The Boy in the Box
"Uncle! Uncle! I saw the most amazing thing today!" Marie, the young girl of the most fragile looks, enters the room and approaches the old man sitting in his big chair.
"Come here, my dear," Manfred von Paulus, who looks like a giant compared to her, holds her hand and pulls her closer. The well mannered girl gently lifts her skirt a little bit upward with the tips of her fingers covered with beautiful white gloves and takes a sit which immediately makes her look like a loving child sitting in her grandfather's lap. The man allows his large hand to give a soft stroke along the young girl's very strictly tightened corset. He smiles and jokingly puts both of his hands around her waist and his thumbs and index fingers meet, his hands completely encircling her waist. "You grow up fast, but this part only keeps getting smaller and smaller. How are you holding up?"
"I am perfectly fine, uncle Manfred, I don't even feel my waist at all," she gives a smile that couldn't be that of a liar. "It is so very numb! I don't even feel a pin poked in my waist, so very numb it is!" The girl's full lips stretch in the most pleasant smile.
"Oh, as long as you enjoy it, my dear Marie," the old giant chuckles kindly and pats the girl on her remarkably rounded hips.
"But of course I do, uncle Manfred!" Marie reaches and gives the old man a smooch on the cheek.
"Have you per chance measured your precious waist recently?" the big man is certainly taking delight in the feeling of the hourglass shape, his fingers stroke it with the pleasure of rubbing a cat.
"It's thirteen inches an a half!" Marie opens her eyes wide, Manfred von Paulus could swear the tips of her ears turned red, so proud she was of herself!
"And I say that half is totally unnecessary and needs to go by the end of the year!" another man enters the room as he speaks, the girl's stepfather. He is dressed in a green suit and is younger than the old man in the chair.
"Eugen, my dear friend! Please take a sit!" von Paulus makes a welcoming gesture and the man in the green suit sits in the next big chair to him. "I see you took a walk together?"
"Why, of course! How would I let her go around this city alone? The crowd in this city is way too bizarre for words!" Eugen makes himself comfortable, but he seems to be bothered.
"Father, please," the young girl looks at him pleadingly, she certainly has had enough of hearing these negative-minded statements from her stepfather today.
"Why? What happened?" Manfred von Paulus stays completely calm and only raises a brow, the expression that Marie always loved and secretly tried to mimic in front of her mirror, so convincing it looked to her in a dispute.
"It's that amazing..." / "It's that freakish..." both Marie and her stepfather attempt to speak at once, then stare at each other in the most irritated manner.
"Wait, wait, my friend, ladies first," von Paulus holds a hand up, calming the other man.
"Thank you, uncle Manfred!" she gives the old man another smooch and looks at her stepfather who in turn looks away, frowning. "So..." she looks back at her uncle, "We walked in the street until we spotted an acrobat doing her thing. She looked like a gypsy but wearing a really strange dress that looked like leggings and a shirt of the same color sewed together, it was so close to her own skin color that from a distance I was almost expecting her to be completely naked and I thought to myself: what a crazy girl, I hope she wouldn't get caught like that! What poor kids would do to make money nowadays! The crowd around her didn't seem to be trying to cease that, and neither did the policeman standing nearby, so I assumed that my vision fails me and I got my corset too tight again!"
"Well, the latter assumption is certainly true," Manfred von Paulus smiles through his rich moustache.
"Oh, uncle, that was suddenly a bit mean," the girl frowns.
"Not at all, my dear Marie, I only meant to compliment how very tight it is, certainly the most admirable sight and such a pleasure to the senses being able to feel this perfection right under my fingers," he smiles.
"Thank you, uncle Manfred," she returns the smile, "Let me continue. Luckily, the street didn't let us take turns, so we went ahead, despite my father was very displeased with the idea of getting any closer to that scene."
"Obscene would be a more fitting word," Eugen interrupts her angrily. "You should have seen what that gypsy was doing, pretty much kissing her own bottom and then she began to twist herself as if her torso was a piece of wet cloth! And then getting her limbs stretched and torn from one extremity to the other! We don't even use such methods to interrogate prisoners of war, what that mad gypsy was doing to herself out of good will!"
"Father, it didn't look as bad as you say at all! You just don't know anything about acrobatics, so..."
"Do I know acrobatics! Do I, now! To let you know, I personally was one of the most agile men in my division when serving my country! I was standing proud on the top of the pyramid of brave men during military parades! I had the skills to lift the spirit of my fellow men during an evening campfire! I swear I could still do a handstand, but why would I, now? But that gypsy woman was sheer nonsense! She was just a freak of nature, a sick woman without any pride. And on top of all, that broken boy in the box..."
"Wait, wait, wait, I didn't get there yet," the girl holds up her arms. "Father, you're spoiling my story! Besides, I was allowed to speak, so please," she continues as her stepfather turns away, shrugging and frowning. "So yes, this gypsy lady was doing her thing upon a very small glass box, which seemed to be of a black color at first but as we approached very closely, I was utterly amazed to see that the box was in fact of transparent glass and its walls were only black because inside the box... a living boy was fit! So so very tightly that I couldn't believe my own eyes and thought that I must be feeling ill to even imagine such a thing!"
"But it was real! The most upsetting act of barbarity! Stuffing the young man's body inside a box not bigger than twelve inches in all dimensions, leaving not a single square inch of empty space inside, makes me think of the possibility that all his bones had to be broken one by one, while holding him alive on drugs, only to expose this so called miracle!"
"But he smiled at me so very nicely, and waved his toe!" the girl protests.
"Now, that's the part where you must have been feeling sick to have imagined that! He looked completely dead to me! It must have been a stuffed corpse, his eyes were made of glass and his face painted and powdered to look alive!"
