Illustration by Andres Garzon
I waited in line at the grocery store and stared at the tabloid magazines. I read a headline about a woman giving birth to a gorilla. Who reads that stuff? I looked at the contents of my cart. How many jars had I filled in the last month? Fifteen at least. Maybe it was because I was more temperamental than usual. Was it hormones? Maybe it was because I had procrastinated correcting final exams and it was stressing me out.
The woman in line ahead of me paid for her lottery tickets, and it was my turn to line up my items on the conveyor belt. The cashier weighed the fruit and scanned the case of jars.
“Do you make jam with the peaches?” A staleness surrounded the cashier’s gruff voice.
“I don’t make jam, but the peaches are excellent this year.” I tried to be polite, but I hate small talk.
“Oh. That’ll be twenty dollars and ninety-seven cents, please.”
I was relieved the cashier didn’t ask what the jars were for. Would she suspect I could trap people inside them?
I handed over my credit card and the woman read my name.
“Adina Mazara, that’s a nice name. What nationality is it?”
The cashier scanned my hair, dark brown with a natural wave, to get her answer. My skin is café au lait, according to my concealer. I wanted to tell her it was none of her business.
“I’m Canadian.” I know what she meant, but this way there wouldn’t be any follow-up questions. Any time I tell people my parents are Italian, they look at my dark skin and nod, then make a mafia joke. If that happened, I feared the cashier would end up in a pile of dust and trapped in one of my jars, like the others.
“Of course. Well, you have a nice name.” The cashier returned my credit card. “Have a nice day.” She handed me the bag of groceries, then the case of jars, and looked at me again. “Do you need help carrying those to your car?”
“No, thank you.”
At home, I set the case of jars and the grocery bag on the kitchen counter. I glanced at the shelf in the corner of the room, but not for too long.
I heard rattling. It could have been the air vents as the cooling system kicked into gear, but the sound came from one of the jars. There were at least 50 of them lined up on the shelves. Among them were snarky classmates, judgemental distant relatives, a few ex-boyfriends, and a dog that almost bit me. It was the beaker clattering against the others. It contained my high school chemistry teacher.
I had struggled for months in his class. I had enrolled because I wanted to be a vet, but my hope was crushed when I failed first term.
Despite all my efforts, Mr. Pasio was an insensitive teacher who mocked my attempts openly. When balancing equations, he called on me to give the answer.
“Adina! Can you at least do this equation? You get good marks in math, right? Easy peasy, come on.” I saw right through his compliment to the insult he lanced at me. He came too close and I saw his blue eyes squinting. By some magic, I shrank. It must have been something he’d concocted with his chemicals. It converted my weaknesses into a fresh wound. I felt like a fish in an aquarium; I was on display through the glass, with all my faults magnified.
I craved invisibility. Yes, I could balance the equation because it was a concept more of algebra than chemistry. Rather than answer the question, I stared at him. Normally, I would have averted my eyes from his, but not this time. I wanted to tell him what a jerk he was. As I opened my mouth to release my rage, he disappeared into a tornado of sand circling around me. I tried to wave it away, but it was like an insectile horde, changing direction with each swing of my arms. It got in my hair and eyes. I grabbed a glass beaker and a stopper from the back of the room, and then placed them on my desk. I had no idea what was happening, but I felt in control and I knew what to do. I was the one with the magic.
To the dust cloud, I whispered through clenched teeth, “Go,” and I trapped my chemistry teacher. My classmates didn’t seem to notice and they continued with their equations.
He’d spent close to twenty years inside the jar, and it was clear that he wanted to make an escape.
I hurried to my junk drawer and pulled out the duct tape. I held the jar in place and taped it to the back of the shelf. I was out of breath. I peered in the jar. The dust particles swirled around. From my reflection in the glass, I saw dark circles under my eyes and the weight I’d gained under my chin. Insomnia had worn me out.
Certain the chemistry teacher wouldn’t budge, I sat down to read a book. I couldn’t help glancing at the shelf. The jar was steady, but I still perceived the sand swarming inside, trying to get out. I was worried the other jars would do the same, but they remained quiet.
Restless, I stood again, this time studying the jar containing my first serious crush. I was in college, and I spotted him on our first day. We had a few classes in common, and worked on projects together. We would flirt, hold hands, and sometimes kiss. Eventually, I found myself in quiet corners pressed up against him, not always by choice. I made excuses for him, thinking boys will be boys. I never told him to stop, because I thought I was supposed to enjoy a boy’s advances.
