Suzanne Clement Word count:2678
Runaway Bay, TX 76426
Story Prompt for #334 Hoarding Away: Set all or part of your story in a jam-packed storage unit
By Suzanne Clement
My mouth opens big and wide gulping in air. My chest lifts as my lungs expand filling with air.
I must have fallen asleep.
I can feel the cold hard floor beneath me. I don’t know if it is the coldness or the hardness that has made my bottom numb. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. I stretch my arms above my head reaching for the ceiling that I know is up there somewhere although I can’t see it since I have yet to open my eyes. Stretch, reach. I can feel the pull of the muscles in my shoulders and back. They are screaming at me. Screaming because I have been sitting way longer than a middle- aged person should sit on a cold hard surface. I bring my arms down. I hit something hard but with some give. It sounds like boxes falling. Like cardboard boxes. Where could I be that there would be cardboard boxes? I am not home; there are no boxes at my house. I unpacked and threw away all of my boxes months ago.
I open my eyes tentatively one at a time. The light from the single hanging bulb is not terribly bright. I look all around me. Floor to ceiling, all I can see other than the swaying light bulb is stacked cardboard boxes.
I put my hands on the ground to boost myself up to standing slightly bumping a stack of boxes. Another tower of boxes tumbles over. I groan audibly. Knees and other joints add their wise cracks. I rub my bottom trying to get some feeling back. How long had I been sitting there? I lean over to stretch my lower back some more. I stop mid-lean as the writing on the box grabs my attention.
Memories. The side of the box reads memories. The date on the box is from twenty years ago. It’s not that the box has the word memories dated twenty years ago on it that caught my eye; it’s the distinct penmanship. I step a little closer to get a better look. I check the handwriting on the box. It looks like my handwriting. In fact, I had a box that had memorabilia with a date written on it. I unpacked this box or one just like it in my new house just months ago. I am certain I unpacked this box. I am certain I got rid of the boxes too. Did someone repurpose my boxes from the trash bin and stack them in here?
I stand back up straight to look at my surroundings again. Again, all I see from floor to ceiling is stacked boxes. I had to have gotten in here somehow. There must be a door.
I turn to my right. Boxes. I turn to my left. Boxes. I turn and look behind me. More boxes. I look in all directions and all I can see besides the light bulb is boxes. More importantly I don’t see a door. I am… boxed in.
I had to have gotten in here in some way. There must be a way out. I guess the first thing I should do is move some boxes so I can get a better look at where I am. I reach for the box in front of me. It has the word jam written on the side. Again, it is written in my handwriting. Funny I don’t remember having a box of jam to unpack. I wonder if it really has jam in it.
I tug at the box. I guess the weight of the other boxes on top is making it hard to pull out. I give a rough jerk. The box comes loose. I fall back into another stack of boxes. Letting go the box drops to the floor hard. Something inside breaks.
On my knees, on the floor I open the box. The packing paper on top is sticky. I think it really did have jam in it. Removing the packing paper away from the top, I see several jars, broken. I don’t know why but suddenly I feel sad. Looking at the broken sticky mess of jam jars I think about my recent break-up. Because of my impulsivity in chasing after a stupid fling, I destroyed the happiness that I could have had. Just like my impulsivity to grab a box from the middle of a stack instead of starting at the top of the stack caused me to drop the box and break what was inside. All these jars reduced to pulp and shards of glass. Broken beyond repair.
The tears that welled up in my eyes as I sat on the floor began their trek down my face. I reached to wipe them away. Red jam smeared across my cheek. I wiped my hands on my jeans to get rid of the sticky reminder. Red jam smeared across my jeans. How embarrassing! It’s not just that I now have red jam smeared across my face and all down the front of my jeans but somehow, in some way I feel that everyone will know that I am a failure. I have marked myself. People will know I cheated. And they will know I ran away; ran away to this new town where no one should know who I am or what I did. But they will know. I will be exposed and vulnerable.
Deep in the pit of my stomach I feel frustration. Here I am stuck in room with a bunch of boxes that may or may not be mine but seem to have my handwriting all over them. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know how I am going to get out. I have jam smeared all over my tear- stained face as well as down the front of my jeans. And now I feel a little rumble not in my stomach but just slightly lower. My body seizes up as a cramp grabs a hold of my bowel. Now I feel fear. Not because deep down I know that I unpacked all my boxes after moving the from the storage facility to my new house, but because I think I am going to have to find a bathroom quickly.
I jump up and move the box with the broken jam jars to the side. I start moving boxes from the top in essence relocating the towers to create a new path. My gut has calmed down, but nature will call again.
I start looking at what is written on the boxes. All the boxes I have moved have the words ‘FROG Jam’ written on them. The dates on the box seem to vary. Who would keep a storage building full of jam much less jam made of frogs. Gross!
A few minutes ago, the first box I saw had the word ‘memories’ written on it. I look around to see if I can still see that box. I don’t see it anywhere. All I can see is boxes of FROG jam.
I close my eyes. I take a deep breath in through my nose. It is an attempt to remain calm; to not panic. I smell raspberries with a hint of orange and ginger. It brings a memory from my early childhood. My grandmother is in her kitchen. We are making jam from the berries we had picked that morning. She is the picture of kindness and adaptability. She exudes a sense of optimism and energy. When I am with her, I feel peaceful.