"No, he wasn't!" she insists. "His cheeks turned red when he saw my waist and he then gave me such a nice smile!" now even Marie seems irritated. "I could tell he has such a charming soul..."
"Even if he was alive," her stepfather interrupts, "Such depraved acts of torture remind of the times of Caligula which is unacceptable in contemporary Austria!"
"Stop fighting at once in my house, father and daughter," Manfred von Paulus says calmly. Marie smiles at her uncle happily. Eugen squeezes his lips tightly together, as if regretting being a bit too graphic in his words, more so in the talk with a young girl.
"I'm sorry, Manfred, I..." Eugen begins.
"I already deduced what the whole story is all about. So you didn't let the lady enjoy the rest of the show that seemed to have fascinated her a great deal, and dragged her away from what seemed to be the most miraculous spectacle in her life," von Paulus is smiling at Eugen very kindly, though Eugen feels like a cat being rubbed the wrong way. Manfred von Paulus certainly knows how to make anyone feel like a cat, but not to every cat the feeling is pleasurable.
"Sorry, Manfred... and Marie.. I just saw too much in my life and I'm no longer in the military and I refuse to see any more sights of human suffering," Eugen raises his manly chin with pride, having made the point.
"Says the man," Manfred von Paulus hems, "Who hired the strictest governess to have his stepdaughter's waist trained with a steel belt. The bolts get tightened every fifteen minutes, more and more until she belt is buried to the backbone of the half-fainted daughter. The same man tells me how he despises Caligula and the horrors of interrogation during war time," he looks again at Marie's tiny waist. The wasped girl isn't smiling.
"That... that is entirely different! What are you talking about, I even pay the governess a double salary for her astounishing work! But it will all pay off in time. Look at that perfection," Eugen points at Marie's waist. "The benefits are immense! The investment would pay off greatly in three or four years when she marries into a wealthy family! That," he points his finger, "ensures she will get a respectable husband, in fact she will even get a choice, she won't marry just the first man who'd make an offering! On the day of her eightteenth birthday there will be a grand party, the richest people would be invited, and why do you think would they come? I'm not the richest man in this city, but they will come. Why? Because a twelve inches waist on a girl is a sight that everybody will come to see! She will have a queue of husbands..."
"If she's still alive. Twelve inches, God. So this is all about the wealth, as I gathered," Manfred von Paulus seems quite saddened. Marie looks pale and tense, she of all people in the room knows exactly what infernal abyss lays between thirteen and a half inches and twelve inches. But like every lady, she has been trained since the earliest age to not show a single sign of distress in relation to tight-lacing and take every turn of the steel bolt with a lively smile. However, right now the feeling is just too overwhelming. Every time her stepfather talks about marriage she feels herself as a slave who's going to be sold to a new house at a certain age and she's having harder and harder times convinving herself it's different.
"Well, maybe there are certain financial benefits in having a beautified waist, and she of all people will be the first to experience them. It's not me who's going to live in a large mansion in luxury, it's her. I'd be lucky to have a share of her future wealth, of course, but... most of all, I care about her own good here. Whereas I see no financial interest or even reason behind the twisting and stretching of the limbs which only disgraces the human figure!"
"It wasn't disgraceful," Marie says weakly and quietly.
"Look," Manfred von Paulus knows that the girl's feelings are hurt too much by all this and a brilliant idea suddenly pops in his mind. "I will prove to you that what these acrobats do does have a great financial interest! And maybe when you smell the money around them, you will grow to respect them," he pulls on a cord next to his chair and a bell rings. A butler comes in immediately and bows humbly at the door. "Franz, my good man, down the street should be a pair of astounishing acrobats performing, if they're still there, give them some money and tell them I can't wait to have a talk with them here."
"Yes, my lord," the butler bows and dissolves in the air, as does Marie's weakness.
"I hope they'd come. I want to sign a contract with them to perform at my forthcoming auction," von Paulus drums his fingers against a wooden plate on his chair's armrest, made specially for that purpose. "Their skills would be put to a good use and if they're indeed as capable as Marie says, their years of training would certainly pay off in the most direct way possible."
"Uncle, I can't even..." Marie ignites with happiness and is now looking at him with the eyes of a puppy, holding her hands to her chest. "Are you really going to let them perform at your mansion?"
"Certainly, my dear Marie, so you can already start thinking of the things you want to ask them to do," von Paulus smiles through his noble moustache.
"Oh! So many things... So many things... But mostly that boy... I wonder if I should write them down? Or maybe... Should I draw them? I've been lacking inspiration for weeks but now I feel so inspired!" the girl develops the most vivacious smile.
"The most perfect idea! You're a promising artist, so go ahead and practice! I suggest that next to each drawing you put the number of kisses you'd give the boy for having accomplished that one fantasy of yours, just to keep him interested," von Paulus chuckles, seeing how Marie immediately goes all red in the face.
"It's not going to happen that my stepdaughter would kiss some street beggar!!" Eugen suddenly raises his voice again after staying silent for quite a while, but Manfred von Paulus stopped him with the gesture of his big and heavy hand.
"That was only a joke to make the young lady smile, my friend," von Paulus grins kindly. "But seriously, Marie, you should put a reasonable sum of money next to each drawing to interest the performer. I would personally sponsor that. It is soon your birthday and that would make the most memorable present."
"If she puts that young man on a hospital's bed, that certainly would make some memories!" Eugen seems pissed, more so that the money is going to be deliberately wasted on those performers.
"Oh, but even before seeing the boy, I am sure he is a great professional and is perfectly aware of his own limitations," von Paulus makes a conciliating face.
"I highly doubt the latter," Eugen raises his brow.
"Well, now... even I am so interested," von Paulus chuckles once more.