The lid would not come off. The metal ring had adhered itself to the glass, a tin barnacle. Rubber bands, hot water, tapping away with the flat of a butter knife – the lid was having none of it. Sawyer set the jar on the counter, observing it under the spotlight of a much-too-expensive bulb. Do we need pickles at dinner? Really, who would notice?
Sawyer stretched out his hands, limbering up for another trial. Not so very old. But not quite the same either. He had noticed lately. Only little things, but increasing in number. And now the jar.
The screen door cried open, rattled shut. The sound of footsteps and plastic grocery bags just this side of popping. Marta was home. Heave-ho and the bags were on the counter. The cold air still hung in her clothes. It’s starting to smell like fall now.
“They didn’t arrive yet, did they?” The woman was a hurricane, always had been. The outer layers flew off onto chairs and wall-hooks. She had taken to thermal fleeces lately. No idea why.
“No,” Sawyer picked up the jar again, “not yet.” The damned thing finally gave way. No, never mind. Hand just slipped.
“Did you take the tin foil off?”
“Yeah, I took it out,” he repositioned his grip, “it’s there on the counter.”
“No – off!” She said it like it was the most important thing in the world, “You were supposed to take the tin foil off the pan.”
But she was already after it, fixing it, fussing over the details of seasoning and properly browning cheese. Cheese? It was lasagna, right? No, that was yesterday. Chicken today, no cheese at all. Sawyer strained against the jar. It has to open at some point.
“On the table.” There was a pile of papers. Forms and brochures with fine print and stock photographs of impossibly nice people next to a body of water. The man had a sweater draped on his shoulders, the loosely tied sleeves sitting on his chest. Who does that anymore? Only brochure people. The rest of us have moved on.
“Came in the mail today.”
“No.” He had sent for them specifically, but no need to mention it now.
“Ok, well, can you clear it off the table? And then set it? They should be here soon.” The words were knocked out rapid-fire as she charged into the foray of spoons and crockery. A hurricane. Always said so.
“Yeah, just let me get-”
“Leave it for Eric.”
“No, I can-”
“They’re going to be here any minute. Please.”
He set aside the jar and scooped up the papers in no particular order. Where to put them? Out of the way. Sawyer stuffed them in the drawer of a writing desk once belonging to a grandmother he had never met. A stern looking woman who now only existed in the contents of a brass picture frame. Terrifyingly mundane.
It was debatable whether or not the desk had ever actually been used for writing. As long as Sawyer could remember, the desk had always been a dumping ground for mildly important kipple to the point of nullifying the desk’s intended purpose.
“Sawyer, the salad,” Marta’s hand briefly flung out towards the grocery bags to indicate the rest of the directions.
“Mm-hmm.” She bought enough salad to feed twenty. Or perhaps they could start a rabbit farm. Hutch? They’d be very popular at Easter. Sawyer glanced over at the jar again, sitting smugly by the sink. Wait for Eric indeed. It’s almost there, just another twist or two should do it.
“What was it about anyway?” She asked.
“Hmm?” Sawyer woke up from his thoughts.
Oh nothing. Nothing important. Vacation homes; retirement village. All of these would have been more reasonable answers. Answers to avoid a tiff before their son came home for a much anticipated weekend visit.
“Regeneration,” he said instead. Salad adequately prepared, he began to fiddle with the jar again.
“Of what?” She pushed the gray strands out of her face. Fifty-four years old and still only one lock of gray hair. But it was always falling on her face, determined to be noticed. “Are you worried about that bald spot? I told you, you can barely see it.”
“No, of people,” he offered, “After they die.”
She stopped a moment and almost laughed, “Really?”
Shouldn’t have brought it up, absolutely wrong timing. Goddamn lid, hands break off the wrists easier.
“What – they put you on ice or something and bring you back to life a hundred years from now?”
Probably more than that. “Yeah, sort of,” he mumbled out.
“You can’t be serious,” she brushed it off, “And leave that for Eric, you’ll give yourself a hernia.”
“No, I got it,” the words slipped out through clenched teeth. Almost, almost. Relax, reset.
“Y’know, I heard a radio thing about that the other day-”
“Yeah?” It was never ‘program’, ‘interview’, or ‘special’ with Marta. It was always ‘thing’. As if she was never quite sure what to do with it. A foreign object of sound. Sawyer set the jar down a minute.
“Yeah, it was very interesting. But y’know what I was wondering the whole time?” Stir, taste, stir.
“Where do you go?”
It’s very simple really. “Well, they’ve got like this capsule, they put you in, and-”
“No,” she insisted, “Where do you go? Y’know, you?”
The repetition of a pronoun doesn’t really add specificity. A point Sawyer had belabored and berated his students with. Seventh grade is a dreadful time.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, like, your soul or something. Your awareness.” She tapped her breast-bone as she said this, then ducked away to check the oven, popping up again a moment later.
“Do you just wait patiently next to your body? Or do you go to an afterlife – only to get sucked back into this?” She had a terrible, wonderful mind. “What if you wind up in the wrong body?”
“I think,” Sawyer began quietly, “it’s probably like taking a long nap.”
She smiled with that soft sort of pity. An expression usually reserved for the children when they tried to make her breakfast in bed, only to end up with pancake batter in their hair and spilling syrup on the cat. Sawyer himself had been receiving more of these looks lately. And then there was the jar. Not so very old.
“I thought it would be something, y’know, to look into maybe.”
“You really want to live forever?” She raised an eyebrow.
Who wants to die? Who wants to be reduced to faded ink, framed and forgotten? Well, not forgotten. Just not much thought about. Sitting on a splintery desk covered in kipple. Not nearly as exciting as life.
“Interesting to think about anyway,” he said. Marta just barely opened her mouth to reply, but then there was the screen door.
“They’re here!” She said instead and spun away into the other room. The quest for immortality brushed aside like dust. Dust to dust. At least for now. Come back to it another day.
Jubilation boomed and echoed. The house never felt warmer than in these moments. Without a thought, Sawyer picked up the jar and twisted the lid. It came right off. Victory.