“This is not what I had in mind when you asked if I wanted to play XBOX,” Bob said.
“What did you think I was talking about?” Woodruff asked as he placed a tattered cardboard box on the coffee table.
“I thought we were going to play Halo or FIFA World Cup.”
“Oh, you mean XBOX.”
“I asked if you wanted to play ex-box.”
“That’s what I said, XBOX.”
“No, no, ex-box.”
“Ex,” Woodruff paused. “Box.”
“We’re saying the same thing,” Bob argued.
“No, you’re talking about video games.”
“And you are talking about a ratty old box of scarves.”
“There’s more in here than just scarves,” Woodruff said. “There’s photos and used wrapping paper, there’s brushes and coyote urine…”
“Why do you have coyote urine?” Bob demanded.
“I dated a javelina wrangler once,” Woodruff said. “It wards off Gila Monsters.”
“But why is it in a box of scarves and pictures?”
“It’s my ex-box.”
“Don’t say XBOX again.”
“Bob, this is a box of things from my ex-girlfriends,” Woodruff explain. “It’s my ex-box.”
“Well why didn’t you say so?” Bob said. “How do you play ex-box, then?”
Woodruff walked over to the fireplace and began to remove the cases of Mello Yello, stacked from top to bottom behind the fireplace screen. He placed the cases of soda gently on the carpet just beyond the red brick hearth.
“It’s easy,” Woodruff said. “You just put on Taylor Swift, take out the items of your exes one by one, say something about the relationship and burn the item in the fire. Then you can move on.”
“Why don’t you just burn the whole box all at once,” Bob said as he stooped down and helped move the last cases of soda from the fireplace. “It’d be way quicker.”
“That’s not how you play,” Woodruff said. “You need closure. You’ve got to give them the proper send off. Plus, it take two or three T-Swift jams before you find your rhythm.”
“Can you even burn coyote urine?” Bob asked.
“Do you want to play or not?”
Woodruff loaded split wood and kindling into the fireplace and struck a match. Bob opened the flue while Woodruff held the match beneath the kindling. In minutes the flames spread across the kindling and danced merrily on top the stack of wood.
“I’ll go first,” Woodruff said and removed a small vile attached to a necklace. “Since we’ve covered coyote urine, I’ll start with Maleficent.”
“You dated a girl name Maleficent?” Bob laughed.
“The first rule of ex-box is, no judgement,” Woodruff said.
“Sorry,” Bob said as he covered the grin on his face with his hand.
“You were a wise and cunning hunter, M-Salad,” Woodruff spoke to the vile as he held it over the flames. “May you find the happiness you deserve.”
He tossed the vile into the fire and it quickly sank out of sight beneath the flames.
“That was beautiful, man,” Bob said, he pulled out a purple and blue scarf from Woodruff’s box and wrapped it around his neck. Then he dug around and pulled out a picture of Woodruff and a blond girl with dreadlocks smiling on the beach with the ocean behind them. “Do this one next.”
“Ah, Mary J,” Woodruff smiled. “We’d probably still be together if that dolphin hadn’t bit off your toe.”
“Did he do it on porpoise?” Bob asked.
“Too soon, Bob,” Woodruff said.
“My bad,” Bob said. “It felt too soon.”
“Farewell, my little seahorse,” Woodruff said as he cast the picture into the flames.
“So how do you win this game?”
“You empty the box and liberate yourself from the weight of the past.”
“What if you like the weight of the past?”
“Weight is a burden, it slows you down and holds you back.”
“It also anchors you and keeps papers from flying off your desk.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to play?”
“I’m just wondering if it’s wrong to get rid of mementos and memories of those you’ve loved and lost,” Bob said. “Maybe it’s good to hold on to things that remind you of good times and people you’ve shared them with. It’s part of the rich tapestry of your life and should be honored, not simply tossed into the flames of farewell with a speech and a goodbye.”
“You want to keep the scarf, don’t you?”
“It’s super comfy on my neck and makes me feel like an old timey fighter pilot.”
“Give me the scarf,” Woodruff demand.
“Fine,” Bob pouted. “But if I catch a neck cold from the draft in this room it’s all your fault.”
“This scarf belonged to Sam,” Woodruff said as he held it ceremoniously over the fire. “Her vibrance and beauty is without equal. She is a shining beacon of kindness and truth. May her path take her to a place of tranquility and love.”
“Hopefully she won’t need a scarf when she arrives at tranquility and love,” Bob murmured as the scarf went into the flames.
“Okay, it’s your turn,” Woodruff said.
“I don’t know, Woodruff,” Bob grimaced.
“Come on, there’s got to be something you’re hanging on to that’s not good for you,” Woodruff said. “Some burden you’d like to shake free.”
“There is one thing.”
“Good, go get it.”
Bob stood up, walked down the hallway and disappeared into his room. Woodruff turned his attention to the fire and watched as the purple and blue scarf burned into ash. Bob returned with a clay pot in the shape of a swan. He walked up next to Woodruff and held it out toward the fire.
“Helen, I’m sorry about the wooden horse thing,” Bob said. “I hope you can forgive me.”
Bob kissed the clay swan and tossed it into the fire.
“Wait a minute,” Woodruff said. “Helen? Wooden horse? The Helen?”
“You know her?”
“The face that launched a thousand ships.”
“She isn’t in the navy, she’s a professional apologizer,” Bob said. “Her face has stopped a thousand arguments though.”
“A professional apologizer?”
“Yep, she advises couples and corporations how to say they are sorry. She was impossible to fight with. It was annoying.”
“And the wooden horse?”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
Woodruff and Bob both stared into the fire as the remains of their past relationships were consumed by flame. Woodruff’s nose crinkled up involuntarily when it encountered an unpleasant aroma.
“Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to burn that vile,” Woodruff said.
“Nah, that’s the clay swan,” Bob said.
“How do you know?”
“Because that’s where I kept her ground asparagus.”
“She uses it on her finger gap funk.”
“You know, the stink from the gaps between your fingers.”
“That’s not a thing.”
“It is for her.”
“Well those asparagus grounds smell terrible.”
“Not nearly as bad as her finger gaps.”
“Is that why you broke up?”
“Nah, it wasn’t meant to be,” Bob said. “I’m a Fanilow and she’s a pumpkinomaniac.”
“Pumpkinomanica?” Woodruff asked.
“She compulsively eats pumpkins, even in the spring,” Bob said. “It’s disturbing.”
“What does that have to do with you being a fan of Barry Manilow?”
“Has Barry ever wrote a song about a pumpkin?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“See?” Bob said. “Incompatible.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Woodruff replied.
The fire began to die down and Woodruff looked into his empty box.
“What now?” Bob asked.
“I guess we meet someone new and hope their stuff doesn’t end up in the box,” Woodruff said.
“Well alright,” Bob said. “I’m hungry. You wanna go get something to eat?”
“Sounds good,” Woodruff said. “What do you want to eat?”
“Anything but pumpkin.”
“How about a burger?”
“Perfect,” Bob said. “Hey Woodruff?”
“Yeah Bob,” Woodruff replied.
“You think some of our stuff is in a box somewhere waiting to be burned?”
“That would explain why I have so many unmatched socks.”
Bob nodded his head and Woodruff pulled open the door to the bungalow.
“Bet that’s what happened to my beeswax collection too,” Bob said.
“She can’t burn that, none of it is hers,” Woodruff protested.