It was six thirty in the morning when William came outside and started setting up for his project. The morning was already sunny, but it was still too early for it to actually be hot out. The sun was far to the east, so he cast a long shadow over the short grass in his backyard as he walked back and forth from the house. His shadow was far taller than he was. It stretched across the yard until it reached the bottom of the fence.
Mrs. Daniels had been awake since six, as usual, and so she saw William when he came outside. He brought out his hand-tools first, and laid them out on the ground side by side so that they were all pointing away from the house and toward the back fence. Then he went back to the house and came out with his cordless drill. He put the drill down beside the other tools with the point facing away from the house. Finally, he brought out his power saw. Because it was circular, there wasn’t any way to point it away from the house, so while he was still careful about how he placed it on the ground, it seemed haphazard compared to the rest of the tools.
After he had brought out the saw he went back into the house again. He was inside for such a long time that Mrs. Daniels thought that he’d either forgotten or just given up on his project. She sipped her coffee and began reading her newspaper. She’d just picked up her pencil to start the crossword when William reappeared dragging a sheet of plywood behind him.
After a bit of a struggle, he leaned it against the back fence. Then he went back inside, and brought out two more sheets of plywood and after several trips, he brought out a couple of two by fours. Finally, he brought out a couple of saw-horses and an extension cord for his power saw.
He cut the three sheets of plywood into four-foot squares, then cut the two by fours into four-foot lengths. Using the drill, he attached one of the lengths of two by four onto the edge of a plywood sheet, then attached another sheet to the two by four at a ninety-degree angle with the other sheet. He proceeded to attach five more sides in the same way, leaving one side open.
William then attached a strap to the final sheet and climbed inside the box, taking screws, his drill and a flashlight with him. He pulled the last side into place and Mrs. Daniels could hear the whirring sound that the drill made as William worked with it inside the box. When the drill stopped, everything was quiet except for the occasional squawk of a magpie eating garbage off the street a few doors down.
Mrs. Daniels kept watching the box for a while, but there was no sign that William was going to do anything else, so she soon turned back to the crossword puzzle. She got stumped over the clue “blank’s Roman wall in Scotland.” It was even more frustrating, because she knew the name, she just couldn’t remember it. Reluctantly, she left it and went on. She had done several more when she remembered the name and went back to write “Hadrian” into the boxes.
Around eight, Mr. Daniels got up and came out to the kitchen. He fixed himself a coffee, then looked out the back window and saw the box in William’s backyard.
“I thought I heard something,” he said. “What’s young William been up to?”
“Built himself a box,” replied Mrs. Daniels without looking up. “Built himself right inside of it.”
“He’s inside there, is he?” He looked over at Mrs. Daniels, who nodded. “Oh dear,” said Mr. Daniels. “I suppose I should go get him out.”
Mrs. Daniels looked up at him and furrowed her brow. “It wasn’t a mistake. I think he wants to be in there.”
“Hmm. Well then, I’ll leave him alone in there for a little while. It’ll be hot in a few hours, though. I’ll go get him then.”
With that, Mr. Daniels sat down at the kitchen table and took up the sports section and his coffee. It didn’t take him long to get through it. He wasn’t really interested in sports, but his sons were, so he tried to be knowledgeable about them so that he would have something to talk about with the boys.
Mrs. Daniels finished her puzzle, put aside the newspaper and picked up a bible that she kept tucked away in a table beside her chair. Intellectually, she approached it in a way that was similar to how she approached a crossword. The bible was something to figure out. It wasn’t a chore since she enjoyed figuring things out. When she felt she understood, really understood, a bible verse, she wrote it down in a little notebook that she also kept in the desk. She was slowly working her way through the whole bible that way, though she knew eventually that she’d get finished, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do when that happened.
Similarly, Mr. Daniels also liked figuring things out, though he had no time for crosswords or the bible. He never said anything about the bible to Mrs. Daniels, since he knew it would upset her. Not that he was an atheist, just that he figured the bible meant what it said, and when it contradicted itself, he referred to his own common sense, and assumed that God would do the same.
Mr. Daniels read books about science and engineering. He especially liked books about inventions. He had a book about ancient inventions, and even though he’d already read it cover to cover many times, he would read it over again whenever he felt the need. He found it comforting to read about Roman plumbing sometimes.
In fact, after he had finished with the sports section, he went out to the living room and got the book. Whenever William started acting up, Mr. Daniels felt the need for it. His wife hadn’t noticed, or if she had, she hadn’t said anything about it.
After he got the book, he went back to the kitchen to read it. It was pleasant to sit in the same room as Mrs. Daniels, even if they were both reading. They didn’t really talk that much anymore. It wasn’t because they didn’t like each other. They both just liked the quiet and since they had been married a long time, they didn’t feel like they had to force anymore conversations.
Around eleven, Mr. Daniels looked at his watch, then out the back window at William’s box squatting on the other side of the fence. “I think I’ll go get William now,” he said, standing up. “It’ll be getting hot soon. I figure that by this time he’s probably spent enough time in there to be sick of it.”
Mrs. Daniels had put down the bible and was puttering in the kitchen. “I imagine you’re probably right,” she said. “Do you need anything?”
“No. I’ll just take the crowbar. That should be good enough.”
