries if that the sort of behaviour that garners attention in the police station. A person has gone to the trouble not to call the emergency number, and now they're having cold feet about this one. Liyuan tries to picture a bored policeman or woman ignoring the matter completely, but she couldn't be certain this was the reality.
She stares at the box sitting obnoxiously on her timid coffee table and feels her annoyance boil over into anger.
Her pot was doing the same on the stove, sending water over the edge and onto burner underneath.
Liyuan curses - a rare occurrence, certainly - and turns the heat down and gingerly cleans up the water with a towel. Now she glares at the box with utter disgust, its mystery mocking her every moment it's in her home.
I shouldn't have to stand for this. Not here of all places, not where I am supposed to be myself and be at peace.
As she drops the dumplings into the pot her mind grasps at the evermore insistent straw: The only way to be sure of how to proceed is to open the box.
That just makes sense. It will provide additional information - essential, really - which is what you need to properly evaluate the situation and proceed accordingly.
But it requires opening the box.
And as much as Liyuan can build a rational foundation and wall for the reasons to open it up, said wall was just to hide the ever growing thirst of curiosity that had been growing inside her like a Big Bang as soon as she finished reading the letter.
The unknown. Excitement. But danger? Death?
So don't open the box.
She's going through her tiny fridge and taking out sauces and already cooked vegetables that wait in reusable plastic containers.
So don't open the box.
This is when human knowledge is meant to overwhelm animal instincts (despite the possible semantic arguments over the terms animal and human).
Dont open the box.
Its so obvious, so easy, the internal monologue should not have to exist at all.
Dont open the box.
It was about time she started getting dinner ready, anyway. At least go and get a plate and some chopsticks.
Dont open the box. Dont open the box. Dont open the box. Dont open the box.
Take a deep breath.
Maybe it's too late. Maybe just holding onto the box or opening the envelope was enough. That's happened before, trace amounts of powder on unexpected mail. Right around September 11th, wasn't it?
In a futile attempt to derail her one track mind, she tried to bring back memories of that day in her elementary school classroom. She was twelve, news trickled out at lunch, you could tell the teachers were thrown off.
Liyuan was walking back towards the box, and she promised it would only be a quick investigation of its heavily taped corners because she had to rush back over to stir the dumplings.
Why tape the corners? The box looked sturdy enough. Certainly whatever was inside - maybe nothing was inside, which would explain the ridiculously low weight and play into the notion that it was all some silly joke - was not going to be straining the cardboard walls.
I'll just run my fingers along the edges.
Even with a minor amount of pressure as she did this the box teetered a bit.
Poison doesn't have to be very heavy, that still wary part of her reasoned.
But that voice was fading. Squeaking really, from a tiny cove in the furthering recesses of her mind
Suddenly Liyuan wasn't carefully inspecting the tape but carefully removing it from the top of the package.
It came off so easily. But of course it did. It was professionally applied so could it be effortlessly removed by a layperson.
Even the sound was pleasing to her ear. A sticky, snappy zzzzip that made her heart beat faster in a heady mix of anticipation and dread (two factors among many which contributed to her current state).
She balled the tape up and let it dangle from her fingers, giving a couple seconds for gravity to take the reigns before shaking it off with careless impatience.
The flaps rose expectantly, waiting to be pushed aside and forgotten.
Liyuan stands in the middle of her tiny apartment, holding onto a mystery box for dear life.
If it was terrible it would have happened already.
This was the totally unwarranted and based wholly on shoddy incomplete evidence thought that she held onto as she lifted the flaps and peered inside.
No sudden poof of toxic gas, no booby trapped, spring loaded knife, broken glass, or banana cream pie, no rabid marmot, no severed heads. fingers, or toes.
Half filled with baby blue styrofoam kernels.
Her stomach rumbled because of knee-jerk popcorn similarities.
Great relief mingled with slight disappointment, and the two quickly met with general confusion head on.
Liyuan instinctively dug into the frothy nothing of biodegradability, irresponsibly pushing the idea of hidden syringes, snakes, and spiders out of her mind. She found herself ready to open the window and fling the box down five stories onto the apartment driveway below, regardless if it was something or nothing. The extreme reactions would be a welcome change from this never ending mysterious middle ground.
Then she spied something as she rustled. An edge. Rustle. Paper. Rustle, rustle. Another envelope.
She removed it thoughtlessly, paper cuts be damned.
Sniffed the front and back like a dog instinctually.
Regressing to a common beast.
Smelt like nothing. Or like an envelope. Papery. Dry.
She took a deep breath and waited.
Liyuan felt fine.
No, she was tired. But it was a long day so of course she was tired. Lightheaded? That's a symptom of being tired, isn't it?
And perhaps she could use a glass of water, because her throat was tiny bit parched.
And these consideration all occurred in the background of her practically tearing the envelope to shreds to get the creamy letter within.
Same non-existent letterhead. Same font.
I've been waiting for you.
There's never an egg timer around when you need one, is there?
By reading this, you have condemned yourself to death.
Such is life.
By definition really.
But when? Today? Tomorrow? Six months from now? Fifty years?
That would be telling.
Ah, the benefits and costs of being slow poison.
Anyway, you've left your dumplings in for too long.
Liyuan turns to look at the stove.
|The only thing worse than no explanation is six of them|