A gilded cage, by common definition, is a place that has a lot of benefits but is undesirable, for one reason or another.
At least that’s what I have heard.
How one ends into a gilded cage is… curious. Circumstances change with each person, but I’m sure that my circumstances have happened before and will continue in the future, and fortunately I won’t see it. I just hope nobody has to go through the exact situation I was in.
My own cage was formed when I received the key in the mail. I was sent a package from one of the construction enterprises downtown, which wasn’t weird at all. I was known for doing investments, among them real estate investments. The key included a brochure. I remember that it had a photo of a beautiful building, and some promotions. What got my attention was the very eye-catching paragraph that said: “For a limited time, you’ll get your new apartment fully furbished and customized by our designers”. Money wasn’t a problem for me, and I was frankly starting to dislike my home at that time, so I called the number offered alongside the brochure.
“Harper & Harper Construction, Conway Harper talking.”
“Good afternoon. I received a package in mail from your company, and I’m interested in the promotion about the customized apartment. I’d like more information about the matter, and about the key I received.”
“It’s easy, my good fella, very easy. Please answer these questions for a better service.”
Mr. Harper proceeded to do some type of survey, mostly about my personality and my job. I remember he asked me what my fondest memory was, the proudest moment of my life, and something I’d like to see in my future. Several times during the poll I tried to interrupt him and query about the prize, but he ignored my requests. Only at the end was when he bothered to pay attention to my question.
“No worries, good fella. No worries at all. Satisfaction guaranteed.”
“Again, how much will it cost?”
“Why don’t you come to the building tomorrow and we discuss the payment then? At this hour tomorrow we’ll have your brand new apartment customized and ready for you.” With great haste, he gave the address (which matched the one in the brochure), and hung up before I could repeat the question for the tenth time. I called again to insist, and was greeted with the same words I had heard shortly before hanging up. “No worry, good fella, no worry at all. Satisfaction guaranteed.”
As money wasn’t a worry (as I said before), I decided to just ask tomorrow and write them a check. I have to admit I was curious what the people at Harper & Harper would do.
I awoke the next day; anticipation adding some spring to my step as I made my way out the door and to my destination. Hoping it would be worthwhile, I arrived at the building, key in hand. Only that morning, I noticed they had never said anything about it.
I was greeted in the lobby by a man in his fifties, with a smile baring all his teeth and a sickening minted breath. “Conway Harper here, good fella. Welcome!”
“Good afternoon. I’m here for…”
“For the customized apartment. I know, good fella, I know,” Harper interrupted, beckoning me to an elevator. “You’re a hard client, good fella. My men spent hours gathering the right materials for your new home; very few need that kind of attention.”
“I’m sorry about that. How much is it going to cost, again?”
Harper gave me a price with six numbers, which seemed cheap to me considering the apartment was fully customized from scratch. I shrugged and said it was fine, but that I’d only pay if I liked the apartment. He continued grinning. “No worry, good fella, no worry at all. Satisfaction guaranteed.”
We got to one of the top floors, and Harper hurriedly walked down the hall. There was a surprising amount of people walking, as if the hall were a popular meeting point. I followed Harper until he stopped in front of a very generic glass door with a steel frame. I looked at it with disdain. “This isn’t even worth ten dollars.”
“Oh. Oh, my apologies. It was already in here. The apartment inside will meet your expectations, I promise. Come in, good fella, come in.”
I waited for Harper to open the door, but he didn’t move. Instead he pointed at the door again. “Anything wrong?” he asked. I finally realized that surely the key to that apartment was the one I received along with the brochure. I was right and the door opened effortlessly.
The sight of the apartment was surprisingly beautiful. I gasped, mesmerized. “Wow, you guys do know how to do your job.”
“Go in, good fella, go in,” Harper insisted. I absentmindedly gave him the key. I stepped inside the apartment, with the man behind me. Harper started a long spiel on every furniture piece in the apartment. All of them were made of materials I found out I had an almost instinctual liking to. Marble, wood and a myriad of other materials composed what would be my new home.
However I wasn’t fully convinced. My face must have alerted Harper about that, because he jumped and got to one of the doors. “Not satisfied yet, good fella? Take a look here,” he said, opening the door. I obeyed, and found inside, a rocking horse.
In the poll, I had been asked for my fondest memory. I had talked about how my father had created for me a rocking horse for my seventh birthday; identical to one popular cartoon horse at the time. As that was the last time I saw my father, I held the memory very close to me, because it was a sign that he had loved me and knew me very well. I had no idea what happened to the rocking horse itself, though. One day, it just disappeared. I never saw it again until I found it in that apartment.
I approached and examined it, finding that it even had my father’s signature carved onto one of the hind legs.
“Wow, this is…”
“We did a good job, good fella, didn’t we?”
I couldn’t deny they did, but I felt an odd feeling of…distress. I had never described the rocking horse itself. I merely said why it was my fondest memory.
