Bondage Box @DC Harrell, 12.19.06

Bondage Box“What’s with the S & M?”

My partner had just returned to a dining room table littered with black leather, brass studs, and the unfinished chest my sisters gave me for my birthday. I sighed and licked the blood off my middle finger.

Boxes intrigue me. At antique shows, I ignore the furniture, hunting instead for hope chests, cigar boxes, and trunks. It’s not what people keep that fascinates me; it’s how they contain their keepsakes. My sisters know this, so they frequently deliver my gifts in unfinished boxes rather than wrapping paper. For this birthday, a single red ribbon encircled the white pine.

My sisters themselves write, act, and sing. They know that escaping one’s medium-of-choice liberates the muse, or at least loosens a block. Finishing the box would shake up my writing.

“It’s a manuscript box!” they informed me. “See, it’s the perfect size.”

But I don’t keep hard copies of my fiction, I thought. I back up files religiously, but once my writers’ group marks a draft and I apply their critiques, I trash the pages. Crumpling copy or tearing it to shreds also unleashes the creativity beast.

During the summer writing break, I contemplated how to refinish this chest. Unlike Christmas’s octagonal offering, which I had stashed next to the sewing basket, this box was too big to be ignored. Eventually, the sisters would see its nakedness and I would be ashamed for failing to cover it.

A magazine in the vacation house displayed an old Omani coffer. I had seen such trunks in Zanzibar. Dark leather stretched across hard African wood, held in place by thousands of brass tacks, each placed perfectly along every edge and centered to form intricate designs. That is what I wanted my pine box to look like—ancient craftsmanship outliving the empire that drove home its nails. Even the fantasy of such a chest filled my nose with the scent of mahogany and cloves.

I bought a leather jacket from the used clothing store. At the hardware store, I hunted for brass tacks, but they only carried iron. Their upholstery studs were too big, but at least they were brass. I purchased all ten boxes of studs, figuring two hundred would suffice to secure the leather.

Then I took apart the jacket and laid out the pieces. The back of the coat would cover the lid. Studs could follow the fitted seams. The curved lid and the curved seams would suit one other for a design.

Hammering studs proved harder than I expected. To immobilize and space them evenly, I wedged my fore and middle fingers underneath each metal head, tapped the stud into place, removed my fingers, and beat it home. After a while, my fingers bled where the tapped heads broke the skin. I felt relieved when I ran out of studs.

That was the state in which my partner discovered the chest. The thing looked like a Hell’s Angel lost a fight with a breadbox.

Three more trips to the hardware store—that’s eight hundred studs—three more bloodied fingers, and the box was finally finished. Instead of gravitas, I had achieved Goth. We called my foray into the leather medium “Bondage Box.”

I had enough leather and studs left over to finish the octagonal box. We called that one “Bondage Buddy.” I keep buttons in Bondage Buddy.

I keep rejection letters in Bondage Box. If saving rejection letters isn’t S & M, I don’t know what is.