Pandora's Lunchbox
Devor M. Barton

Little Pandora O'Callahan was very excited. Today was her first day of school! Yes, today she would be starting Kindergarten, just like the big kids! She had hardly been able to sleep the night before, and now the big day had come at last.

Pandora had been staring out the window since she finished her Fruity-O's. She was out the front door and on her way to the street as soon as the big yellow school bus came into view. She was stopped by the sound of her mother's voice.

"Pandora Llewellyn O'Callahan, you come back here right this minute! I did not raise you to be the kind of girl who would leave home without at least giving her poor, suffering mother a kiss goodbye!"

Pandora went back up the walk and gave her mother a quick peck on the cheek. She inhaled the pleasant scent of whiskey on her mother's breath. "Sorry, Mommy," Pandora said.

"That's all right, dear," said Mama O'Callahan, giving her child an affectionate pat on the head. "Here, I got something for you, to celebrate your first day of school."

Pandora's jaw dropped as she stared at the lunchbox. It was a gleaming metallic red, and Pandora could see her reflection in its shiny surface. She grabbed it in her grubby little hands. "Oh, Mommy! Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Mama O'Callahan crouched down so her head was on a level with her daughter's. "Now, don't forget, you have to eat on the school's free lunch program. This lunchbox is for looks only, so the other kids won't know for a fact that you're a welfare baby. Whatever you do, DON'T OPEN IT! Okay?"

"Okay, Mommy. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Pandora was entranced with her new lunchbox. She couldn't take her eyes off of it as she boarded the bus and rode to school.

Her entire first morning at Ulysses S. Sprechensiedeutch Elementary School, Pandora was unable to pay attention. All through Introductory Finger Painting, Blunted Scissors Safety, and Advanced Paste Eating, Pandora kept glancing back to the cloakroom, where she knew her brand new lunchbox was waiting. It was during one of these staring sessions that Mrs. Higgelly-Piggelly struck Pandora across her knuckles with a ruler.

"Well, Miss O'Callahan. Do you mind telling us what's more important than my lecture on Marionette Puppet Shows of the Ancient Mayans?"

Pandora shoved her injured fingers into her mouth. "No, ma'am," she muttered around her knuckle sandwich.

"Speak up!" Mrs. Higgelly-Piggelly wrenched Pandora's hand from her mouth. "And don't talk with your mouth full!"

"No, ma'am!" Pandora shouted.

"Don't you 'no ma'am' me! Do you want a whiffle-paddle spanking?"

"No, ma'am," Pandora said, more quietly this time.

"What did I just tell you? In the corner, now!" Mrs. Higgelly-Piggelly's arm pointed toward the corner with the suddenness of a weather vane in a tornado.

Head down, Pandora schlepped over to the corner and sat on the tiny stool there. She hardly noticed when Mrs. Higgelly-Piggelly placed the dunce cap on her head, she was concentrating so hard on trying not to cry. Disappointed in not being able to participate in the "Share your Parents' Dirty Secrets" session, Pandora kept glancing at the cloakroom out of the corner of her eye, counting the seconds until lunchtime.

Mrs. Higgelly-Piggelly wouldn't let Pandora leave for lunch until after the rest of the class had emptied out. Her red eyes burning, Pandora clutched her brand new lunch box tightly to her body as she made her way to the cafeteria.

Once she had her tray, Pandora walked into the dual-use gymnasium and discovered that none of her classmates had left a seat open for her. Instead, Pandora took a seat at a table all by herself. She stared blankly into the distance while chewing on her peanut-butter-and-lard sandwich.

Even after eating her green-beans-in-cream-of-mushroom-soup-sauce, Pandora was still hungry. Since she had been the last person in line, every other student had gotten seconds on their raisin cobbler jubilee, and there hadn't been any dessert left for her. Pandora's first day of school had left her very hungry.

Pandora found her eyes wandering back to her lunchbox, sitting on the table next to her. For the first time, Pandora wondered what her mommy had put in the lunchbox. It was very heavy, although the adrenaline released by the excitement of carrying the box made it feel much lighter.

The lunchbox was held shut by a simple spring-loaded latch. Although Pandora knew her mommy would be very angry if she were disobeyed, it would only take a little pressure to counter-act the spring. She could tell her mommy it was an accident... And as she thought, the thoughts became action.

The lid on the lunchbox flew open like a catapult. Pandora screamed and threw her arms in front of her face to protect herself from the items that spewed forth. Fattening desserts flew through the air: Twinkies and Ho-Hos, Dove Bars and donuts, cheesecakes and chocolate ice cream; they all flew through the air, covering the tables in the cafeteria/gymnasium. Pandora struggled to close the lid again, but wasn't able to get it shut until the flow of sweets subsided.

Pandora glimpsed the inside of the lunchbox just before she got the latch closed. It was completely empty. With a mixture of shock and horror, Pandora surveyed the damage around her. Every table was piled high with luscious, yummy, fat-laden goodies. The other elementary students were gorging on the unexpected helpings of birthday party treats. Even as Pandora watched, the formerly thin American children undid their pants to make room for their rapidly expanding mid-sections. "Oh, no, Mommy," Pandora said, starting to cry. "What have I done? What horror have I released on the world?"

Over the sounds of her sobs, Pandora heard a tiny, high-pitched voice crying out. Pandora stifled her tears in order to make out the strange voice's words more clearly. "Help me," it said. "Help me, help me, help me! Oh, please let me out. Help me!" It didn't take long for her to track the sound to her new lunchbox.

She opened the lid again and stuck her face in the box. It was still empty, but as she surveyed the immaculate white entire, her delicate ears traced the sound to her plaid thermos, held in place by metal clips to one side of the lunch box's interior.

Removing the thermos, Pandora unscrewed the white cup on its top. The pleading voice got louder. With a deep breath, Pandora undid the vacuum- sealed stopper.

"Oh, thank you," said the strange voice, louder now, and sounding effervescent outside the confines of the container. "You have no idea how good that feels."

Pandora stared into her thermos. The liquid looked black in the poor interior lighting. "What are you?" she asked.

"I'm Diet Coke!" responded the voice. "Less than one calorie per serving. I'm the only hope left, now that the evil of fattening desserts has been released upon the world. Thanks to me, people can eat all the fatty foods they want and it won't affect their figures at all, as long as they drink me. After all, I'm diet. Go ahead, try me!"

Tentatively, Pandora raised the thermos to her lips and took a sip. She smiled, for it tasted sweet, but she knew it would protect her figure, so she could grow up sexy like her mommy. Pandora took a larger drink, savoring the cool liquid in her mouth before swallowing it.

Everything was going to be all right.

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