In an alley near campus, he held my wrists in his one large hand, bruising them. He untucked my shirt from the inside of my skirt and forced his other hand underneath it. I asked him to stop. Instead, his hand went up my skirt. I twisted my wrists free and fought him off. I wanted to tell him what he had just done was abusive, but instead, I ran back to school.
The soles of my shoes stomped through the asphalt leaving indentations of my footprint. The ground shook and the boy crumbled to the pavement, leaving only rocks and sand in his place. He followed me, bouncing in small pebbles alongside me until I got to my locker. I emptied a jar containing pencils.
“Just go,” I whispered.
On my shelf, the rocks and sand that became of him sparkled in the sunlight cast on the shelf. Looking closely, I panicked to find there was another jar rattling. I picked it up. It was pink. I remembered the woman inside it.
In my eleventh year of teaching, I met with the mother of a student to discuss the drastic decline in her son’s marks.
“Jeremy failed this term. I don’t understand the problem. He says you don’t like him and are always on his case,” the mother griped.
“I have no problem with Jeremy, but he doesn’t do his homework, which is why he’s failing,” I explained. This was true. Jeremy had been witty and keen until his marks and behavior took a dive.
“Jeremy said you told him he’s lazy. Maybe you’ve been working them too hard. They’re just kids. What good is it for them to do so much work anyway?” The mother’s voice grew louder and I noticed parents in the hall peering into my classroom as they waited their turn to speak with me.
I smelled alcohol on her breath. I knew the mother was ignorant to the changes in Jeremy’s mood. I knew it coincided with her binge drinking and his father’s abuse. I couldn’t say this aloud because he had written to me in confidence in the only assignment he submitted during the term, which was supposed to be about gratitude. He stated he had nothing to make him feel grateful, then went on to explain why. He met with the guidance counselor, but it did little to change his habits.
“I never said he was lazy. I said he lacked motivation. I would be willing to spend extra time with Jeremy to help him complete the work. If he spends lunchtimes with me catching up, I won’t count his work late.”
“Oh yeah, so now he’ll have detention.” The mother made it sound like it was an insult to instead of a reasonable solution to getting his work done. I had met parents like her before: emotionally absent and trying to make up for it.
I wanted to flip the desk over, shake the mother and tell her Jeremy was devastated. She was oblivious.
Instead, I told her, “Jeremy is bright, but he needs the right encouragement. I don’t think he’s getting support at home.”
“The hell with this.” The truth about Jeremy pierced the mother, causing her to crumble like an old anthill, into a puff of sand.
I emptied a jar filled with paperclips and whispered, “Go.” The parents in the hall didn’t notice.
In my living room, I placed the pink jar back on the shelf, and although it was still rattling, I had an appointment. I’d have to deal with the rattling when I returned. I only hoped my husband Samuel wouldn’t get home first. What would he think if he saw them moving? He would probably pick them up, study them, open them, maybe even empty them before I could figure out what to do. How would I explain them? Until then he’d always thought they were filled with sand from beaches I had visited. I couldn’t tell him they contained people who had caused me uncontrollable frustration. Every time someone was jarred, I felt a complete loss of control for letting myself get so angry.
I would have to worry about it later. I hurried to the car in order to get to my appointment on time. At the doctor’s office, I picked up a magazine in the waiting room. A couple walked in, bickering about a parking spot.
The woman walked through the door, with her right hand resting on her pregnant belly. She spoke softly. “My legs ache and I’m out of breath. I just thought we could park closer is all.”
“Why? You can’t use your legs no more? Hey, you can walk. See? Just like that.” The man gave her a gentle push into the waiting room.
The woman sat in front of me and groaned. She crossed her legs at the ankles, then uncrossed them.
“Why are you so difficult anyway?” Her partner sat next to her. “Why did I even have to come here today? Can’t you do anything on your own?” The man mumbled, but I was close enough to hear their conversation.
“I just thought you might like to see the ultrasound, hear the heartbeat. Those things are nice.”
“Like I need to hear the kid before he’ll be screaming and crying in my face all night.”
“I could have taken a taxi,” the woman said, squirming in her seat again.
“Oh yeah, with what money? You don’t even want me to smoke no more to save money.”
“It’s not good for the baby,” the mother stressed. Her chair squeaked as she twisted in her seat.
“Neither is the booze, yeah?”
“I don’t do that anymore. I save money, too.”
“Yeah, so you can buy fancy clothes for the baby and Jeremy?”
