Refrigerator boxes

I’m not a believer in signs and portents, that is, signs and portents in this, the real world. Nothing has ever happened to me that told me what was to come, or even gave me a hint I was heading in anywhere like the right direction. Mine is a plain old world. It’s probably why I love signs, magical vision, foretelling and such in the stories I read. So my experience Wednesday was a new one.

I was helping my neighbor, Manu, put some new furniture on his porch. I pointed out that the kids—my son and neighboring boys—would love to play in the huge boxes the two wicker chairs and couch came out of. My neighbor was surprised at this, perhaps because he has an infant and a three-year-old girl. Or maybe he had a sheltered childhood. We put the three boxes in the front yard, and they instantly became forts, pill boxes, meeting rooms and drawing boards. All the adults who passed by that evening smiled as soon as they saw our box village, all with the same look that said getting to play in huge boxes was the best thing to do in the world when they were kids.

It made me smile too, but for more than kid memories. I started my next novel, a YA time-travel story, just last month. I’ve had the idea for ten years, maybe longer, and the opening scene in my head for the past two. Here’s how it starts:

Jamie is crap-housing around inside the empty Frigidare box. The box shakes and shudders. He giggles like a six year old, which is easy enough for him, since he is one. This is our big reward every time we move. We get to play in a damn leftover box. I knew I was done with going to a new town, a new house, a new school every four months when I didn’t want to roll around in a box anymore. I can’t stand the smell of cardboard. It’s the smell of leaving things behind.

I’ve only got a thousand words, and a bunch of research still to do, and the project may turn out terrible. But when I saw those smiles on Wednesday, it gave me a lift, a burst of confidence. The world was telling me that my refrigerator box would get an emotional response from readers. I believe that confidence begets good work, in the writing game as in any other, and the reaction to those boxes gave me that.

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