The Chinese Box
Part one: the flaccid dildo
At first, Lucia thinks her ex-boyfriend sent her the package as a joke. There are a dozen dildos in the box, all of them with birth defects — strange shapes, hideous colors, missing testicles, extra holes — but the one she can’t take her eyes off is the flaccid dildo. It looks just like him.
She takes out the dildo, examining it up close. The veins seem so real, but something’s not right. He never had self-deprecating humor. It couldn’t be from him. Lucia turns the box around, trying to find a return address. There’s only a tiny white sticker with the name “Senzhen Ltd” on it. The stamp is Chinese.
Why would they leave this package outside her door? Isn’t she supposed to sign something or show them her ID? Maybe then they’d have realized a mistake has been made. She’s not a sex toy person. She doesn’t know what to do with a dozen heartbreaking dildos. Most disturbing is the flaccid one still in her hand.
Lucia tosses it back into the pile and slides the box under the kitchen table. Tomorrow she’ll find someone from Senzhen Ltd that can explain all this. For now, she takes off her clothes and slams the bathroom door.
In the shower, she remembers something she wishes she had forgotten: her ex-boyfriend’s first unmaintainable erection, a year ago, on their third anniversary. Lucia hadn’t said it happens or tried to suck, lick or gently blow on the tip to get him hard.
Instead, she overcame her instinct to turn away and hide her disappointed expression, and hugged him tightly, face to face; eyes open, touching his narrow cheekbones and almost-too-long sandy hair. She held him even tighter when he burst into tears. He left the next day, no explanations.
Lucia emerges from that memory with the showerhead directed at her clit. She turns off the water. Then, naked, dripping on the floor, she tiptoes to the kitchen and pulls out the package. She grabs the flaccid dildo and brings it to the shower, masturbating with one hand and sliding it over her face and body with the other. She comes within thirty seconds.
Part two: the perfect relationship
From that moment on, Lucia takes the flaccid dildo everywhere: at work she uses it in the unisex toilets with her fist tucked in her mouth. She floats out the booth and checks herself in the mirror. She’s disarming and thinner. Her ideas for the new ovulation tracker app are a big hit, and her otherwise distant boss says: “fantastic research, Lucia.”
Afternoon drinks with co-workers become a habit, where she secretly caresses the dildo inside her bag with a flushed face. The men at the bar can smell her. They send her Martinis and phone numbers. One even sends her an origami flower wrapped around a hotel room key.
She takes the dildo to the supermarket, where she can buy whatever she wants and nobody says: “are you sure?” They watch romantic comedies and nobody says: “If I’m not into it in fifteen minutes, we’ll watch what I want.”
Lucia falls asleep with it between her thighs and wakes up wet. They do quickies in the morning and nobody says: “why do you always want to do it when I can’t?”
Sometimes she gets tired of doing everything herself. Creating intimacy now is like hitting a ping-pong ball against a wall; the movement is there, but there are no surprises. She reads her diaries over and over again, as if to find a clue to those intimacy ingredients:
Here’s her father dying of cancer. Here’s her mother remarrying a nice lookalike. Here’s her graduation day, a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology — no one asks her to get in a picture except a guy with narrow cheekbones. Here’s the first embracing moment with her ex-boyfriend, shortly after they start dating.
It’s winter and he says he’s into aquariums and fish. Lucia buys a few species and leaves them on his porch. However, he goes on a spontaneous two-day road trip, and when he comes back there’s only one fish left. It ate the others before freezing to death.
With his head buried in her stomach, in front of a fat frozen fish, the ex-boyfriend tells Lucia it’s his fault. His sadness moves her immensely, electrifying her. She blurts: “I love you”, and he finally smiles and says: “go fish,” just to spite.
A dildo cannot say “go fish” to irritate her. Maybe the deal with love is not love itself, but rather the pleasure of annoying someone you love. Someone that lets you. What was she thinking? She should stop now, before she loses the ability to get annoyed.
Part three: the real life user experience
Lucia takes the day off and spends it with the flaccid dildo at home. She orders Thai food and nobody says: “let’s split yours, my noodles suck.” Then, she takes out the trash and puts the plates in the dishwasher along with the dildo. When it’s finished, she gently places it back in the Chinese Box.