“That’s not all, good fella. Come here.”
Harper directed me to a second door. When he opened it I was tackled by a furry beast. It took me a minute to realize that it was a dog I had in my teenage years; the same dog that had won several competitions for me. It had disappeared too. I had chalked it to some thieves, jealous of my cool dog. The room itself had several dog toys, which I used to play with my dog for a good while. I didn’t wonder even once how it was still alive after so long, and as youthful as I remembered. All that time Harper stood at the entrance of the room, still grinning. I was getting sick of that man and his constant ‘good fella’ catchphrase.
“And that’s not all there is, good fella. There’s one more surprise left.”
Harper led me to a third door, but he didn’t open it. Instead, he gestured for me to go ahead. Unsure of what I was going to find in there, I slowly opened the door, and this time I got glomped by a human.
It was a woman, matching the kind of woman I like. She kissed me on the lips. All I could do is stare in shock, but I…I didn’t feel violated by being kissed by a stranger I met literally seconds before. She got off me, and I admired every curve in her body.
“Who is she?”
“The girlfriend you always wanted, good fella!”
What I wanted in my future. She was it. It was as if she was carved from the raw and personal thoughts of desire that no one but me could know. Harper & Harper had somehow gotten me a woman who apparently didn’t feel an ounce of discomfort at her situation. It was as if she had been tailored specifically for me.
I was dazed by the surprises, but I was convinced of one thing: I had to buy the apartment. If I did, I’d have a beautiful living place, my rocking horse, the dog I had lost, and a girlfriend who surely would be a wonderful wife.
A perfect apartment, indeed.
“I’ll take it. I must take it. How much did you say it was?”
He told me, and I took out a check and filled it; with a bonus 20% in the price, out of sheer gratefulness. Harper put the check in his pocket, and bid farewell to me.
“It was a pleasure doing business with you, good fella. A pleasure. Please enjoy your new home. And have no worries, good fella. No worries at all. Satisfaction guaranteed.” With that, the odd man and his minty breath finally left.
I plopped down onto an impossibly comfortable couch, sighing. My dog lay by my side. I sat there for a good while, daydreaming on how my life would be now. After that, I talked to the woman, who surprised me with her intellect and elegance. She told me the story of her life; quite an interesting tale. In one moment I asked her how she got into the apartment deal. She started at me blankly for a while, until she stammered, “I’m not sure. I was there, knowing I’d find my future husband. And then you opened the door.”
I frowned, intrigued by that answer. “Well, you didn’t appear from nothing, that’s for sure,” and she nodded after that. However, soon the enthusiasm about my new home filled me again, so any bleak thoughts and odd questions left my mind while I relaxed along with that woman.
For an hour or so I just lazed around, with my new girlfriend. We talked and found out we had a lot in common. We continued like that until I stood up, stretching. “I should go to my old home to pick up my belongings. I also have to sell my old furniture.”
“Don’t take long!” She gave me a farewell, waving her hand.
“I won’t,” I smiled, walking to the glass door and pulling the handle.
The door didn’t budge. I did it over and over again, figuring it was stuck.
“Huh. It’s locked…”
I put my hand in my pocket to take the key, but my fingers only sensed empty air. In sudden panic, I turned all my pockets inside out, letting everything fall on the floor. The key wasn’t anywhere to be found.
“What did you do with the key?”- The woman asked, trying to sound calm.
“I-I don’t know. I had it when I entered and…” And that’s when I remembered I had given it to Harper. I told it to the woman, who let out a sigh of relief.
“Got a cellphone? I think I don’t have mine.”
“I do, here it is.” I picked it up from the floor, and found the number I had called to several hours ago. I pressed the button and lifted the cellphone to my ear, but was greeted only by static. “What the hell?”
Just in case, I dialed other numbers, always getting the same result. Static. I thought that the cellphone may have been damaged when it fell, but a part of me had figured that it was very unlikely. My expression must have alerted the woman about the state of the cellphone, because she paled.
“No, we can’t be locked in here.” She ran to the glass door, and banged her fists on the glass door, trying to attract anyone’s attention “Help! Help! We’re trapped in here!” she shouted. For some strange reason dozens of people passed in front of the door, despite this being merely an apartment building, but none of them looked at our direction. They continued walking and talking to each other.
“Maybe there isn’t enough noise.”
I looked around for something I could use to make more noise. I found a marble candlestick in a cabinet. I ignored the exquisite carvings of the candlestick and hit the glass door as hard as I could. The noise hurt my ears, but I continued. Nobody seemed to notice. “How can’t they hear a thing?!”
After some hits more, I left the candlestick where I found it. We three, the dog, woman and me, sat in the parlor. We were starting to get hungry. It was dinner time, after all. While the woman moaned about how she’d love to have some steak, she stood up, stricken by an idea.
“The windows! If we can open one of them, we could get out.”