I have not thought of my grandmother in years. She died when I was still quite young, but I remember those summers I was able to visit her. My grandmother was born at home on the farm to a very poor family. They didn’t have much in worldly possessions, but the family was not wanting for love. In her life she survived two World Wars, lived through a nationwide depression, watched the first rocket go into space and the first person to walk on the moon. She was married for many years, had seven children two of whom she lost in childbirth and one she buried as a grown adult. It is only her now that lives in the little farmhouse since my grandpops passed away. The house has been in her family since before she was born. The old wood burning stove with cooktop that all the meals were cooked on when she was growing up and when she was a new bride gave way to the new electric stove top and oven that everyone uses these days. Adaptability at its finest.
As a small child sitting on the stool in that kitchen, I am mesmerized watching as she dances between the stove top and the counter where all jars and equipment are laid out. Every move she makes seems choreographed. She is talking the whole time and I am nodding along in agreement not necessarily understanding all the words she is saying. I do understand her tone of voice though. It captures me and holds me close and safe.
Life is a series of recipes. We all have a list of ingredients and what we make with it is up to us. Now I am going to share with you my most important jam recipe. You payin’ attention? Start with forgiveness. Forgiveness, she says with energy, is important when you get older. Remember that. Forgiveness of yourself. Forgiveness of others. She stops to look at me and point in my direction the wooden spoon she was using to stir her fruity concoction. Remember to release your feelings of resentment. Resentment it will eat your right up from the inside. Like a worm in an apple.
In my memory, I nodded at her. I knew about worms and apples. I bit into a big juicy one just last week; worm that is, not apple. She went back to stirring. I could hear bubbles popping as her mixture started to boil.
If you have forgiveness in your life, then you will have the next important ingredient with redemption. Redemption is a big word with a big outcome. With redemption you can be saved from yourself when you make your big mistakes. ‘Cause sweetie you are going to make some big mistakes in life. But don’t be your own worst enemy. She turned the burner off and reached for the potholder so she could grab the pan’s handle. No ma’am, you remember forgiveness and redemption.
She paused to look at me again. I was still sitting on the stool. The potholder she had grabbed looked like it had seen better days. It had burn marks all over it. I had already heard the story about that potholder. My grandmother said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever gotten as a gift. She said it had saved her life. I’m not sure how a potholder could save a life. I thought it was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. She had moved from the stove and was pouring her jam into the waiting jars.
I have two more ingredients for you. Obeisance is the first one. Always be respectful of the living things. Everything that is alive should be respected. You don’t have to like em; you don’t have to love ‘em even but you should have respect for them. And the last ingredient, she stopped pouring for a brief moment as she looked at me. I was thinking to myself that I wasn’t sure what ingredients she was talking about it because we hadn’t talked about sugar, or salt, or even what kind of fruit we would use, the last ingredient is grace.
I think the look on my face is what made her stop and explain what she meant by Grace because I know she wasn’t referring to my cousin Crazy Grace on my mother’s side that like to drink moonshine down behind the barn unless it was the moonshine that was the real ingredient. We all have grace when we live our lives with love and forgiveness. Come on now. You get on down from there and go play a while before dinner. And you remember all that I told you here today. Anybody asks you what we were doin’, you tell ‘em we were making jam. FROG jam…
FROG jam. For the second time that day I eased my eyes open. I could still smell the raspberry, orange and ginger. I had forgotten FROG jam. Directly in front of me a pathway had opened between the boxes. I could see a faint bit of sunlight peeking around the edges of a door. Beyond the door I could hear someone getting ready to roll the door up. Thank goodness; I was getting out of here.
My foot nudged the box as I moved to walk on by. It was the one box I had opened earlier with the broken jars. I stopped and bent over the box. Nestled in bottom of the box was one jar that had survived the breakage. With utmost care, I reached in to retrieve the treasure. Surely this was not one of my grandmother’s jars of jam. She had been gone well over twenty years. How long does jam last? I turned the jar over inspecting it for cracks. On the lid was written the date and kind of jam. The handwriting on the jar looked very similar to that of my grandmother’s handwriting. I cradled it to my chest and let the tears flow freely this time without attempting to swipe them away. I had completely forgotten about FROG jam.
The door rolled up letting in abundant sunshine. “I’m sorry. I rented this unit yesterday. I just came to put a few things in storage until I can get everything moved in. Wait! What are you doing in here?”
In front of me stood a complete stranger. His voice was deep and kind. The sun illuminated him from behind, so his face was hidden. My face on the other hand was well lit. I don’t show my tears or weak side very often but here in this moment I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed.
“Hey! Are you okay?”
Squinting, I spoke to find my voice was calmer than I felt. “I’m fine. I don’t know how but I got locked in here. And I must have fallen asleep because I woke up and there were these boxes all around me. And I couldn’t find the door. And then I broke a box. And there was jam all over the me and the box and the floor and… what?” I stopped talking. He had moved a little closer to me. I could see disbelief on his face. “What?”
“There are no boxes in this storage building. It’s empty. Look.”
I turned to look. The room was completely empty. All five feet by five feet of it. “But I was boxed in. There … were… so… many … boxes. I don’t understand.”
I turned back to look to see if there was still someone standing there. Maybe I imagined him too.
“What are you holding?”
I looked down. I still had the jam jar clutched to my chest. It was very real.
“FROG jam?” He asked taking the jar from me and reading aloud what was written on top.
“FROG jam. The kind my grandmother taught me to make when I was a kid. It’s a recipe for life. That’s what my grandmother told me once.”
“Uh huh. It’s getting toasty out. Wanna give me hand unloading all this baggage then I can treat you to a cold glass of iced tea. I think I’d like to hear about the FROG Jam.”
I carefully set the jar to the side and reached for the first box. From the top this time. “I’d love to share the recipe of FROG Jam with you. My grandmother lived by it. She was an amazing cook.”