She starts going out with men she finds on dating apps, telling them she’s doing it for a user experience research. Everybody wants to be researched.
On those dates she experiences hopelessness — nobody has two personas anymore, one for real life and one for fantasized reality. They’re exactly who they say they are online: unimaginative and married. Lucia doesn’t leave messages the next day or wait for their call. And they always call. They beg for a second date, but she says work is crazy.
Sleeping without the flaccid dildo becomes impossible. When she does get a few hours’ sleep, Lucia has awful dreams about it. The most horrid one is watching it melt in acid back at the factory: it has an unknown face and a voice, and that voice is screaming: “my name is Flaccido!” She wakes up from those dreams, runs to the kitchen and looks under the table. The box is still there.
She manages not to open it until one day a courier shows up at her house. He says his colleague left a parcel there three months ago, and unfortunately it was the wrong address. Lucia’s heart vomits from the inside. She can hardly hold it in. The courier says: “heartburns, ha?” She nods and asks him to wait outside.
Her nightmare is coming true. They’ll melt him down and reconstruct him as another everlasting erection. Lucia crouches in front of the package. She takes out Flaccido, patches up the box with duct tape and kicks it towards the door. The courier apologizes for the inconvenience and walks away with eleven heartbreaking dildos.
Part four: the choice
On their fifth anniversary she gets him a tailor-made Hawaiian shirt and they fly to Fiji. It’s a vacation she can afford after her promotion: one ticket, single room and nobody says: “let’s go out, it’s a beautiful day”. But then there’s an incident at the airport on the way back. A security guard insists Lucia opens her suitcase and laughs when he finds Flaccido in his shirt.
After that, Lucia stops going on vacations. Weddings, too. She doesn’t want to go alone and there’s no room for him in a small matching purse. Occasionally they go to tedious baby showers, where she touches puffed bellies and feels a lump in her throat.
She googles “sperm donors” on her office computer, but immediately erases the history from the browser. How would she explain her life to a child? It would mean giving up Flaccido. Giving up his gentleness, his talent not to say stupid things. His ability not to die — although with time he does look flaccider and his color is fading. No, she’s happy with her choice. No point in changing it now.
Part five: the ex-boyfriend’s resurrection
On her thirty- eighth birthday she gets a phone call from her ex-boyfriend. He wishes her a happy birthday and says: “I need to tell you something.” Lucia agrees to meet for coffee the next day.
She spends the night awake. Flaccido lies between her thighs, but she’s completely dry. Is that a good idea, seeing her ex? Does he deserve it after ten years of silence? What if he asks about her partner? She can’t tell him she’s in a relationship with an object that looks like his flaccid penis. But then she gets an idea. This is exactly what she’s going to say.
The ex-boyfriend whistles when she walks into the coffee shop. He says: “most women your age are overweight moms. Trust me, I’m married to one.” He laughs and spills coffee on his tie. The kid is not his and the marriage is practically over, too. The wife needed a baby-daddy; he needed to prove to the world he can reproduce. He hadn’t had an erection since that day with Lucia.
Lucia is quiet for a while. It would be cruel to tell him anything now. Instead, she suggests they’ll go to her place. Just to hug and forget about their reality for a moment. They are so tired of it, aren’t they?
She enters first — “the house is a mess” — and hides Flaccido under the bed. It’s only noon, but they quickly get under the covers and spoon. He says: “I love you” and she mutters: “go fish.”
In the middle of the night Lucia wakes up with a strange sensation. An uncompromising erection knocks on her lower back. He turns her around, tearing, and penetrates her hard. Lucia reaches her arm, touching Flaccido. He’s there, he’s real. The sex hurts her, but she won’t say anything. Not even that she’s not on the pill. He leaves early in the morning, no explanations.
(Next story: Mr. and Mrs. Krummholz by Derick Dupre)
(Previous story: Tuesdays at the Table by Brendan Zietsch)
Feel like submitting? Check out our submission guidelines
Want to submit to our special “Kill People” issue?
Art by Holly Stewart