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Toj

 article about business
It seems funny as I sit here and contemplate life. There appears to me a touch of irony in my whole situation. It was the sale of fine antiquities that made me rich, and it was the pursuit of an antique that took it all away. To tell the truth, it was those who conspired to steal that particular antiquity from me who took my livelihood.

My name is Adam Mann. I was born on January 1, 1883. I am now 43 and incarcerated at the Bedlamb Hospital for the Insane. These doctors just dont understand me. Quite frankly, they dont even care to listen to what I have to say. Well, they say that they listen to what I say, but I see what they write on their little yellow pads.

Exhibits paranoia, murderous tendencies, symptoms of schizophrenia, and frequently makes reference to an imaginary box called the Toj. Recommendation: active use of shock therapy to stabilize moods and assist in progression back to reality.

Reality! They dont know what reality is! I have experienced reality, thus I know reality. I am, thus I know. Isnt that true? I read that somewhere. So it must be true.

 

Mad as a hatter, they say. Shows what they know. Ive never even looked at a hat factory, much less worked in one.

Im not crazy. I dont belong here. That is why I am writing this letter; to prove my sanity and to make known my unlawful incarceration by these so called doctors. Mr. Editor, I know you will consider my plight and investigate the corruption that overtakes the good citizens of our city. There is a conspiracy to steal our livelihood and my captors are at the very heart of this machination.

These dirty white walls and these unsanitary conditions in which they force me and others to live, are not fit for a beast. Its not like I killed anybody. I hardly even scratched anyone.

Youre a threat to others, Adam, they say. Youre a threat to yourself, Adam, they say.

Threat my foot! Im too much of a coward to consider that. I was a business man. My company imported the best junk this city ever saw. I dare say that sitting on your very desk is a paper weight or ink well that I imported. Perhaps even the chair and desk you sit at was my merchandise at one time. It was all I lived for, my business was my life, my blood formed it and now my clothes arent the only thing that theyve stripped from me.

Its really all Jonathans fault. That box he brought back from some forgotten corner of the Orient was the instrument of all my troubles. I see now how Jonathan was in cahoots with these insane doctors and how that box was the tool to usurp my control. Oh, had I seen it all then. Ha, why am I crying in my spilt milk now? Get on with my life I say. So Ive lost my dream, my business; so everything has gone up in smoke. Ill build another one.

Only... its hard to forget that little box. He called it a Toj. Your basic oriental teak box; on the lid it had a relief of a tree that wound its branches all around the box top and sides. On each side a single flower was in bloom. Mother of pearl lined the inside without seam. Like I said, your typical oriental box, but for one peculiarity; when opened a heady scintillating aroma put one in such a pleasurable mood that all troubles became as smoke on a Sierra wind swept mountain.

I had to have it. I needed it to ease my daily troubles. I dont even mind giving up my antiques business if that meant I can spend the rest of my life alone in the vapors of that box. In fact, it must have been fate that Jonathan brought it to me. Just the day before, my physician suggested I find something to take my mind off the rigors of business.

Your nerves need a rest, Adam he said. Jonathan can mind the organization for a couple of months. Take a trip with the family, go hunting or fishing, or work on a favorite hobby. Just get away from the office for a while. It will do your nerves some good.

So, you can see, even my family physician of ten years, who I was paying good money to, turned on me.

Blind I was. I should have seen how convenient it was when Jonathan showed up the next day bearing the Toj as a gift. A GIFT! In truth, he meant to distract me so that he could gain control.

And to think I once considered him a good man!

Would you like to know how I discovered Jonathan? I found him ransacking the trash bin in the alley behind my office. He said he was looking for junk nobody wanted. Naturally, being a socially minded man, I saw his plight even though he couldnt. So I gave him a job on my docks. Hard worker, that Jonathan. No problems from him. Not then. I liked him so much that I promoted him to dock manager when old Marcus fell into the bay and drowned. Marcus never could swim well. Getting pinned underneath that crate of ivory didnt help him much neither.

That was good ivory too; carved with all kinds of exotic scenes; sold the whole crate for three thousand in New York. I mention that just to prove how well my business did. I am sure if you were to send a reporter to New York you could corroborate my success. I am known by many as a reputable distributor there. Check out what they say about me at Christies. Some used to say that I had the best eye in the business.

