This is a work of creative fiction.

I hardly even notice the box anymore. They leave me in here for days, months, years at a time without letting me out to feel the sun, taste the air, stretch my legs. It’s dark in here, but it’s become comforting. Until, that is, the men lift the lid and pull me out. That’s when the living begins.

The men start to color me. Springy, chestnut hair. Heaven knows we can’t describe a lady’s hair as brown. Color the eyes bright blue. It’s a breathtaking combination, they say, the dark on the light. Fill in the skin with just a drop of beige and no more than one. I breathe a sigh of relief as they fill in my skin. This means I get to win. I don’t think that I think their choice makes me any better than the rest of them, but the men do. I don’t really know what to think. The last time I saw a darker girl, I wasn’t allowed to know anything about her aside from the fact that we both sang praises to his name. I won that time – before the big man popped two in my chest.

Oh, don’t apologize for that. I’ve been told I didn’t suffer because I died in his arms.

I’m place in the scene, limp like a rag doll. All I’m supposed to do is stand in the corner until he comes around and taps me on the shoulder, bringing me to life. I look him up and down and evaluate what I see. I don’t like him. He’s dressed like a loser, his hair does nothing for me, and his eyes lack spark. I want to walk away and chat up the dessert table or even his tall friend, but the men tell me to stay there and show my teeth like a good girl. That’s when I know. He is the one, and I am stuck. I might as well make the most of it while it lasts.

And I can. I can make the most of it because I am alive. I am so alive. I’m not in the box anymore, and I can run. I can go to the movies and take salsa dance lessons if I want. I can eat that slice of pizza. No, I can’t. The men tell me to dump it in the garbage and coat it in thick dish soap. I’ll have a salad, please and thank you.

The young man from the party turns out to be a big hero this time. Super strength, hidden identity, living in the darkest night kind of ordeal. He only looks like a loser in public so people don’t guess he’s the one. I still don’t like him, but the men keep trying to tell me I do. I like his swords, his maces, and his arrows, but I’m not allowed to touch them. Weapons that big and that bad will slip through my tiny hands, and I’ve just had a manicure. It’s really a shame. I’ve seen him stab a hundred beasts, and it looks like fun. If I did it, I’d be doing something other than loving, pretending to love. But he gets to end the creatures, gets to snap their necks and stop their evil-doings in their slimy tracks. All I get to feel is their sharp teeth in my pretty, little neck and their claws in my back, my winning skin turning purple and red. But I’m not worried. The bruises will be gone next week, and I will be beautiful again.

We have just finished up on our date-but-it’s-not-really-a-date-because-neither-of-us-is-ready-to-share-our-feelings-yet. We walk in the dark alley, and I know this can only lead to disaster, but I’m supposed to scream when the big, green monster runs out and tries to gut me like a fish. He’s got me pinned up against his scales, and they’re sharp. They hurt, and I want to strike him in the face and run away. Why am I not running? My heels turn to concrete, and I’m stuck. Why? I don’t know why.

The men tell me to stay put, coax me into it, call me sweetheart. My number isn’t up. It’s because of me their numbers are climbing, and they can’t afford to get rid of me just yet. I should relax.

The big hero takes off my assailant’s head, and I have to act impressed and thankful. But I’m not. I could have done that, too. I’ve watched him a hundred times. I could have done it, too.

Right?

I realize it’s never any different. I’ve been the girl who wears a short skirt to the high school and vies for the buff boy’s letterman jacket. I’ve been the woman who dyes her hair ebony and listens to nothing but The Smiths. I can be Dawn one day and Marianne the next, but there’s never a real change. Just a woman. Just a body. Just something to look at.

I’m back in the box next year, eighty-four by twenty-eight. He cries at my funeral. Heard he wears a lot of black now and won’t touch anyone who looks like me. I’m not flattered. It won’t last. It never does. Somebody else’s lid opens in the distance, and I shiver because it’s not me.

Oh, God, let it be different for her.