12 September 2016

The Urn

Had it been Wednesday, Jane would have been sweeping but as it was Tuesday, she was dusting for that is what Jane did on Tuesdays. As she dusted, she hummed a song her mother used to listen to as Jane was growing up. She had long since forgotten the words but the tune lurked in her mind’s background, surfacing mostly when she did household drudgeries. Currently, Jane was paying particular attention to a lamp that was purchased more for style than illumination, flushing every speck of dust from its arms. Satisfied with her efforts, Jane turned a touch too briskly, causing an iron urn to topple from its station on the lid of the stand-up piano. The clatter startled her with its volume. A single marble rolled from the depths of the vase across the floor, coming to a standstill at the edge of the area rug. Jane lifted the urn and inspected it for damage; none spotted. She had inherited this piece from her mother as it was passed through the female hands of the lineage. Most of the women eligible to receive it eyed it ruefully throughout their youth, hoping it fell into someone else’s life. There was little remarkable about the urn; a nice patina faded into a uniformed rusted brown, some subtle coils and leafs pounded into it for decoration; not fancy, nothing that stood out. Its conformity lent well to each household it had inhabited.

When Jane was a girl, knowing the urn was being pressed to her, she once filled it with pussy willows. Her mother, upon seeing this new embellishment, quickly donned her mask of disapproval; it was not a severe look, just enough to let Jane know she was stepping outside the perimeters.
“You want to display sticks?” Her mother asked, “What on earth for?”
“They aren’t ‘sticks.’ They have soft grey buds that look like resting bunnies; they’re interesting.”
“Daffodils are in season, why don’t you fill it with that.”
“But we always fill it with daffodils at this time.”
“There a comfort in the familiar, Jane.  Comfort is not a bad thing.”
Jane suddenly became quite aware of the urn’s weight in her hand.
Like most, Jane stopped looking at the urn after a time.   Her mother gave it to her when she left for college; it never occurred to Jane to leave it behind, hidden where it would not be found. Her roommate suggested they fill it with sand to use as an ashtray. Jane disliked smoking but became addicted to doing something that was not expected of her. In the spent butts of the cigarettes she saw choice.
When Jane lived briefly alone, after school but engaged, she displayed the urn on her coffee table in the center of the room. She filled it with colored marbles that made music when dropped against the iron. On occasion, Jane would reach into the urn and roll the marbles among her fingers, soothed by the feeling. Withdrawing her hand, the pattern had changed, adding a fresh perspective when she peered in. She kept the urn within reach, active.
Once married, the urn began getting in the way. It toppled when its table was knocked, sending marbles across the floor. Jane would refill the vase with as many of the marbles as she could find and eventually moved it to the credenza. When her children first walked, their little hands found the urn and dumped it and its contents to the floor enough that Jane moved it to the buffet. Her mother frequently mentioned it looking out of place, until it was placed on the bookshelf. Jane’s husband argued for the spot on the bookshelf to lay his hat. Eventually the urn was put up out of the way; still visible but unnoticed.
Most of the time the urn remained empty except when they hosted guests and it was filled with bright flora or the seasonal d├ęcor the children expected to feel festive. Her husband found it useful for miniature detritus found about the house, removing the items once he decided they were not needed.
As Jane turned the urn in her hands presently, her daughter entered the room, eying the item skeptically.
“This will be yours one day.” Jane said.
“I don’t want it, its boring and dark.”
“I didn’t want it either, once.”
“Than how did you get it?”
“I suppose it was placed with my things when I wasn’t paying enough attention.”
“That was careless of you.”
“It was. But you may fill it in anyway you want – make it your own.”
“You didn’t”
“At one point I did.”
“I hate it.” Her daughter turned and quit the room.
Jane remained still, waiting for her breath to return. She watched the doorway her daughter had just passed through, clutching her urn tighter than necessary. At the rug’s edge, the red, glass marble caught the light. Jane picked it up and dropped it in the urn, wincing at the sharp clang when it hit the metal. Jane rattled the marble around the bottom wondering if she should defend the urn’s potential. Once it was your mantle, you could make it your own just as Jane had intended to do.
As her daughter’s made up songs trickled down the hallway, Jane considered the small marble laying silent the vastness of the urn’s void; unregistered for all those years.
Carefully, Jane wrapped the urn in a cloth, covering every edge. She walked past the linen closet that held the boxes of items the children would inherit and the large hallway mirror that no longer showed her reflection to the back door of the kitchen. She quietly let herself out, down the three back steps to the refuge bin where she gently placed the urn inside and replaced the lid.

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