The People have chosen.
The winners of the First Annual Numéro Cinq Novel-in-a-Box Contest, by a tie vote, are Rich Farrell for Wondering Where The Lions Are and Shelagh Shapiro for Infinity Falling.
The winner of the First Annual Numéro Cinq Memoir-in-a-Box Contest, after a fierce fight, is Steve Axelrod for his Memoir in a Box.
And the winner of the special Off The Page Peoples’ Choice Award is our own Anna Maria Johnson for her Cat-in-the-Box novel-in-a-box.
The winning entries appear below.
Wondering Where the Lions Are
By Rich Farrell
Adam arrives on the shoreline while robed and naked swimmers mill about, shuffling between stations, signing legal documents, waivers. Green’s Island looms on the horizon. The starter loads a gun. “Eve,” a beautiful woman says to Adam, holding out her hand. He smiles when he says his name. But he hates her, too.
The swim to Green’s Island will consume many and Adam worries. Only those filled with desire and stamina survive. Does he measure up? No one talks of doubt. An incantatory speech is delivered. “Hale…glory….victory.” The swimmers cheer. Eve drops out of her clothes and stands naked next to him, her nipples erect.
The starter raises the pistol above his head. The gun cracks. Swimmers crash into the waves, flailing through the frigid surf. Adam lags behind. He chokes on turbulent bubbles cavitating from kicking feet. Eve struggles with her goggles in the frothy sea, but he swims past her. The race leaves no time for mercy.
An hour into the swim, Adam considers how all his life he has dreamed of Green’s Island. It’s closer than ever, but still miles away. Many have already fallen out, plucked by the rescue boat and taken back to shore. Others cling to buoys or float on their backs, waiting for the boat’s return. Turtleback Mountain bobs up and down between swells.
At noon, the first sharks are sighted. People scream. Eve swims near Adam again. “Did you see it?” she asks. He flaps her away with his hand. “Dick,” she yells as he swims away. The shark snaps a swimmer and pulls him under. Gunshots fire from the rescue boat. The swimmer climbs over the gunwale. A stump stains white planks red and Adam vomits into the sea.
The strongest swimmers reach the shore before the sun drops below Turtleback. They jump and dance on the beach. Fireworks explode in the purple sky. Adam’s shoulders cramp. Eve appears again, her eyes nearly closed. She has discarded her goggles and Adam takes her hand. Her naked breasts bob above the water’s surface.
The shark’s dorsal fin scrapes his leg. Eve screams out. They are only yards from shore, but still outside the reef. They swim faster. The shark circles as a breaker lifts Adam’s body. Palm trees and glowing tiki torches litter the shoreline. They splash ashore, nearly on top of each other. Eve kisses him and Adam’s heart fills with unspeakable joy!
Late into the evening there is a roasted boar, palm wine, Green’s Island drum music. Adam makes love to Eve. He dreams of his children, his wife, while Eve snores lightly beside him. At dawn, another meeting convenes. “The Journey has just begun,” an old man tells them. Angry faces search each other for answers, but no one speaks.
The next day, Adam climbs into a row boat. Boxed rations line the stern. “West,” says Eve. She waves goodbye and Adam paddles through the surf until the island recedes, Eve shrinking on the beach. He paddles beyond the reef, beyond the azure water until, in all directions, the horizon is an empty, blue line.
By Shelagh Shapiro
Buried in snow. Hand in place—good, smart—punching
at the snow, packing it. Black cave around my face. Keep
poking half-inch jabs: more space, more air, more time.
How many minutes, if I do this right? Fifteen? Thirty? Dark.
Can’t move. Don’t panic, Mitchell. Breathe slow. Don’t waste it.
Never heard an avalanche before, but I knew. Slab of snow
cracking, breaking, pouring over me. Skied for the trees, but not
fast enough. No pole in the air. Damn. Maybe one’s poking up.
Maybe one got thrown to the top. Or a ski. Enough to help them
find me, maybe. If they dig in the right spot. If up is up.
Tyler was in the trees. Saw it, maybe. Dig! Slow it down. Tight on
air. Should have worn a beacon. Tyler said, “We don’t need it.”
Pothead, waste of air. Failing 3 classes. Emily was farther down.
Wish we hadn’t fought this morning. She called me an asshole. Stupid
Yesterday on the lift, she talked about the trees, how they’re covered in
snow and it weighs on the branches, sparkling. Like poetry, the branches
under the snow, so dark the green looks black. Two nights ago, walking
outside the condo, we stopped at a lamp post and looked up. Above the
circle of light, nothing, but inside that circle, snow coming at us like infinity.
