The strawberry cookie jar probably wouldn’t have merited a second look from Amanda if she’d been her normal self that day.
“What will you use it for?” William asked.
They’d always been close and shared just about every confidence, so he understood how troubled she was. Her unusual preoccupation with the ceramic strawberry was added evidence of that.
“A cookie jar maybe,” Amanda answered without much conviction.
William lifted the lid of the foot high, fruit-shaped container, which was bright red and dimpled like its real-life counterpart. A cap of ceramic leaves, resembling a section of vine stem, formed the green curlicue handle.
“The top doesn’t fit tight enough,” he said, pushing Amanda’s strawberry cookie jar precariously close to the edge of the makeshift yard sale table. “The cookies will go stale.”
She didn’t reply. He was starting to annoy her. All she wanted was to clutch this comforting object to her bosom where she’d experienced too little comfort lately. She was fast becoming a listless shell of her customary self, and William had been sensitive to that. He’d mixed delicious apricot sours for her at cocktail hour and taken on some of the more tedious tasks of being the husband and wife chef team at Miller’s Inn on Riverton Road Hill. So why couldn’t he also let her cling to this ceramic strawberry cookie jar in peace?
As far as anyone could tell, William and Amanda had passed the seven-years-married itchy period with hardly a blip on the bliss meter. She’d relaxed then, which may have been a mistake because, almost out of nowhere, a renegade thought had begun to plague her, the thought that maybe they should try living apart. She’d been taken completely by surprise. She’d also assumed they would muddle their way through whatever this might be.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to ward off a growing tendency to snipe and bicker, until she feared her nastiness might reach critical mass and she’d collapse in a cloud of self-disgust, like those high-rise buildings they detonate from within to implode straight down onto their own foundations. There were also moments, like a sunny yard sale morning, when her characteristic common sense was replaced by what appeared to be a random obsession, this time a strawberry cookie jar.
“It’s occurred to me that, if I want to hold onto you, I should go along with whatever you want.”
Amanda was so shocked by William’s words she almost dropped her precious, though actually kind of homely ceramic find. He’d always been a feisty guy, making his own rules and sticking to them. They’d gotten along so well partly because her rules were generally in tune with his. Yet, here he was, standing next to a table cobbled together from splintered two-by-fours covered up by a faded tablecloth, talking about capitulation.
What he had said echoed in the rhythm of the car wheels along the high-crowned North Country road all the way home. “Bumpy, bumpy, bumpy, bump. Go along with what she wants.” When she faced William that evening in the narrow living room of their apartment at the Inn, she was still hearing that rhythm and those words.
“What do you think I want?” she asked.
“The way I see it, you should be asking what I think you need.”
Amanda was stunned by his reaction, or lack of reaction, at least in the flatness of his tone. She was even more stunned by having no answer to offer concerning either her wants or her needs, so she waited for him to provide it, like she expected he would.
“You need to get away from this place,” he said, right on cue.
A heated argument followed, with angry accusations and layering on of guilt, like too many married couple arguments. Amanda might have taken her own cue from what William had said that morning and simply gone along with what he said, but she didn’t. The next day, she awoke regretting this and immediately began formulating an apology. Unfortunately, William had already left, and she would never see him alive again.
Meanwhile, the strawberry cookie jar languished in a storage shed for several years until Amanda rediscovered it among dusty packing boxes, red dimples dingy from long neglect, still probably incapable of keeping cookies fresh. She clutched it to her anyway, as she had all those years ago, while feelings from that time flooded back sharp and poignant as a needle behind the eyes, bringing with them William’s words.
“You should be asking what you need.” Maybe she was now ready to search for that answer at last.
Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com
– R|R –