I gripped the armrests of my chair and bit my lip. I remembered her. Jeremy’s mother. I thought of him then. He always came to school in old sweat pants with holes in them. He wore his winter boots indoors because he couldn’t afford new shoes.
The pregnant mother sat with her elbows on her thighs, her head in her hands.
I almost spoke up to let her know I was there, to tell her I had her back, that her partner shouldn’t talk to her like that, but my courage was replaced with confusion. How could she be in front of me when I was sure she was in a jar on my shelf at home?
I was relieved to hear the doctor call my name.
The doctor weighed me and entered the information into her computer. There was a knock at the door, and I pulled at the hospital gown to cover up. A young doctor entered and spoke with my physician.
With the door open, I could hear the mother’s voice yelling form the waiting room, “Come on, come on, just quit it. If you don’t want to be here -” The young doctor left and closed the door. Soon after, I heard glass breaking in the waiting room.
When I left the doctor’s office, I walked out into the waiting room expecting to hear the couple arguing some more. Instead, I saw the mother, still looking defeated. At her feet was a shattered jar and a mound of sand.
Amazed, I sat next to her.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He was going to hit me again. I hit him first. I told him he could leave for good and it would be fine with me. My baby will be better off not knowing him. So he’s gone.”
“What about this?” I stuck the toe of my shoe in the dust, making an awful scraping as I scattered it around on the ground.
“The sand? Oh, that’s me. I used to be bottled up, quiet, but I’ve had enough. I was sealing it all up, you know, so that I wouldn’t explode, as if I could hold it all in, but I can’t. No one can. Sometimes, you have to get out, and let go, you know?” The mother kept her eyes downcast.
I didn’t understand. For me, the sand was always the other person, never myself. “What part of you is in the sand?” I asked her.
“My pain. The humiliation, I’ve been keeping it and hiding it for too long. It was time to let it out. I thought I could do something with it, but no. Who needs it? Sweep it away and let it go. I have other things to worry about.” She pat her round belly and looked up at me, “We all do. Hey, I know you. You teach Jeremy.”
She kicked the sand around, until the grains spread out, barely noticeable.
When I got home, I went straight to the shelf. The mother’s jar was on the floor, shattered. Sand spread out in a dry splatter of fine spears across the floor. I cleaned up the mess. I filled the empty case with jars containing rocks, sand, dust, shame and guilt. I finally understood. All this time I thought I was trapping people. Then I remembered. The chemistry teacher never disappeared. I changed class. I hated giving up and felt useless in class. The boy in the alley, he never spoke to me again, but I looked at him from a distance, still liking him, and hating myself for it. Jeremy’s mother never came for another interview, but I remember him grumbling something about how his mom was pregnant again. I felt guilty that I couldn’t help him improve his marks. I bottled up everything I hated about myself and put it on a shelf so it could be contained, but so I could also remember everything I didn’t want to be.
I waited for Samuel to come home and we walked to the lake with the jars. When my husband saw that I was out of breath, he offered to carry them. I insisted on carrying them myself. At the lake, I opened each jar and emptied its contents onto the beach, telling Samuel about each secret. The sand floated in small clouds, sailing with the wind and falling to the ground, each grain lost, unrecognizable among the infinity of the beach.
I heard my voice echo across the water as the mother’s words echoed in me, “That’s my pain.” Samuel just nodded and let me continue. “I’ve been keeping it for too long. I’m sharing it with you now so I can let it go.”
Samuel held me around my waist and smoothed my shirt over my round stomach. “I’m glad you told me. I want you to be a happy mom. But this pain, why did you trap it?”
“Because, I didn’t know where it belonged, so I held onto it. When I looked at the jars I felt what I had done wrong each time, desperate never to let those things happen again. When I get anxious, I hold onto to all the negativity I’ve ever felt, and I feel it all at once. I’m always aware of the bad things that could happen because of all the things that have already happened. It made sense, but it doesn’t anymore. I don’t know that I’ll be able to let go of these forever but emptying them here is a start.
“The box will be lighter on the way back home,” Samuel pointed out. I nodded.
When we arrived home, Samuel washed the empty jars while I cut peaches to make jam.
LEA BEDDIA was born in Montreal. Her passion for literature has bred into a passion for writing. She studied Education at McGill University, and is currently completing a Creative Writing certificate at Concordia University. She enjoys all forms of writing, especially literature for young adults, and children. She aspires to have her young adult manuscript published. Visit her website: http://www.leabeddia.com or find her @LeaBeddiaWriter.
Copyright © 2019 by Lea Beddia. All rights reserved.