My great-great-great Nana Beatrice was always too busy filling her sweets in jars instead of her marriage (so the story goes). Her father had an envious orchard of peach trees and there was nothing she loved more than preserving them in a jam. Why should we only get to enjoy the sweet things for one season? She’d say, so she made a way to have the sweet things all seasons. Everybody loved her jam, it was the sweetest thing for miles – ambrosia they had christened it, for surely it was made for the gods. Everybody loved her peach jam, except great-great-great Papa George. I’ve never tasted it, never got the chance to since the recipe was never passed down, only a Jar.
Two Months After the Wedding
I stare at that Jar now. I keep it on my vanity, at the corner of the mirror. My mother kept it under her bed, she’d pull it out like a chamber pot in the middle of the night when she’d need to relieve herself. Her mother kept it in her closet, next to her shoes, so she’d dust off her soles and shake them of what they’d picked up on that day’s journey. I was told Beatrice kept it on the mantel in her living room, right next to her wedding picture.
The Jar stares right back at me. I’ve noticed I look at it most when I’m massaging my hands at night. Wringing my hands has always been nervous habit of mine, apparently that trailed down the line too. Our hands don’t do well when they’re idle. Beatrice had her peaches, her daughter had her paintings, my Nana had her essays, Mama her stories and I had my-
I sigh heavily.
I can’t speak it, the Jar takes it. It’s good at keeping things. The Jar is a good idea. A happy marriage and healthy family is a good idea.
I leave my hands alone and climb into bed with Alex. He’s a good idea, he’s always full of good ideas. I’m always marvelling about how smart he is. I like stroking his hears with the back of my fingers, and curling my fingers in his hair. Maybe if I stay close enough, I could have good ideas too, I kid. I coo at him often, saying what thoughts are swimming around in that mind of yours babe? I can just see the good ideas torrent in your brain waves. I laugh at my own jokes then and he politely smiles at me, kisses me on my forehead and whispers that I’m smart too, just as much as you I whisper back, but only to myself. Because that is what you do, protect them. I wince and turn to the Jar on the table to put that thought away.
Alex is smart, and he is mostly modest about it. Mostly. While he’s never one to overtly talk about how smart he is, he never misses an opportunity to show it. I wince again and turn to the Jar. That’s enough from me tonight, I whisper to it and turn back to Alex.
He’s fast asleep now, and I curl my hands into his hair and play with it till I follow him too.
Like I always do.
Because I have to.
Ten Months After the Wedding
It’s a large thing. It only holds 190ml but it’s much heavier than it looks though it’s empty. Well, empty to someone who doesn’t know what lives in it. Or what dies in it.
Beatrice Rogers’ peach jam Jar, passed down six generations now. It has a width of 65mm, is 80mm in height, and on paper it has a volume capacity of 190ml, but really it is unknown.
I'm afraid of opening it. Ms. Prior from elementary school once read us a story about Pandora’s Box. It amused me, huh, I thought: just like that! Once, all the bad things in the world were sealed in a box and in the next moment they were not.
My mother loved that story, she had reminded me of it on my-. Our wedding night, when she handed over The Jar. She said that women like us don’t have boxes like Pandora, we have this Jar. Even more unlike Pandora, instead of letting all the bad things out, we keep them in this Jar, and far, far away from us, our family and our happiness.
I laugh now, bitterly and a tear rolls down my cheek, and I swear I see it roll down the inside of the Jar all the way to the bottom and it disappears. I’m stunned, I’m always stunned no matter how many times I’ve seen this happen. There’s a lump in my throat for the sobs that were to accompany the other tears I would’ve put into the Jar. I scream it out, I make no real sound, but still, that goes into the Jar too. I can hear the Jar echo a ringing sound in its glass, it shakes for only a moment and stops.
The Jar takes everything. It’s supposed to keep the bad things away from our happiness. 'Our happiness', but really, whose is it anyway? Sometimes, it feels like the only thing it is keeping, is my happiness from me. I cry now, I shouldn’t have said that, the Jar takes it.
After the Sonogram
I’ve never read Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar (I think that’s what she called it.) But I feel like I’m in it, or in one. Or I’ve become one.
I stare at the Jar. I can hear the screams inside it, they vibrate violently against the glass. The hot tears inside are forming a mist. It’s full. I hope it breaks. It doesn’t. It is still and dry inside. Like me. It’s taken so much, I feel less like myself and more like it. A place where people-
I stop. I give it to the Jar. It takes. Still dry, still unmoving.