Jonathan also proved to have a good eye for top dollar junk. The type of man we call a divvy in my business. Shortly after his promotion to dock manager, a captain sailing from Japan approached Jonathan in the hope of selling some of the goods in his hold. In instances like this I instructed Jonathan to call for me or one of my buyers, but several of us were out previewing an auction and the rest were half way around the world. Taking the situation in hand, Jonathan looked over the Oriental merchandise and grabbed the pieces that fetched the most money in our markets. I was angry with him at first, and then I saw the quality products. I began taking him along with me when other ships would sail in to dock. It didnt take me long to see that he was a divvy. When I recognized those powers of divination, I moved him up the ladder and made him a buyer. I taught him the ins and outs of the cutthroat importing business. It was some months later that I sent him on a buying trip into Asia.

I should never have pulled him out of that trash bin! How had I been so blind to his scheming with these doctors? It was he, who brought that infernal box to me. After traveling through Asia for six months, he returned with that Toj box as a gift for me.

I thought youd like this. Maybe you can keep tobacco in it. he said. Its a puzzle box. I know how you love puzzles.

I never told him I liked puzzles. Im sure I never told him.

He bought the box from a peddler in Hang-chou.

I tried to get him to open it for me, but he said he didnt know the secret. So I thought of you, boss. Maybe you could figure it out. I sure couldnt.

                                                           

That's what he said, but I'm sure it was a lie.

The mystery of the box intrigued me, so it didnt take me long, only a couple of days. Whats that phrase, Curiosity killed the cat?

Maybe. But let me tell you, satisfaction brought it back.

The box had to be held a certain way to open it. Resting it in the palm of my left hand, I found that the thumb and middle finger touched the single blooming flower on the front and back side of the box. With my right hand I did the same with the flower on the left and right side of the box. A latch inside the box clicked and the lid sprung open.

Triumph and the feeling of exhilaration were initially replaced with disappointment when looking into the recess of the box I found it to be empty. But a sudden sweet smell filled my lungs and my skin tingled with excitement and life. It was like that feeling of anticipation that newlyweds get on the long ride to their honeymoon suite. I dont know why I felt that way, but you cant tell me I didnt. It was the most pleasant and pleasing exhilaration to which a spirit can ascend.

It is difficult to describe the smell that emanated from that little box. Sometimes I could make out a touch of jasmine but that would be replaced with lilacs and then a gentle sea breeze and then the scent of my mother and then roasting meat and then a country farm and then fresh cut hay and then something else; on and on the aromas changed yet never diminished.

It was a most uncommon box with a most uncommon vapor. I must have sat there inhaling that precious scent for hours. It seemed to enhance all five of my once dull senses. The world around me was filled with a bright brilliance, saturated with rich colors and wonderful patterns. The deep browns and blacks of my office furniture and wall paneling vibrated with such a soothing power that I spent hours tracing the grain and caressing the baby soft finish of my desktop. The white sheets of paper strewn around my desk bedazzled my eyes like sparkling jewels in the pure unobstructed sunlight of a noon day by the shores of a vibrating sea. Even the air I breathed melted on my tongue with sweet ambrosial nourishment.

That first day I discovered the boxs secret, I neglected my accounts and missed two appointments with some traders from Africa and South America. I must have sent Madeline, my secretary, home for the day. Yes, I do believe I did just that shortly after opening the Toj. I didnt want to be disturbed while inhaling that supernal scent. Finally, when the sun had set and the night became quiet, I came to my senses, awakening as if from a pleasant, dream filled sleep, rising like a bubble seeking the surface in a slow spiraling dance.

 

I dont remember closing the lid of the box, but I must have. The past unwatched hours were like a pleasant fog that soon evaporated with my awakening, revealing a dull and dank landscape underneath. With that landscape came the sickened feeling of a chilled soul. The office looked dreary, monotone and diseased with rot. The desk top under my fingers felt dirty and damp. Even my flesh felt clammy, filthy, and violated. The room tilted and I fell from my chair and vomited under my desk.

Later, after I had regained my sense of equilibrium, I fumbled with the lock outside my office building. The street was empty and quiet. Perhaps it was the open salt air or the exercise of the walk home, but by the time I reached home my constitution was normal once again.

Climbing the steps to my silent home, I realized that I had left the Toj sitting in the open on top of my desk. A sudden fear forcibly gripped my soul propelling me to run all the way back and hide the box in my floor safe.

