Fiction: The Secret of True Happiness
Jim had never seen anything like it. The crate was filled with hundreds of pieces, each wrapped tightly in plastic and accompanied by its own simple instructions. He picked up a piece and read the note: “Open December 23. Only two more shopping days until Christmas!”
It was the first of January, so Jim put the piece back in the box.
He peeled off a thin pamphlet marked “Instructions” from the inside lid of the crate. The 16-page booklet contained extensive legal and warranty information and the following instructions in English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Tagalog:
1. This box contains 365 components. Each one is marked with the day it should be opened.
2. Be sure to open only one component per day.
(A thought crossed Jim’s mind: What if it’s a leap year? )
3. Start on January 1st and proceed to the end of the year. (Note: In the event of a leap year, contact the manufacturer for special instructions.)
(Okay, that answers that question.)
4. At the end of one year, after you’ve opened all 365 pieces, you will have unlocked the secret of true happiness.
Jim found the package marked “Open January 1. Happy New Year!” and ripped off the plastic wrap. The package contained a piece of metal, about the size and shape of a half-smoked cigar. Jim shrugged his shoulders. He was unsure what to make of it. At the same time, he was curious about what tomorrow would bring. As he’d soon learn, each metal piece was different from the next. Some were flat and some were round. Some looked like they might be part of a puzzle; others looked like they couldn’t possibly fit together with anything else in the crate.
Jim was intrigued at first by the apparent randomness of the metal pieces. He placed each unwrapped object on the kitchen table, thinking he’d soon be assembling some kind of sculpture. Maybe it would even be a mobile he could hang from the ceiling. By the end of the first month, however, Jim was becoming frustrated by the fact that the pieces did not fit together, at least not in any way he could figure out. Is this a joke, he wondered? Still, he was determined to see how the mystery played out.
When the components no longer fit on the kitchen table, Jim laid them out on his living room floor. By July, he was no closer to figuring out how the pieces fit together. And he was running out of space inside his small apartment. Even though it was the start of the rainy season, Jim started putting the pieces in his backyard. Fortunately, the metal didn’t rust in the rain.
On the last day of the year, Jim picked up the final unwrapped component. The note piece read, “Open December 31. Congratulations, you now have everything you need for true happiness!” Finally, Jim thought, tearing at the plastic wrapping. He was ready for the “ah-ha” moment; that instant when all would be revealed.
The final piece was a small pyramid-shaped object. Jim rotated it in his hand. He squinted and rubbed his forehead, as if these actions would help him understand. But he still couldn’t figure out the mystery of the metal pieces. He scanned the rest of his collection, from the first half-smoked cigar on his kitchen table, to the clutter of dusty pieces on his living room floor, to the last four months’ worth of stuff scattered across his backyard. It wasn’t a puzzle or a sculpture or a mobile of any kind. It was just 365 random pieces of junk.
Jim felt the rage come upon him all at once. He dropped the metal pyramid and smashed it under his boot. He then gathered up all of the pieces on the kitchen table in a large tablecloth and flung the entire bundle out into the yard. Next, he stomped on all of the components on his living room floor before hurling them all outside. Lastly, Jim lifted the cardboard crate. The secret of true happiness, he thought. Yeah right! What did I miss, he asked himself? What did I miss? He flipped over the crate, shook it violently, and gave one final thwack to the bottom of the box.
The instruction pamphlet dropped onto the kitchen floor.
Jim tossed the crate off to the side and picked up the thin manual, flipping through the English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Tagalog instructions for the missing clue. Any clue! That’s when he noticed a note on the back cover. In the finest of fine print. It read:
HAPPINESS is all around us.
No Assembly Required.
Developed by Obsessive Gimmicks, Inc.
San Francisco, California. U.S.A.
Manufactured in China.
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