He went out to the garage and grabbed the crowbar, then he went through the backyard to the door in the fence between their yard and William’s. He went through the door and approached the box. When he was beside it, he knocked and then called quietly to William.
“I’m here,” came William’s voice from inside the box.
“It’s Mr. Daniels. Are you ready to come out now?”
“Then I’m just going to pry this box open. You just sit tight.” Mr. Daniels wedged his crowbar into the seam at the top of the box and tried to pry the pieces of plywood apart. The box was solid, however, and all he managed to do was damage it. The pieces of plywood weren’t coming apart at all. Mr. Daniels felt a little admiration in spite of himself. He had assumed that the box wouldn’t be very hard to pull apart. William’s projects were generally a little shoddy, but the box had been well made.
“You’ve got your drill in there, right?”
“I need you to take the screws out. I can’t get the box apart from out here.”
“I think I may stay in here for a while longer.”
Mr. Daniels passed his hand over his forehead, then dropped his crowbar and eased himself into a sitting position with his back against the box. He turned his head so he could talk to William.
“It’s going to get hot in there pretty soon, William.”
“It’s getting a little hot already, actually.”
“So why don’t you come out?”
There was a long pause and no one said anything. Mr. Daniels spoke again. “I think you should come out now, William.”
“I’m not sleeping,” said William with a hint of desperation in his voice. “That’s the problem. I just need some peace and quiet.”
“I know. Believe me, I know. Is it those damn crows? They wake me up, and I never have had any trouble sleeping before.”
“The crows are part of it,” said William. “Also, they’re doing work on the street a few blocks over. I can hear them tearing up the pavement.”
“I know there’s a lot of noise lately, William. But this box isn’t going to help anything. In fact, there’s gonna be even more noise than before. Lots of people like me are gonna come round and bother you.”
“I just need to get some sleep.”
“Have you tried pills? Mrs. Daniels sometimes takes pills, so I know they work.”
“I’ve tried those. They hurt my stomach. They make me sleepy, but they also give me a stomach ache, so I still can’t sleep. I’m exhausted but my stomach aches.”
“If it’s all the noise bothering you, maybe you should get earplugs. And I think they have blindfolds for sleeping. Maybe you could get those as well.”
“Yeah, I guess,” William said.
“But this box isn’t going to do any good, William. You’re not going to be able to get any sleep in there, either, so I think you should just come out,” said Mr. Daniels. There was a pause and then the sound of the drill starting up. Mr. Daniels stood up and away from the box, leaving a hand at the top. He heard William take out twelve screws and then said, “You ready?”
“Go ahead,” said Mr. Daniels and then William pushed the panel away from the rest of the box. William held the strap and Mr. Daniels held the outside of the panel and together they lowered it to the ground. When they had put it down, William stepped out. It still wasn’t that hot outside, but Mr. Daniels could feel the waves of heat coming from out of the box when it was opened. William was already covered in sweat from sitting inside it.
“Thanks, Mr. Daniels,” said William quietly.
“Just take it easy, William. Take a shower and then a nap, if you can. Or take a bath. Those are relaxing. Just don’t fall asleep in the tub.”
“Thanks,” said William and began to walk back toward the house, when Mr. Daniels called out to him.
“Are you gonna be all right?”
He turned and smiled at Mr. Daniels, though it looked like kind of a forced, painful smile. “I’ll get some earplugs. I’ll be okay,” he said.
“And if the earplugs don’t work, get some of that classical music.” said Mr. Daniels. “Something with lots of piano. That always puts me to sleep. You’ll let us know if you need us, right?”
“Yeah, I will.”
William had turned toward the house again when Mr. Daniels spoke again. “Do you figure you’ll use this box again, William?”
“No. I won’t,” said William with determination.
“Would you mind if I took it? You did a really good job with it. It’s well built and I need a garden shed, but if it’s a problem…”
“It’s no problem, Mr. Daniels.”
“I’ll pay you for the wood…”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I’ll have the boys come over to pick it up then. If you’re sure it’s all right.”
“Of course. It’s no problem,” said William and then turned and went inside the house. Mr. Daniels watched the back door for a minute after William had gone inside, then turned, picked up his crowbar and went back to his own yard. After he’d put the crowbar in the garage, he went back into the kitchen where Mrs. Daniels was.
“How is he?” said Mrs. Daniels as she poured him a cup of coffee.
“He’s all right. He can’t sleep. Pills upset his stomach, so I told him to get earplugs or maybe some of that classical music. He just needs to get a little sleep. He said I could take that box.”
“What would you want that for?”
“I’ll make a shed out of it.”
“Oh. That’s a good idea.”
“I’ll call the boys and get them to help me pick it up this afternoon. They should be free today.”
As Mr. Daniels sat down with his coffee, he looked out at the box. He knew that his boys would laugh at William when they came to pick it up and bring it back to his yard. They’d try to hide their amusement because they knew that Mr. Daniels disapproved, but they’d be chuckling in spite of themselves. Mr. Daniels thought that that was a shame and wished that his boys wouldn’t do things like that, but he knew that they would.
It couldn’t really be helped. They were grown men, and it was too late to make them accept William. They’d share his appreciation for the box, at least. At least they’d do that.