I should have thrown it into the bay. Thats what I should have done. A monomania for that box had begun to develop in me. All else became burdens and interruptions to my desire to experience the Toj again and again even though I knew all too well the after effects of its application.

Why is it that I could only remember the pleasure it brought me during its use and not the state in which it left me? A state I now recognize as self loathing and moral regret at such selfish actions and indulgences.

The things that infernal box led me to do shame me. To have neglected my wife, Evelyn, and my daughter, Mable, the way I did. My father would never have done that. Ive seen men whipped for treating a horse better than I treated my family. Perhaps if someone had only whipped me or taken that box back to whatever hell it came from. I tried once, you know. To get rid of it, I mean. I am sane; I do know that we cannot journey to Hell and live to tell about it. I took it to the docks one dark night when the hatred of my own soul was still fresh in my mind. Truly, I put it in a bag of stones and intended to throw it far into the bay, but my own hands disobeyed me and refused to loose the hemp as I swung it around my head. Those fingers didnt give up their grip until I dropped the bag, rocks and all into my office safe.

I think that box must be alive. It is. It is!

How else could you explain the voice. I heard it whisper my name at the most inconvenient of times. Like when I was sitting with a potential customer, the Toj spoke so loud that it startled me out of my chair. I asked the customer if he had heard someone call my name. No, he said. I didnt understand at first why he didnt hear it too, but the Toj soon provided the answer. While I enjoyed its carnal pleasures it told me that everybody could hear it, but they acted as if they hadnt, so that they could come back and steal it from me. I discovered this to be true when my wife came to my office late one night. I told her that I was leaving for a couple of days on a buying trip, but I really intended to seclude myself with the Toj. She came, I am sure, to steal it from me. She had been acting very suspiciously and constantly pestering me with asinine questions. Oh, she said she was afraid I was having an affair with Madeline, but I know it was the Toj she really wanted. What business was it of hers anyway?

Even Jonathan tried to take it from me, that Indian giver. A dumpster diver he had been, a dumpster diver he would always be. No better than the crap on these walls. I told him so when he came into my office the next day. I gave him what for. Thats the excuse they use for keeping me in here. I had spent the entire night enjoying the Toj, but he had to end it by poking his little rotting nose into my office.

What are you doing on the floor, Adam? he asked.

None of your business, I said. Now get the hell out of my office. I think that shocked him. He tilted his head and looked at me and then at the opened Toj next to me and wrinkled his nose.

He just stood there and had the gall to hold his nose and ask, Whats that stench?

He compared that heavenly smell to something in a trash bin!

Hes lucky a letter opener was all I had. I trussed him up real good; Ill be surprised if he ever walks normally again. The Toj really wanted me to kill him. He really wanted my Toj. My business too; that was his plan all along. He was probably scheming with my wife as well. But I fixed both of them and no one will find my Toj.

Not ever!

Thats why Im here. Because I wouldnt give it up. Because they wanted it all for themselves. When the Toj told me of their scheming I hid it where no one will ever find it.

They think I burned it. Setting my home on fire was just a ruse. I danced with those flames that night. Such a beautiful sight against the moonless night sky. The songs of the flames moved me so that I was forced to tears. Had I not stopped to listen to their music the police wouldnt have grabbed me and locked me up in this looney bin. They said I was laughing hysterically while my family burned. I was not laughing, I was singing the song of the flames.

Evelyns hide will heal in time. I think she looks prettier without all that hair. Although, I am sorry about Mable; I hope she didnt suffer much. At least, she is in a better place now; a place full of pleasure and wonderful scents. Maybe that is what the Toj is: a piece of Heaven, ethereal and sublime.

 

And its mine. No one will ever find the Toj.

 

Ive hidden it, but Ill tell you where it is if you get me out of here. I pray I can trust you. Surely you can see how I have been misjudged and how everyone is scheming against me.

Im a decent fellow. I am. I worked hard for all that I had. I deserved the pleasure from the Toj, and no one should take a mans only pleasure from him; not his wife, not his children, not his employees, no one! They all got what was theirs, what they deserved!

You see that. Please tell me you see that...

Sincerely,

Adam Mann

Bedlamb Institute

Story and Photographs Harold M. Paxton, III (http://www.thegreatseparation.com), All Rights Reserved.



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