‘The Box’ by Alistair Daniel

I love the way that the box is subtly anthropomorphised and cared for like a child from the start – its size and weight both recall an infant, it cannot get too hot etc. and how later it (and the loft in which it’s kept) transform into a substitute womb for the man. There’s humour in here, too – the way the woman enjoys the company of her nieces and nephews “for up to an hour” and the cliched gifts (the Give Peas a Chance bibs) the man buys for others’ babies. I also really liked the sinister absence of knives in the kitchen, which imply the possibility that the woman may self-harm if pushed too far … This story is so much about what is unspoken yet tacitly acknowledged between the two central characters: the impossible irreconcilability of their conflicting desires, expressed through the neutral and anonymising (“the man” & ”the woman”) third-person narrative voice. The voice reminds me somewhat of Carver or Hemingway: the way it presents the characters, their actions, thoughts and words, without comment or judgement is a very hard trick to pull off and still allow the story to carry its own significant emotional weight.

Bridport Short Story Prize: Highly Commended 2020. First published in the Bridport Prize Anthology 2020. Buy the anthology here

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