Boxing Day

Your rating: None
No votes yet


When your end is near, have no fear. Grab your cosiest socks, hop in the box. Hurry up, tape it up. Keep in to stay unseen - and enjoy your eternal in-between. 




You pull your suitcase through the yard, towards the cardboard box. The wheels jammed with plucks of grass, it hops excitedly behind you. You hum; some jingle from tv. It cheers you on. You stop at the entry flap, turn around, and gobble up the world. You refuse to forget. You cram like a student does minutes before the exam: the quiet house (house) – the dappled evening sun (evening) - the sweet stink of the bins (binstink) - the rustling leaves (rustling) - the umbrella, tied-up (umbrella) - Emma. You flinch, then smile and step into your box.


As the flap falls close behind you, a beam of glittering dust becomes a line on the wall, a thread, a spider’s silk fibre; then disappears with the rest of the world. You shove the suitcase in a corner. You already feel like you’ve been here forever. It’s small but cosy: a bed, the closet from your bedroom. Soft cardboard floor. A chair facing a poster fulfilling a window’s job. A big orange sun and vibrant green fields in a baroque golden frame. (How decadent. Like looking out the Versailles!) Three more posters under the bed to rotate with the seasons. Still in your summer shorts, you swap the fields for winter. Ha, you say to the snow-capped mountains, I'm mad like that! Your laughter dies out fast. You blame the cardboard walls.


Boxing had started about four years before. If anyone knew a revolution had started and an era ended, it had not been you. Back When Things Used To Be So Simple hobbled to an end with a largely ignored press release on some obscure theory, and the odd box erected in basements and backyards. Granny flats 2.0. You would see one pop up at your neighbour’s, and know to buy a card. But it spread faster and faster. Took over suburban backyards like a fungus. The landscape, once all green patches strung together by concrete ribbon, got dotted with square brown pixels. Swing sets had to go, barbecues and lawn chairs flooded Facebook Marketplace. Some rent out their yard, pitying the city dwellers, but not enough not to charge them an arm and a leg.


After driveways filled up, people's houses: man caves, guest rooms, home gyms (Oh no! The cross-trainer must go! It's sad, so very sad, but a small price to pay for grandpa's life), and that awkward space under the stairs. At one point you put the pantry up for rent. But already then, you had started to be forgetful. Out of habit you kept going in, mid-breakfast, for coffee beans or eggs, only to stub your toe on that cardboard box with some inner-city yuppie's nan. As space got scarce, the boxes shrank from the size of a shed to a shower cabin to a dishwasher. One day Emma told you Ben From Work had stored his father under his desk. She considered this somewhat ill-mannered but felt for him, so pretended not to notice him sitting sideways.


Boardwalks filled up. Traffic was obstructed. A law was passed as fly-tipping boxed relatives got out of hand. The government was powerless and knew it. This crisis after all was spurred by two unstoppable forces: time, and grieving families. Fighting the first one: laughable. The second, a PR nightmare.


The nation cheered with relief, when a mathematician discovered that a sack was in theory just a thin crinkly box. A patent and two factories later, he started selling sealable body-sized brown paper bags at five thousand percent profit margins. Better Non-Biodegradable Alternative Passing Options, “better bags” for short, made him the richest man on the planet. It was the cheapest and most space efficient option - the only one for many. For the unlucky fellas who went sudden and quick, the state installed little cabinets throughout the city that dispensed emergency bags. But the sights of piles of formless bags of plebs bothered academics and philanthropes alike.


A Space Management Committee was assembled. Representatives were appointed, 10-year plans drawn up. Administrators nearly nodded off their heads at the suggestion of key action items and sprained their wrists signing off on potential advisory policy-guideline suggestions. Out came a glossy campaign that rebranded emergency sacks to “Doggy Bags”, so citizens would take one home. When brought to a designated facility, you got some cash in return. The result was less sacks, but an unforeseen surge of shabbily dressed figures roaming the streets with wheelbarrows. Defeated, a 700-page report and a 34-page summary was published detailing alas, nothing more could be done.


But you, you had prepared. You had felt it coming, even before the theory broke: a soft fogginess in the mind, a brittleness to the thought. One day you brought home a ten by ten slab of cardboard, tied on the roof of the Volvo. Emma (typical) had raised her eyebrow: really?; you always exaggerate; isn’t it a little early?; and where do you plan on putting that; yes we need the piano; but I wanted to lay out a little kitchen garden there. (This she had said for years, and you both knew the world would come to end before that patch of yard would see a single pumpkin.) You did not tell her you felt it coming.


The fog got denser. Slow at first; after three years rapidly. Thoughts and faces still floated around, but when you plucked them, turned to dust and fell right through your fingers. On the seventh of August, you watched Emma quietly drag the cardboard from the garage onto the lawn.




When their end is near, have no fear. Rush them in the box, slam the locks. Check for slits, keep it away from the kids. If it starts to reek, someone took a peek.


About the Author: 
Yasmine Sfendla is a quantum physicist, studying fluids and light.
Share this fiction

Quantum Theories: A to Z

T is for ...

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

U is for ...

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

S is for ...

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

L is for ...

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

Q is for ...

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

K is for ...

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

F is for ...
Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

C is for ...

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

M is for ...

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

X is for ...

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

D is for ...

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

G is for ...

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

M is for ...

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

H is for ...
Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

O is for ...
Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

T is for ...

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

G is for ...

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

L is for ...
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

I is for ...

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

S is for ...

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

P is for ...
Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

H is for ...
Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

D is for ...

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

J is for ...
Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

P is for ...

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

A is for ...
Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

R is for ...

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

C is for ...

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

C is for ...

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

R is for ...

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

A is for ...

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

V is for ...
Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

E is for ...

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

K is for ...

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

Z is for ...
Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

W is for ...

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

B is for ...
Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

A is for ...
Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

N is for ...

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

Copyright © 2020 Centre for Quantum Technologies. All rights reserved.