Sean walked into the living room where Jenna was watching a British baking show and Tyler was playing something on his Switch.
“Honey, what’s in this jar?”
The jar was tall, and the top was one of those two-piece lids that people used for canning, with a flat part that fit under the screw part. There was a hand-written label affixed at a slant, but the writing was faded and indecipherable. “Did you inherit some pickles?”
Jenna took it from him, gave it the once over and handed it back. “Where did you find that?”
“Back of the pantry.”
“Not ours. It must have come with the house. It looks old.”
“Yeah. But it’s not rusted or anything. Just dusty. I wonder what it is.”
“Onions? White cherries? Cocktail potatoes?”
“People pickle potatoes?”
“People pickle everything.”
“Maybe they’re eyeballs,” said Tyler.
“If we need to eat eyeballs to make it through this lockdown, then that’s what this family is going to do,” said Sean.
“Gross,” said Tyler.
“We’re survivors,” said Sean and twisted the lid. It wouldn’t budge. “We never give up.” He tried again.
“Guess we’re not eating eyeballs,” he said, shaking out his hand.
“What are you thinking about, honey?” said Jenna.
“Go to sleep.”
“You’re holding your breath. I can’t sleep when you do that. What are you thinking about?”
“That jar of stuff. Do you think it’s like fifty years old or like a hundred?”
“Whatever it is it’s not edible. Go to sleep.”
The house was built in 1920, so it couldn’t be older than that, could it? It could. Theoretically. Theoretically it could be edible. Don’t be stupid, he told himself.
Jenna caught him running the lid of the jar under hot water. He felt a little embarrassed and tried to play it off as determination.
“Throw the thing out.”
“I’m not going to be defeated by a jar.”
“My money’s on the jar. Did you fill in those job applications like you promised?”
“Next!” He had the jar wrapped in dish towels, the metal lid was hot, and was twisting with all his might. “I’m doing that next,” he grunted. “I dreamt I got it open.”
“A dream, Sean?”
He hated that tone in her voice. So he didn’t tell her that in the dream he ate one of the pale globs inside and the taste was indescribable, mind-blowing, a crescendo of delight and satisfaction that he had only ever reached in dreams. So far.
“Do the applications.”
Instead of filling in the job applications that Jenna had helpfully selected and left open in a long row of tabs in the browser on his laptop, few of which he was qualified for and none of which he could stomach, he browsed Amazon. After searching, reading reviews, he purchased the JarMaster Extreme in black. The padded jar stability clamp and the fully clutched torque bar with KomfortGrip had grabbed his interest, but it was the video of the JarMaster Extreme twisting a hardwood log into pieces that sold it for him.
Thanks to the pandemic, next day shipping had become next week, if you’re lucky, shipping. That allowed plenty of time for awkward conversations.
“What did you buy for $400 on Amazon?”
“On Amazon? Let me think. $400? $400?”
He thought it was $40.
“It was a jar opener, Sean. It’s my account. They email me the receipts.”
“I thought it was $40.”
“We don’t have $400 to spend on jar openers.”
“We bought Tyler a Switch.”
“He’s a kid a stuck at home by himself. That was $400 worth of sanity protection for us. You’re returning it.”
“Fine. I’ll return it.” After I use it.
The next day the jar wasn’t on the counter in the kitchen. And it wasn’t in the pantry. He even looked in the trash can.
“Tyler, do you know where the jar is?”
Tyler didn’t bother to look up from his Switch. “Outside trash can.”
“Did you do that?”
“Of course it was.”
He waited until Jenna was zooming, then snuck out and dug through the garbage, to the very bottom of the wheeled trash can, where she had hidden it. It was still intact. He took it inside and put it on the top shelf of the pantry, up against the wall, where he had found it and where she couldn’t see it without a ladder.
After switching the bedside light off, Jenna rolled towards him and dispensed the official kiss goodnight. It was just long enough to show she wasn’t angry. That is why, Sean thought, secrets are sometimes necessary in relationships.
“Have you heard back from any of the jobs?”
“No. It’s a lockdown. No-one’s hiring.”
“But they’re advertising. We’ll find more tomorrow. Good night.”
She loved doing that. Ending the day on a positive note calculated to leave him staring at the ceiling for hours.
Instead he thought about the jar. He would have it open soon. He had another dream. The jar was on a podium. He was behind it. It was some kind of an award ceremony.
Somehow Jenna got to the JarMaster Extreme before he did. The shipping box was re-addressed and waiting by the front door before he noticed it.
The doorbell rang. Jenna breezed into the entrance way and opened the door, forcing Sean away from the box. A quick signature and it was gone.
Jenna brushed metaphorical dust, in this case his dreams of opening the jar with ease, off her hands. “Done!” she said and breezed back out again.
Sean wasn’t done. He had been looking forward to using the JarMaster Extreme. It looked like fun and there wasn’t much of that going around lately. But he had also been watching videos on jar opening. He was going to do it. He was going to just do it. Just go and do it, after checking Jenna was busy. She was working with headphones on.
He fetched the jar from the pantry and the chef’s knife from the block on the counter. Using the flat top of the knife blade he tapped the edge of the lid, gently at first, then harder. He could see he was leaving dents. He kept working around the edge until, at last, the ancient seal broke with a satisfying pop and the centre of the lid rose up.
As he unscrewed the lid his hands trembled with anticipation. A terrible smell filled the kitchen. He peeled off the metal flat and looked into the jar. Some things smelled bad but tasted great, he thought. Like durians. Not that he had ever smelled or tasted a durian, but he’d seen the reaction videos on Youtube. He fished out one of the pickled things. It was slippery, faintly yellowed, and squished juicily when he gave it a little squeeze. It didn’t appear to be an eyeball. He popped it in his mouth.
The McDonalds was packed with the after school crowd. It was first week back and everyone was still coming to grips with being there, in person, in school.
Chloe grabbed the seat next to him.
“Hey,” he said, disassembling his burger onto the wrapper.
“Sorry to hear about your Dad.”
“I heard he got corona.”
“That sucks. So awful.”
“Can I have your pickles if you don’t want them?”