“We’re on the 15th floor,” I replied, sullen. She wasn’t taken aback by the slight problem.
“We’ll throw something with a request of help. Somebody has to see it, don’t you think?”
My mood brightened at the idea. It could work, right? I approached the window and was relieved to see that I could open it easily. The sun was setting, but I had no time to watch that. I looked down to the street, where I saw specks moving. People were walking down there.
The woman managed to find some paper and a pen, which I used to scribble a quick message. She also brought a small object that would make the paper plummet down after I covered it with the message. I let the package fall.
“There. It could work.” The words got stuck in my mouth when I saw how the package vanished in thin air. “Okay, really. What the hell?”
I quickly grabbed the candlestick again, and threw it through the window. It vanished too just a few meters down, and as it was to be expected, nobody noticed it. I started to freak out when I realized I was completely trapped. No way out, and no way to get anybody’s attention.
This apartment may as well be a coffin.
The fridge was found to be completely empty, the only thing we had was tap water. It was nice to know we wouldn’t dehydrate, but we couldn’t ward off hunger with water. The dog whimpered when he realized there was nothing for him, either.
Trying to stay positive and thinking that the next day I’d be able to break the glass door, I went to sleep. The woman lay to my side, and hugged me. I sensed her uncertainty and fear, and tried my best to comfort her. But I knew it wasn’t much. She sobbed on my back, talking about how when she had seen me she had thought she had found the man for the rest of her life, and how we would have a wonderful life together. I took her hand, and said the only thing I could think of: “We’ll be together until the end.”
I couldn’t fall asleep until after she did.
Waking up the next day was like a dream. I was on a very soft mattress, with my dream woman at my side. In my dream apartment with my dream pet. Only when I fully realized I was awake did I know that my situation was more akin to a nightmare than a dream. Trying not to wake the woman up, I got off the bed and got to the glass door. I regretted throwing down the candlestick, but I grabbed one of the dining room chairs, and started hitting the door.
At some point the noise must have awoken the woman, because when I stopped to rest she was looking at me with sadness. She inquired about any progress, which prompted me to examine every inch of the glass. Not even a crack.
The day went by in a blur. We tried to break the door. I did, and then she did, then both of us did at the same time. We got tired relatively often, having to rest every once in a while. The hunger weakened us each minute along with the intense exercise of trying to escape. The dog continued to pitifully watch us. We started to break the furniture we could, trying to find a material strong enough to break the strangely resistant glass door.
We also tried to throw more messages down the window, but they always vanished. The woman also tried to pass a paper under the glass door, then around it, but there was not even a slit where the thin piece of paper could pass through.
And none of the people walking mere inches away noticed anything. We may as well be a wall, for all they know or care.
We slept once again hugging each other until we kind of fainted from the hunger.
On the third day in the apartment, we didn’t have the strength to continue trying to escape in any way. We sat amongst the ruins of our furniture, trying to stay positive, but the weight of reality was overwhelming. We’d die irremediably unless a miracle happened. A miracle to gain our strength again.
But what I have learned is that miracles don’t happen unless one does something to reach them.
It was heartbreaking to kill the dog I had lost when I was a teenager and oddly found again, but we were desperate. Dog flesh was definitely not a meal I wanted to have, but it was needed. It was our only hope, as it was the last food we had. Unless we considered eating broken furniture. Or eating each other. But we couldn’t think that. We had bonded in our situation. We were partners to the end.
The silver lining of the situation was that the kitchen was fully customized as well with pots and pans, so we didn’t have to eat raw dog flesh.
The dog meat lasted two days, mainly because the woman and I didn’t feel happy of having to eat the animal that had meant so much to me. So we ate only small pieces. The meat, as expected, started to go bad. In a suicidal move, we didn’t bother to put the meat in the refrigerator. Instead we left it on the counter; perhaps because we didn’t want to drag out our suffering for too long.
We used the newfound energy in continuing our escape attempts. The furniture was reduced to shambles and pieces of marble and wood, nothing resembling the furniture it used to form. My fingers and hands were bruised, and ached; the constant effort of trying to break the glass door had been too much for my hands to resist.
And the fucking glass door didn’t even have a scratch on it.
I’m not sure when the exact moment was that I lost hope and resigned to sit in a corner, with that woman on my lap. The dog meat really didn’t agree with her, so the last day and half I was the one to make the effort, while she crawled around in agony and threw up in random spots of the floor. Yet there was no other option than continuing to eat.
And that’s how we’ll end. Cuddled into a corner in the remains of what was once was my dream life. Caught in a trap with no clear idea of how it even happened. Having eaten a friend gone and then found and now gone again. Two strangers predestined to meet and be happy; finding each other in the strangest and most horrific of circumstances.
And at the end, the only thing that mattered is that we’d be able to escape this apartment; even if it’s by dying. I don’t feel bitter about it.
A soul can’t be trapped in a cage, after all.
Written by WhyAmIReadingThis