Trilobite is an arthropodologist's delight:
many bizarre creatures; no two alike.

“Exit Interview”

John Fuentes

Where, where is my box?

My box—where did it go?

My fingers like to play with the latch and the peg.

Now my calluses have nothing to touch.

My box should be here.

It was here yesterday.

And each day before that, as far back as I can recall.

Laughter quiets beyond the locked door.

Am I the box, I mean, the butt of a joke?

Deprive an old man of his box and watch him fall apart.

I don’t find this funny.

My scalp flakes away.

I grip an edge of my soiled sheet while the other edges hang off my bed.

Am I speaking faster and louder than usual?

I should try to slow my thinking before my mind tears itself apart.

Maybe it’s time to swap my brain with a bowl of candied dates.

I wipe the rheum from my eyes and scrutinize the absence.

The dimensions of my cell appear immense and unkind.

Without my box, I consider myself less a person, more a constellation of raw bruises.

Driven by a slight breeze, a particle of dust floats right through me.

A virgin plates her hair with poppies and primrose…she undresses and stretches out in the summer sun…an archangel takes possession of her body, inducing a long, drawn-out moan…

An orgasm unattached to my sorrow.

My box was not, say, a white scarf that could be unwrapped and left forgotten on the arm of a couch.

Now instead of a box I have a black hole, a gap so big I could hurl a shoe inside of it, if I had a shoe or the strength left to hurl one.

If my box were here, I would hold and rub it.

I would suppress the urge to shove my head inside, knowing full well that my skull is too big to fit.

Do you want to know the secret of my box?

It contains innumerable slips of paper.

I am not alone.

I listen to the higher-ups.

My job is to service the box.

I guess you can say I’m married to my work.

My employment here is a strange yet honorable detail within my otherwise unremarkable life.

I assume my contract has ended.

I don’t recall signing anything.

Did I ever have a name, or has it simply disappeared from memory?

The higher-ups hide their faces, but the intercom lets their voices into my cell.

They monitor me through a two-way mirror, a common fixture in experimental psychology, interrogation rooms, and execution chambers.

I’ll try to appeal to the dark glass, even though I can only speak in a mixture of throat clearings and distorted sobs.

The higher-ups instructed me.

“To service the box, remove a slip of paper.”

“Fold the slip lengthwise and widthwise so the creases form a cross.”

“Spit into the center and rub until a hole gives way.”

“Wiggle your finger in and out.”

“Put the used slip back inside the box.”

No sooner do I get out of bed than I vomit an alien porridge.

My little appendage untucks and dangles from my groin.

It stiffens only to shed a single tear before puckering into itself.

I beg the dark glass.

I try to address the higher-ups but fail to look beyond the yellowing pajamas draped over the strange angles of my limbs.

And when I give testimony, I can only work up the strength to err.

Instead, I end up talking to myself.

A wax sculpture with a small radio lodged in the mouth.

Watch him melt.

Who damaged the skin around the neck and mouth?

Say hello to my stooping carcass.

Why do you want to hurt me?

It’s pleasurable and makes you fall apart.

All those crosses and holes, all those gallons of spit.

You’re talking to the wrong person.

It’s easy to sound like anyone when you collapse.

Under the weight of all this nothing.

Your voice breaks into lesser voices that stutter, grovel, and digress.

Listen, I just want my box back.

A few days ago, instead of slips of paper, my box contained a tailless monkey.

The hands, feet, and face were as small and cute as an infant.

My box and I, well, I guess we made a child.

The monkey wore yellowing pajamas, which matched mine in every way except size.

As I lifted the monkey from my box, flies dispersed as a shifting black cloud and returned to the matted fur.

I listened to the monkey’s heartbeat ebb.

Can you withdraw from a life you’ve never lived?

I smashed up crackers, put the crumbs into its open mouth, and worked the jaw open and shut.

Without instructions, I improvised as a father.

I played with the monkey, imparted wisdom.

I cleared phlegm from my throat and gulped my mouth in a way that indicated brain damage.

Indeed, the dead monkey was made in my image.

He was a ridiculous puppet with bad hair.

Over time gasses and jellies escaped from the ripped skin.

It soon became impossible to pretend the insect noise was our own private language.

I thought it best to return the monkey to my box and close the lid.

It broke me to see my box become a coffin.

Did I fail as a father?

Did I misuse my box?

Is that why they took it from me?

A few droplets fall from my face.

No, they fall from the ceiling.

The exposed plumbing always hammers over my head.

A pipe has finally burst at the joint.

Soon, a puddle glistens across the face of a tile.

Is waste leaking into my cell?

I place a bucket beneath the leak, but soon the liquid rises, sloshes over the warped rim, and puddles onto the floor again.

My face empurples and makes a brief sound that resembles laughter.

My contract, I realize, has not ended but evolved.

My duty is now custodial.

I repurpose my bed sheet into a large rag and wipe the floor.

Too thin to absorb, the fabric only moves the ever-growing dampness from here to there.

After hours of toiling, the rag frays into long shreds that slip across the waste.

As well, the skin on my palms and fingers peel back.

A bone sticks out and goes nowhere.

I wrap the shreds around my wounded hands.

The shreds unwind as soon as I scrub the floor.

I spend more time regrouping the shreds than cleaning the mess.

Essentially I achieve nothing.

But since my task began in futility, I can accurately say that I maintained efficiency in all aspects of my new job.

And I’ve yet to suffer a single box-like thought.

The leak thins into a sad froth and comes to an end.

A picnic in a meadow…liquors and expensive lamb dishes…butterflies ascend from the wildflowers to land on my face…the dust that falls from their wings induces hallucinations…a mother and child caressing a piano in the corner of a white room…

It’s so wet here.

Surely a mold will colonize and release toxins.

I can learn to take in as little air as possible to save my lungs.

And to avoid talking about my box.

Impossible to walk without losing my footing.

If my box were to return to me, appearing at the far corner of my cell, I’d wear the bucket as a helmet to cross the muck.

I wouldn’t want to compromise our reunion with a head wound or bacterial infection.

For safety, I spend most of my time balancing on the bucket.

Standing here keeps me out of the filth and offers a better vantage point of my cell.

I station myself as a lookout.

And to practice not breathing, I remove the drawstring from my pajamas, knot one end to a pipe, and wrap the other around my neck.

I squat to take up the slack, tightening the eye of the knot.

To kill time, I list words unrelated to my box.





Flotation device.

My hands go fat and dark with gangrene.


Circus tent.




At last, a succession of bland reports has replaced my nervous system.





Is this list a bedtime story too?

Ice cube.

Animal incinerator.






All my squealing has tuckered me out.



Facial fold.