Roberta Beary

The Memory Jar – Olympia

Olympia, Harry her husband likes to say, is not a cook. Yesterday she made the children tuna noodle casserole from scratch. Rose and Robert, 7 and 9, had tried their best to eat the burnt crust, the only cooked part. But Olympia had swept up plates and casserole, looked in the fridge and found two mac & cheese TV dinners. The children were rewarded with their favorite dessert, bananas drenched in chocolate syrup and topped with Cheerios. Olympia had made do with a goblet of white wine and cheese and crackers.

In the organic vegetable aisle at Fresh Food, Olympia pushs back her shoulders and lifts her chin. She had been raised to never give up. Today she is determined to make amends to Robert and Rose. She will cook the soup her grandmother made her: potato soup with fresh parsley. The taste of that potato soup is stored in Olympia’s memory jar. The one her grandmother had explained everyone carries with them in their heart. After I’m gone don’t come to my grave and cry, her grandmother had said, open your memory jar to find me. Love doesn’t die.

Olympia is aware of a growling noise coming from somewhere in the store. The sound of a dog in pain, perhaps or maybe the whine of a leaf-blower. Olympia’s hearing is not what it once was.

“Maybe you should have some of these grapes to quiet your tummy,” a strange man says.

Olympia turns around to see whom he’s addressing. There is no one behind her. The noise, louder this time, turns into a rumble of muffled sounds, as if someone were calling for help from the bottom of a chasm. If the chasm were her stomach. She regards the man, remembering what her daughter had said about men who approach one in public places. “Be afraid, be very afraid.” No, that couldn’t be right. Rose is only seven. She must have heard it somewhere else.

Olympia looks the man up and down. He’s tall and thin with white hair. She’s short and rotund. Facing each other they look like Jack Sprat and his wife. If Jack Sprat had ceased to trim his nose and ear hairs. Olympia’s reading glasses, which she wears everywhere except bed, have the highest non-prescription magnification. Nothing escapes them. She looks around for Jack Sprat’s cat but doesn’t see it.

“Go away at once,” Olympia says, in her best teacher’s voice.

“Is that a no to my offer?”

“Yes, it is, an unequivocal, non-negotiable no.”

Olympia quickly walks past him and finds herself in the organic chocolate aisle. She carefully reads all the labels, including the sugar content and whether or not a fair trade had been paid by the company to its workers. She holds the bar with the highest sugar content, sniffs, and takes a bite. She smiles, a big smile that lights up her face. She turns around and drops five chocolate bars in her cart.

“What about the potatoes and parsley you were going to buy, dear?”

“How do you know about that? And why are you following me? Are you one of those men that thinks every woman is at his beck and call?”

“Not every woman, just you,” the man says quietly. “It’s me, love, your Harry. I said I’d meet you inside after I parked the car. Did you forget?” 

“What can you mean by that, of course I…” Olympia stammers, “just a moment, and please don’t stand so close. Harry.”

Olympia opens her purse and pulls out her pocket diary. Taped to the first page is a photo of Olympia and her husband. It had been taken last year on a sailing trip to Crete, the vacation of a lifetime the doctor had said, urging them both to travel while they still could.

Olympia feels her mouth with the tip of her tongue. Licks her lips a few times. A cat hiding evidence of the last fluff of feather.

“The children will be hungry, Harry. We need to get home.”

“The children will be fine.”

Olympia takes her husband’s arm. As Harry does the shopping she opens her memory jar. She can taste fresh parsley, hot broth and milky potatoes. Her grandmother lets her lick the wooden spoon. Together they pour cream for the cat. Olympia feels a tug on her arm. She looks up and sees Harry. He opens the car door and gently buckles her in. Olympia rests her head on Harry’s shoulder. She falls asleep with her mouth open.

~~~

Roberta Breary identifies as gender-expansive and writes to connect with the disenfranchised. Her micro “Now, It’s Fresh Fish” was published in the New York Times Tiny Love Stories. Her work also appears in Rattle, KYSO Flash, 100 Word Story, Cultural Weekly, and Best Microfiction 2019. She tweets her photoku @shortpoemz.