#140 What’s in the Shadowbox?

What's in the Shadowbox

Linda heard her husband Tim trying to fit his key into the front door lock. After a few minutes, she got out of bed to open it for him, but before she could, he kicked it open.

“Damn lock’s no good,” he mumbled in his drunken stupor as he crashed into Andy’s crib.

The baby woke up screaming in fear. For a six month old, Andy had powerful vocal cords and woke up the downstairs and upstairs neighbors who started beating their broom handles against the floor upstairs and the ceiling downstairs signaling the Crowley’s to keep quiet.

Linda looked at the clock she had found in a dumpster and saw it was three AM. Shaped like a cat, its tail wagged with each tick and tock. She knew it kept perfect time because she had fixed it.

“Tim, I don’t mind you stopping after work for a beer or two, but don’t you think staying out until three in the morning is overdoing it?”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch, that’s all you do besides sitting on your ass while I work mine off at the foundry.”

Linda knew better than to reply to his accusation. He made her quit her job as a bookkeeper, as soon as she got pregnant. He promised to take care of her and the baby, another of his broken promises. Almost as soon as she quit, he drank up every penny they had. Now they lived in a two-room flat on the second floor, sandwiched between an old crabby Jewish couple above and a Puerto Rican family of seven down below.

She kept her tiny place clean, but roaches infested the building and she couldn’t keep them out of their food, their bed, their clothes and almost anywhere she looked, there was always one or two staring at her, warning her not to kill them because she was outnumbered by ten thousand to one. She feared they may bite Andy and constantly checked to see if any crawled on him. She had heard how they crawled into baby’s ears and stayed there. Once in that warm and moist place the cockroach was in heaven and never wanted to leave.

She didn’t know what to do. Tim wouldn’t allow her to work. She had no one to care for Andy if she did find a job. She saw homeless women pushing shopping carts around and dumpster diving. That was something she could do and she’d take Andy with her. Maybe she’d find a treasure, or at least make a few dollars to buy some Raid now and then to give her a fighting chance against the bugs commandeering her apartment.

She went behind a shopping center located six blocks from her run-down apartment building. Twenty stores stretched along a block long area, so there were at least twenty dumpsters of varying sizes in the rear.

She went around the back and the first dumpster she came to belonged to a framing store. The only thing in it was a catalogue. She reached in, pulled it out; saw a picture of a strange looking frame on the front page. She turned to the next page and read the description,

A shadowbox is a framed box, usually square or rectangular in shape, with a glass front; it is used for displaying and protecting valued items.

There are varying accounts of its history. In the middle of the 19th century, many of the Victorian elite enjoyed viewing the world through their Sterio-Opticans. These were small boxes with a scope through which viewers looked at bright paintings and rare photographs of sights around the world. The Sterio-Opticans were so sought after that the women of that time period began putting together small boxes with pictures and other items, which did not require the viewer to look through the small scope.


She threw it back into the dumpster and went on to the next one that belonged to a supermarket. In it she found fruits and vegetables too spoiled to sell, but not so spoiled they were inedible. She found two bunches of brown bananas, some moldy tomatoes, carrots that had fungus on them and an open bag of bagels. We’ll eat well tonight; she thought as she loaded her bounty into the shopping cart.

Dumpster diving became her job. As soon as Tim left for the foundry, she got ready and was out of the apartment five minutes after he left. He never asked where the food came from, because he was happy to have more beer money when he didn’t have to give her any for food. She’d also find and save odds and ends that she thought she’d be able to use someday. One day she found a couple of broken-up dolls and some doll clothes, another time she found a deck of tarot cards.

She filled boxes with her little treasures and stacked them in her apartment. One night Tim tripped over the boxes and threatened to throw them all out.

Up to that time, she tolerated his alcoholism, his mistreatment, his broken promises, and most of all, making her live in a roach infested apartment. His threat changed her compassion to anger, then to hatred, as if those words ignited a fuse and her opinion exploded and revealed the truth about him.

The next morning behind the mall she found thirty shadow boxes with glass covers in the dumpster behind the frame shop. She figured they must be going out of business to be throwing them away. Then she pictured the treasures she had dug from the garbage filling the frames with her clever designs.

She loaded the frames into her shopping cart and carried baby Andy in one arm while she pushed the cart home with creative ideas flashing through her mind.