Eight Months After the Birth
She tires me, but I love her. She keeps me busy. I haven’t wrung my hands in a while and I hadn’t noticed. Maybe this is what changes things, maybe this is why we keep the Jar I think. I haven’t given it anything in a while. I’m no longer still and dry. My life has been flooded with the joy of her, and I’m always moving to the sweet sounds of Riley’s life, which are her cries. Everything is her cry, food, bath, a change, even sleep, she amazes me.
She’s screaming again, it’s time for a change. I can’t find her powder, I must’ve left it on the vanity. I walk to it, the powder is there, right next to the Jar. I stare at the Jar, and it stares back at me.
Riley screams, I’m taking too long. I can’t help but wonder what is in that Jar anyway, and why put it there? Why did I put it there ?What is in there that I have to keep away from her? Hopes? Dreams? Ambition? Courage.
My mouth sours. I don’t want this for her. She wasn’t made to keep things, I can tell that even in her infancy. I can’t pass this on to her. I can’t do that to her, and I can’t do this to myself.
I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here. Alex is at my side suddenly, at an angle that lets him snap his fingers in front of me. I dart my eyes at him frowning, I glance back at the Jar, the powder is gone and Riley’s screams have stopped. I look at where I left her on my bed, she no longer there, he must’ve put her in her cot, he’s handled it, it’s been a while I jeer at him inwardly. I don’t give this to the Jar.
What’s going on Keely? He looks concerned. I can’t help but wonder if he’s concerned about me, or who I should be: the caring mother who gives her daughter a change when she needs it. I’ll give her a change alright. I grab the Jar and smash it against the mirror, shattering both.
It all falls out: the hot tears that were held back. The silent screams. The pacing. The stares at windows and places far, far away. The rejected book deals. The paintings gathering dust. The unanswered job offer letters. The rejected interviews. The happiness. The compromise. The ambrosia.
I’m changing things.
I didn’t know I had that in me, I wonder if it was always there or and was waiting to kick itself out, or all that was in the Jar has just kicked me. I can’t stop to think about it, I’m changing things.
Alex is stunned, I turn to him and look him in the eye finally. A marriage isn’t kept in a jam jar. It is nothing if it’s not what you want it to be, and I won’t have mine be fragile. I say, cooler than I expected of myself. Much cooler than the hot tears lingering on the edges of broken shards of jar glass.
I continue, Yesterday was heavy, so I put it down. I’m not carrying what was in there into tomorrow, and neither is our daughter.
He’s confused, I must sound strange to him. But I understand me, so it doesn’t matter what he thinks right now. What? He spurts.
I have good ideas, Alex, I-
Please don’t cut me off. I don’t dare do that to you, let’s afford each other the same respect if we’re doing this… I carelessly wave my hands in the air gesturing between us, the room, the house marriage, Riley, family... Are we doing this, Alex?
He gives me a bemused smile, but he’s interested in what I have to say, I can tell, I’m smart like that. We are. He says firmly, with a curt but reassuring not, and a real smile this time. So I talk.
I have some things I wanted to say, but first, I’ve gotten a couple of job offers, including one from your firm...
He doesn’t interrupt so I go on.
And we move forwards.
I made her a mobile. I’m not much of an arts and crafts girl but it seems fun, and I had to do this one, a new tradition. I put these little trinkets on it that tell the history of our women, a peach charm the size of her fist is at the centre, and around it similar sized models of paintings, books, essays, a computer, I smile at that one – it’s for me. I also put on the lid of the Jar, she will make of it what she will, and I won’t tell her what to do with or think of it. She’s her own person.
It was hard after, when I gave Alex what I gave to the Jar, but it became easier. I still give these things to him, and he gives me things back, but we take and we share and we let go. No more keeping things, we aren’t jars or jam. We can’t keep things sweet by storing them away. When fruit and leaves fall and rot to the ground they nurture it, and a new bloom is assured, even if it’s only for a season.
It can’t be all sweet my love, I tell her, lemonade is still made with lemons. She coos, let’s make some marmalade I say, I’ll put it on my sandwiches when I start work with your dad next month. She giggles.
We weren’t made to keep things. We aren’t jars.