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  • Writer's pictureCraig Allen Heath

Steel Stapler, Wooden Box, and Ceramic Jar Walk Into a Story

Updated: Feb 6, 2019

The Best day of His Life

When Steel Stapler was first brought to The Desk, shiny and new from the stationary store, he was sure he’d arrived in Paradise. After filling him with a row of bright new staples, the Woman set him down near the most beautiful Wooden Box he’d ever seen.

Having waited to be purchased for many months on a shelf near the decorative desk organizers, he knew a thing or two about beauty. But here, so near he could almost touch her, was the Box of his dreams. Small and delicate, her tiny boards of cherry wood finished with dark lacquer and hand-painted blossoms, she caught his eye and he could not look away.

He wished to be cool about greeting her, wanted to act the suave gentleman and not the bumbling schoolboy, but his excitement in her presence was too great.

“Clack clack!” he said. “Pardon me, but you are so beautiful, I cannot help but introduce myself. I am Steel Stapler. May I speak with you awhile?”

Box enjoyed Stapler’s metallic approach to wooing. She had been taught to prefer the softer tones of wood and paper, having once been courted by a Cigar Box of the finest Spanish Cedar and another time by a large and learned Dictionary. But her mother, the Dowager Ceramic Jar, had raised her to be a lady, and she wouldn’t return rudeness for awkward courtesy. After all, in her heart, she found his shiny steel body fascinating. She recalled the tales she’d heard in the Great Parlor that housed The Desk, about knights in armor pledging faithful love to beautiful damsels. She wondered if he was a knight, and more, if she was a damsel.

“How do you do” she replied with soft taps of her delicate lid, “I am Box, Wooden Box, and I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

The effect of her soft, dulcet voice told Stapler he had been right, this was Paradise. He shined a bright smile and was about to speak again, to speak his heart’s wish that Box would be his Eve, he her Adam, and together they would live in this lovely garden of Desk, when a voice, low and brittle-sounding, stopped him.

“What are you doing, daughter?” said the Dowager Jar. She stood nearby, three times as tall as Stapler, her ornate, ceramic body a molded relief of grape vines heavy with fruit, painted in regal golds and greens and blues. When she spoke, her scraping lid reminded Stapler of dry bones rubbed together.

“Clack clack!” he said, “Pardon, good Lady Jar, but I was just speaking with…”

“I did not” Jar said, now echoing the sound of a stone coffin lid slid back to reveal the corpse within, “address you.” She had lived too long, taking care her daughter be protected against all manner of new things brought to The Desk by The Woman, to allow a metallic beast like Stapler to insinuate himself between them.

“Daughter?” Jar repeated. “What have I told you about newcomers, especially those of metal? Leave this modern monstrosity alone. Do you so soon forget what occurred with the arrival of Iron Letter Opener?”

Box shrank with disappointment. Stapler could see she would surrender to her mother’s will. The knowledge inflamed his desire to rise and fight for his love.

“Box!” He cried out, “Clack Clack, Box, do not listen to her! You know, deep within, that we were meant to be, don’t you? Stay with me, and I will protect you from anything and everything that would do you harm! I swear it on my hinge!”

Box wavered, but knew she would do as mer mother said. It would come to no good to be with someone so different, so hard and unbending, so harsh and loud. Her mother reminded her of Letter Opener, and the memory stabbed at her breast. For a brief second her hope had flickered, as it had that one time long ago, but two more words from the Dowager Jar blew out the tiny flame.

“Daughter? Come.”


The Best Day of My Life

I had long before despaired of ever finding love. Years passed, one day melting into the next without life, without joy, without hope. Then, this morning, Steel Stapler was set on The Desk nearby, and I nearly lost my lid with delight!

Do not raise your eyebrow, thinking a small, delicate Wooden Box like me could never be with a Stapler. Love sings between two hearts and no other can hear it’s song. I’ve lived many years on The Desk with my mother, The Dowager Ceramic Jar, and had many suitors in my time. Jewelry boxes have sought my company, as have others of my kind, of fine-grained wood and hearty press-wood and delicate, smooth paper. A Cigar Box of the finest Spanish Cedar once begged my favor and my hand. My mother very much approved the union, but when I reluctantly assented to give myself in marriage he was carried away, having given up his last cigar.

But once long ago, I learned the thrill of the forbidden. A Letter Opener of twisted, dark iron, razor sharp and needle-pointed, was brought to The Desk. I nearly fainted at the first sight of him, leaning lazily on the edge of a leather-bound journal. Metal! Even the word rings when spoken!

We hid ourselves as best we could and spoke in whispers, giving voice to endless love and burning passion. I knew instinctively that Mother would never approve such a marriage, and that our only chance was to elope and find passage to somewhere, anywhere our proscribed devotion could be free and open to the sunlight. Letter Opener swore his undying faithfulness, his unbending will and his sharpened spirit to the task of finding sanctuary for our union.