At home Linda took a two foot by two foot frame that was twelve inches deep and wired parts of a doll, some doll clothes, a few dried out bones and the death Tarot card to the back of the shadowbox, replaced the glass and hung it on the wall just as Tim walked through the door.

“What’s for dinner?”

Linda hadn’t found any food today and Tim hadn’t left her money to buy any. “We’re not having dinner tonight,” she said.

His right fist smashed into her head. “I expect to eat after working hard all day,” he said before he left, slamming the door so hard on the way out that the shadow box swayed on the wall. When it moved the dolls head bobbed so it looked like it was alive. Linda liked the effect he had caused. She took parts of an old electric clock and fixed it so the second-hand mechanism moved the dolls head back and forth. She attached an electrical cord for the clock and added a light behind the dolls head so when it moved its head, the eyes would shine, blink out and shine again, as if it were a specter from hell.

Linda had hidden her computer from when she kept books, so Tim wouldn’t sell it for booze. She took it out and used its camera to make a video of the moving collage inside the shadow box. She posted it on Craigslist by hijacking an internet connection from the people upstairs. She asked $500 for it on a whim. People liked what she had made so much; she received three offers in an hour.

A collector of oddities, he claimed, came with cash and took it away. Linda went grocery shopping, so she could cook Tim a good dinner. She even bought baby Andy a new toy and dreamt of all the shadow boxes she could make and sell. Poor no more, she thought  as Tim came barging in the door, tripped over her boxes of accumulated treasures, picked one up and threw it out the window.

There goes my way out, she thought as she stood in the kitchen. When he continued to pick up box after box of items, she had scrounged through trash to get; another explosion went off in her head. She picked up the boiling water for tonight’s spaghetti dinner, carried it into the room where Tim was throwing stuff out the window. She threw it onto Tim’s face. He screamed, stuck out a hand to try to grab her.

“I’m going to kill you bitch.”

She believed he meant what he said. She ran into the kitchen, he followed by listening to her footsteps. He swung wildly and knocked a lamp over. It sparked where the wires had broken away from the lamp. She picked up the wires as Tim opened his mouth and said, “Bi…” she stuck the sparking wires into his wide-open mouth. He stood up straight, danced a jig as steam came from his nose as the electricity burned into him.

Linda knew there was no fuse to blow as Tim had stuck a penny behind the one that had blown last week in the ancient electric box. Tim shook all over and went from a jig to a Saint Vitas’ dance before his eyes glowed, smoked, and he fell to the floor twitching and sparking.

Oh, what am I going to do now? She wondered when she saw his skin burst on his hands, causing his bones to show through. She got a vision of a skeleton hand holding aces and eights in a shadow box. Another picture in her mind showed her a skull used as a cup, and about then, Tim’s hair began to burn.

She pulled the plug and dragged him to the tub. The roaches’ smelled blood and came to feast. It only took minutes before the tub filled with a brown undulating mass feasting on fresh flesh in a tub. They drank from the leaking tap as they ate.

Linda knew museums removed flesh from animal bones by letting beetles eat it. She wondered if roaches could do the same. The tub held so many roaches; she could hardly believe there were that many in the entire building. It took three hours and forty-five minutes for them to pick Tim’s bones almost clean. She spent the night boiling bones to remove any bits of meat left and to help them turn a bright white. She made fourteen shadowboxes from his bones and sold them all. The skeleton hands holding cards brought the highest price, but she found there were people who liked feet and other bones too. In some of the boxes, she pasted dead roaches, so they appeared to be licking the bones clean.

Linda made a lot of money selling shadowboxes, so she didn’t feel bad about killing Tim. Now she could save any money she earned without him finding it and drinking it up. She wished she had more bones for the rest of the frames. Just then, someone knocked on her door. It was old crab apple from upstairs.

“I don’t know what you’re cooking down here, but it’s stinking up my house.”

Linda figured it was the odor from the bones. “I’m so sorry; it may smell bad, but it’s delicious. Won’t you come in and have some?”

Her neighbor stepped through the door.

“Close your eyes and open your mouth, this is a surprise.”

Her neighbor did as told. Linda plugged the electric cord into the socket without a fuse, then she stuck the bared wires into her neighbor’s mouth. As her neighbor started dancing around the kitchen floor, the roaches headed for the bathtub because the buzzing noise of the electricity meant it was time to eat.

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