How much time? Slow it down. Stay calm. Snow like water and I’m
drowning. It’s granite, squeezing me. Knees at my chest—how’d that
happen? Can’t feel my feet. Can’t tell if my skis released. If they released,
they might poke through. Then Tyler could find me. If Tyler digs me
out, I’ll buy him weed for a year. Dig, man. Find me. I’m right here.
I can hear music. My ear buds, somewhere near my face. The Fray.
Her favorite. If I die, she’ll feel terrible. Not that it’s love. But it’s been
okay. She called it temporary. “Just for now.” Sometimes it felt like it
could be more, though.
Maybe they’ll hear the music. Where’s my iPod anyway? Good. Think about
where things are. Something real. Don’t panic. Keys, inside right pocket. Burt’s
Bees lip balm—outside right pocket. Cell phone and iPod together. Inside left,
I think. And the Dentyne, outside left, because I’m trying to quit smoking.
Which now seems unbelievably pointless! Agony, to think of the last month.
“You asshole,” she said this morning. “Why do you always have to be right?”
Last time I saw her, we both shoved off the quad and went in different
directions. Last time I saw her. Don’t think about that. How much time?
Where are they? I’m dying here.
Don’t think about dying. Don’t think about being buried in snow, in granite.
Don’t think about being buried at all. Don’t think about suffocating—how
long that takes. Don’t think about the dark. About drowning. Don’t think
about the color of air, gray and fading. Think about light, right there, above me.
Think about seeing it: light on snow on branches. Poetry. Think about poetry.
Memoir in a Box
By Steve Axelrod
It was finally over Didn’t I know it already? Wasn’t it obvious?
She was right, too – I had no business being surprised. We had been in the middle of the unspoken knowledge for years. It was like living in Chernobyl as desperate Russians were starting to do again now: ignoring the obvious and waiting for the symptoms to show.
How did I figure out that Ned was sleeping with my ex-wife? I wanted to sell my wedding ring. Nick freaked. Kim said, “I’ll keep it until he’s older.” So I gave it to her, in front of her friends. She called, furious: it was a spiteful thing to do. Ned agreed. Ned? He had to be fucking her. Only one way to be sure: read her diary.
Why stalk my ex-wife? I wanted to be fully included in my exclusion, in complete control of my helplessness. I found Lisa’s diary in her underwear drawer. Reading it was like a Krav Maga demonstration: pulled by the back of neck into a series of blows, the brutal parody of an intimate embrace. The only solution: walk away.
The agent said: “When are you moving to L.A?” But I had kids. I couldn’t leave them and I couldn’t take them. But I could resent them and I did.. Then Caity got sick and cleaning her puke off the bathroom walls at two AM I realized: this was what I wanted to be doing. This was where I wanted to be.
The advantages of divorce: time off, silence. The dishes in the sink are no longer a passive-aggressive statement. They’re just dishes. And no more nonogomy. A much needed new word: being sexually faithful to a woman who’s not fucking you. Happily married, I was the one guy at a party not smoking weed. Now I’m one of the guys. Pass the doobie.
Maybe divorced men should be quarantined for eight months. The first relationship is always bad – the first pancake you test the griddle with, and invariably throw out. Sasha was a good Catholic girl, so the more obvious erotic encouragements were out of the question. She didn’t want to put anything strange or unusual in her mouth.
“I don’t even eat sushi,” she said.
I was happily alone when I met Annie. Solo flights – that was my kind of flying. Solo cups – that was my kind of cup! Han Solo, that was my kind of corny outer space smuggler with a heart of gold! O Solo Mio – that was my kind of Mio. Then we read each other’s work and she kissed me under the Chekhov moon.
So we moved in together. She endured Caity’s pack of friends she battled Nick over his dirty dishes and won. She went to Grad school and I followed her like a horse clopping after another horse. I was no longer living in the past. It was a physical relief, like taking off a bulky coat I should never have been wearing in the first place.
My Mom and my brother Peter came to Nantucket for Nick’s graduation. He walked into the house with a bag of groceries. Mom offered to help. He gave her a baffled look, said “I’m fine Mom,” and started unpacking the food. I said, “I guess that’s a look I’m going to have to start getting used to.”
“Yes,” she said. “But you never will.”