Jars (a short story)
“What are all the jars for?” he asked.
“She keeps things in them,” her father responded.
He looked at them again and said, “But they’re empty.”
The father looked at him, then at the jars and nodded toward them. “Not all things… are seen.”
The man stared at the father, then looked back at the jars. “So… I mean… what’s in them? Something invisible? Some kind of gas?”
The father hesitated. “Invisible yes, but not a gas.”
The man looked at him, in a silent request to explain further.
“She keeps her… her feelings in them.”
“Her feelings?” the man said, half laughing the words.
The father gave him a hard look.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, “but how do you keep feelings in a jar?”
“We don’t know, but she does it somehow.”
The man looked at the jars again, more closely. There were a variety of jars, from the usual glass Mason canning and preserving jars, down to more mundane old mayonnaise jars. All of them appeared to have had the lid sealed on with wax or hot glue or something.
“Go ahead,” the father said, “touch them.”
The man looked at him, and reached out to a nearby one. It was a large Mason jar, with a lid and ring type top with the word “Pear” written on the top. He paused with his finger about an inch away and looked at the father again. He was looking out the window. The man moved his hand the last inch and touched the jar and pulled it back quickly.
“They all are,” said the father, still staring out of the window.
“But why?” The man asked, looking around the room. The jars weren’t near the window, so they probably weren’t heated by the sun’s rays, they didn’t appear to be close to any vents or radiators. Besides, it was July, the radiators wouldn’t be on. He touched a few more jars, and interestingly, they were all different temperatures, but all warm. The warmest was a tall narrow jar that, by reading what was left of the paper label, used to hold pitted olives.
“They are warm because,” the father paused again, “we think they are warm because they are the happy ones.”
“Then, where are the sad ones?”
“We don’t know. She sometimes disappears for a while. I saw her once coming back from the woods across the field. Her hands were covered in dirt and mud. We think she buries them in the creek.”
At that moment, the door to the room flung open. The girl was standing there with a yellow sun dress on, hair that looked to have only been half brushed, and holding a small blue jar. She stared wild eyed at the man and her father for a moment, then ran over, sat down and quickly put her shoes on, not bothering to tie them, and ran back out the door. A moment later, the screen door slammed against the door jamb.
The father looked back out the window and the man followed his gaze to see the girl climbing over the fence and start running across the field, to the trees in the distance.
“I think you’d better be going now,” said the father.
“I’m supposed to be here to help her. The state sent me to check on her and…”
“I don’t think you can. Maybe someone can, some day, but not you, not now.”
The man started to say something else, but could tell by the father’s look that arguing would get nowhere. He just said, “Yes sir, I’ll still file a report with the board. They’ll probably want to follow up.”
“You do what you need to, but I think you should go now,” and he gestured to the door to the room.
The man walked out of the room and down the hall, he nodded to the girl’s mother in the living room and walked out the front door, held open by the father. He stopped on the porch and turned to the father, “If you change your mind, give me a call,” and held out his business card.
The father looked at it for a second, then took it from the man without a word.
The man turned back, went down the steps and around the front of his car, nearly tripping over a cat that ran through his legs to get away. He half laughed and looked up at the father, then back down at his own feet, then stopped cold.
At his feet, where his tire had rolled to a stop, was a small tail of orange and white fur.
“Oh dear God,” he said, looking up to the father, “I’m so sorry.”
The father walked over and looked down. “A kitten,” he said. “I suspect that’s what she needed the jar for,” he continued, looking back toward the field, his daughter long gone from sight.
“I’m so sorry,” the man repeated.
“You should go,” said the father flatly.
The man got in his car and pulled out of the driveway and down the dusty dirt road that led to the main road. About a mile from the house, was a small bridge over a creek. The man stopped the car and thought for a moment. He got out, and walked down the embankment to the creek and looked upstream and down. It was a clear, clean stream of water, no more than perhaps three feet across and maybe a foot deep. He knelt and dipped his hand in the water. It was cool to the touch. He smiled. “You’re not actually going to believe that story, are you?” he thought to himself, and stood back up and stared at the water. After a few seconds, he noticed it turned slightly muddy. It had been clear as a glass of freshly poured drinking water, and now he noticed a bit more silt in the water as if it had been disturbed upstream. He looked upstream again and then back down at the water at his feet. He knelt and put his hand in it again.
It was noticeably colder than before.
The man got back into his car and drove away. He never got a call from the father, and he didn’t mind.