the short story project


Beyond The Box

Beyond The Box

by Kelle Grace Gaddis

I used to think life inside the box was good. We had four walls, a sturdy floor, and a ceiling that, even though I bumped my head on it, never rendered me unconscious.

When younger, I kept my head down, worked hard, and expected reward. The older I got, the less I liked the box. It was a pain in the neck figuratively and metaphorically. By forty, I’d hit my head on its ceiling so many times that I’d begun to stoop. Like the majority of older women inside the box my mother was permanently stooped. She claimed it was osteoporosis, but it was obviously the box.

Early on I noticed there weren’t any female CEOs in the box. If a woman were set to rise to that level, she’d be cast out for talking too much, wearing a provocative suit, or for no reason at all. I wanted more for my daughter Lily and I. I wanted the box to be a place where women were equal.

Our men talked about thinking outside the box, but never in detail when we women were present. If we were nearby they’d change the topic to beard maintenance or sports. In time, we decided they no longer mattered to us. Equity for women is what piqued us, women mattering is what mattered.

I held secret meetings with my female coworkers. We grew in number until it wasn’t just the women from the office but housewives, women who’d never stepped foot inside a corporation, were now thinking outside the box.

When the men discovered that we were planning something, they grumbled about our “Not knowing our place” and insisted we were “undermining society.” We didn’t let their fear stop us; if anything, it inspired us. The idea of equity for women had become a movement and I was leading the charge.

We came out of hiding and orchestrated rallies at the center of the box. Peaceful protests, where we’d chant, “No more ceilings, no more stoop, firing women is a load of poop!” Some men encouraged us; others snickered and told us to “Pipe down.” The indignant ones said that our behavior was “unladylike.” The more stern husbands told their wives to go home. It hurt to see some women comply.

I realized we’d come at our protests too soft. Not that this was our fault, soft is what we were taught. Women were brainwashed, even me. I realized this truth when Lily was a teen. She told me she wanted to be a CEO someday and I’d laughed before saying, “I hope you make it.”

I was taught not to expect to rise to the top of the box. The idea of women thinking outside the box sounded like the rantings of an unemployable. No one knew what was out there. We were practiced at running households, the secretarial pool, cooking in cafes, and various facets of business that helped men relate, or sell products to women, nothing more.

People thought I was lucky to be as high up in the corporation as I was. Few knew I despised hitting my head on the box’s ceiling everyday; the knots, bruises, and humiliation were as familiar as morning coffee but I suppose it looked lucky to those that had less.

Eventually, I’d hit my head enough to wake my inner radical. She got me thinking there might be something beyond the box. The obstacles were everywhere. At times, both sexes advocated against women in the workplace, but eventually all conceded that the insights of women were necessary for corporations to maximize revenue. Necessity was our gateway. It sizzled and burned in us, igniting thoughts of the unimaginable.

Of course, years went by without any real progress or action. I remained resolute in my vision even if nothing outwardly was happening. Nothing discouraged me, until Lily entered the workforce and I had to face the fact that her prospects and paychecks weren’t going to be better than mine. Escalation was necessary. What did we have to lose?

I was being cast out. Box leaders wanted a younger woman to take my place, someone they could train to submit to rules, someone with lower expectations.
Even if I had stayed, in-box chatter suggested that wage reductions were expected for women because the men were demanding raises for themselves. Women would go no further under the current system. Boldness was the only cure.

After I was let go, a man from the office reached out to me. He said that he’d fought for me to stay, citing my experience and value to the company. The box CEOs, no longer tolerant of men that advocated for women, rewarded him with a pink slip of his own.

My husband, older, long retired, and content with his stipend, suggested I let it all go, but I couldn’t. Lily had come home sounding like a corporate cog, excited to meet the expectations of her male employers. She insisted submission would help her rise further than I had. It was all the same claptrap I’d told my mother when I started at the company.

I decided to blow the lid off the place once and for all. I gathered the most radical women I could find, women who’d protested with me for years. Women I trusted. 
After years of disappointment, most had a hint of madness in their eyes. When they’d whisper “dynamite” or “murder,” it was as if they were saying, “I love you.” It’s funny, most of my life I was wary of radicals, now I was one.

The day the bomb went off it rocked the box from its bottom to its top. It blew a hole in the ceiling that allowed scores of women and a few men to escape. Lily refused to leave. I was heartbroken that she couldn’t see clearly. I thought I’d die when I left her behind but she was her own woman now.

Outside there were boxes in all directions. We headed for the horizon ready to build our new world. There, the early years were hard but in the wilderness women outnumbered men, which eased the burden some. We bid the males to build, prepare our food, and dispose of our waste. They’d burdened us, now it was their turn to toil. Besides, men are designed for labor. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it sooner. Menial labor was men’s work.

We formed a council and set the rules. There was no need for men to vote. Women are obviously more capable leaders. Men are strong enough to stand on, even if it makes them stoop.

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