Then, tragedy took it’s turn and cut into our dance. On that fateful morning The Woman who had brought Letter Opener to The Desk suddenly began shouting and crying in pain, hopping about on one leg. I watched in horror as she raised her foot and rested it on the edge of The Desk. I saw Letter Opener stuck deeply into her sole, her blood rushing out over his blade and staining the blotter. I heard him protest his innocence to me, that he’d been pushed off the desk sometime in the night by a person or persons unknown, that he’d been done fowl and made the scapegoat in this terrible calamity.

The Woman pulled him from her foot, cursing and crying, then hurled him with all her strength across the room. I heard his dear body slam into the far bookcase then clatter to the floor. She hobbled away, no doubt to dress her wound, but all I could think of was Opener, now so far away he might as well be on the other side of the world. I heard his voice, faintly, calling out to me and saying he would find his way back, and I allowed myself a moment of hope. Then I saw Mother, the Dowager Ceramic Jar, standing near the edge of the desk, a wry smile on her face.

I knew what she had done. And I knew, from that moment on, that she had won a battle but lost the war. My passion for someone of metal was now total and unshakable, and in equal fervent measure, to find a metal mate and leave my hateful parent would be my only goal. Never again could I listen to the soft words of wood and paper, no more would I give credence to the Dowager’s advice. Metal I desired, metal I needed, and metal I would have!

And now, before me in the bright morning light, stands my knight in shining armor. I can see his love for me plainly, as if looking in the mirrored surface of his strong body. He wants to speak to me, but he hesitates. He is a gentleman as well as a soldier. I’ll not interrupt, nor goad him. All in its good time.

He speaks!

“Clack clack! Pardon me, but you are so beautiful, I cannot help but introduce myself. I am Steel Stapler. May I speak with you awhile?”

I am in Heaven.


The Worst Day of Your Life

The day the Woman brings the Stapler to the Desk is the worst day of your life.

You work and strive to raise your daughter, Wooden Box, to be a proper lady and marry within her station. As Dowager Ceramic Jar, entrusted with the most intimate and important of The Woman’s secret treasures, you know the role your daughter must one day fulfill. On that inevitable day, when you are knocked to the floor, shattered and discarded, she must replace you and execute the role in the manner befitting your station. You groom her, teach her, placing all your hopes in her sense of duty.

Then the Iron Letter Opener came, all sharp and hard and unyielding, and turned her forever to want metal. You disposed of him, yes, you even committed a crime, perhaps a sin, to rid him from your daughter’s life. But ever since that terrible day you’ve known she would never again follow in your footsteps, would never go back to the life you so carefully prepared for her. Metal she desired, you knew, and metal she would seek.

And now comes Steel Stapler. You were already weary, tired of fighting so long for your dear daughter to find a mate of wood, even of press-wood or paper, one of her own, of her place, of her station. But now this new challenger fills your heart with a dark and smoldering rage. How dare he? How dare she?

The Woman had no doubt been dazzled by his shiny steel body, his mechanical efficiency, his valuable purpose. But you know these are just the passing of modern fads and fashions. The eye is dazzled by form, the mind by function, and before one knows one has paid good money for a piece of machinery that will be obsolete in the blink of an eye. But still, The Woman brings this monstrosity to The Desk, and places him, uncaring of the welfare of your daughter, Wooden Box, so near as to make the rise of their shared passion inevitable.

And inevitable it proved. You overhear the words you wish to never hear…

“Clack clack!” you hear the evil machine say. “Pardon me, but you are so beautiful, I cannot help but introduce myself. I am Steel Stapler. May I speak with you awhile?”

How you roil with anger at those sharp and clattering words. How you gasp with fear at the delight dancing in your daughter’s eyes.

You know a child cannot be led to the right path by forbidding the wrong. Should you speak openly against this new, bright suitor, she would think you her enemy, not him. And so you know you must engage in some subterfuge, to have a chance at gaining her trust and swaying her path.

“Daughter?” you say with cool aspect. “What have I told you about newcomers, especially those of metal?”

You say more, improvising, striving to be both quiet and strong, to reach her mind and turn it against her heart. You see she is gone, gone far beyond the horizon of reason, of understanding her place on The Desk, and you despair that you can ever bring her back to her place.

Once more you try, and decide this will be the moment you embrace her as your heir, or shun her as your enemy. You speak again …

“Leave this modern monstrosity alone. Do you so soon forget what occurred with the arrival of Iron Letter Opener?”

You watch her face, her body, all melt in despair. It cuts your heart in two. One side bleeds for your dear daughter’s pain, the other rejoices at your victory in bringing her to heel. Victory is yours.

But you are haunted with the thought you will soon find your victory short-loved, bitter, and ultimately, vain.


(This is the result of an assignment from the MasterClass course in Creative Writing taught my Margaret Atwood. In her lecture, she playfully uses a stapler, a small wooden box and a large ceramic jar to illustrate the use of different points-of-view and voices to tell the same story. She suggested the exercise but did not specifically recommend the use of her desk props as characters. I couldn't resist the temptation.)

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