A Frowning Jar (my birthday story for Miss Justin P)

A Frowning Jar

So, I met this girl a couple of years ago when I was in college.

Nice enough girl, a history major, but she never smiled.

And when I say never, I mean never. It was the strangest thing. I had never, and have not since met someone who just didn’t smile.

Even accidentally.

There are plenty of people out there workin’ an angle or tryin’ to live up to an image and those people pretend not to care or to smile or any of that, but if you get an adult beverage in them or if you get them alone they’ll open up like a crack to Hell but this girl gave you nothin’.

Not a thing.

And it was her frowning which drew me.

It was her molecular refusal to not be unhappy which made me so fascinated with her.

So, every day at noon I’d head down to the campus cafeteria to sit and eat lunch with her.

She was getting out of Economics and I was on my way to Biology and it was a chance for a few of us to get together and talk. She knew a guy I was friends with, I suppose they dated but I never had asked so maybe they just slept together occasionally.

Hard to say.

Each day I’d go to lunch and just watch her and while she’d talk, it was always the most gloomy and unhappy things that she had to offer. Not that she was into the macabre but she just chose to talk about really sad and awful things. I am usually pretty cool with whatever anyone wants to talk about, being a big fan of all night diners and coffee shops and the like you fall in love with stories, whatever they are, but her stories got to me.

She told me once, when we were both walking to our classes together, that she collected these stories and had since she was a teenager. Her uncle had been the one to interest her in these stories and who had hooked her on diners and funerals because those were the best places for the best stories.

Or perhaps the worst stories.

Her uncle would write down these stories and collect them in a frowning jar so he could keep the stories forever. Her uncle told the girl about the jar and passed it on to her for her thirteenth birthday, wanting to pass on the tradition. What was strange was that the day he gave her the old glass jelly jar he smiled for the first time and that was the last time she could remember smiling.

She stopped suddenly and her eyes grew wide.

I stopped as well and wondered if we’d found the answer to the unposed question.

She pulled a pad of paper from the back pocket of her jeans, a pen from her front pocket, and wrote a short note to herself before putting it all away again. She had already taken three more steps before I started walking again and was able to catch up to her.

‘Well?’ I asked.

Oh, I realized that I had a new story for the frowning jar.

I shook my head and asked her how many jars there were now.

‘Oh, gosh, just the one, but that one is in a big pickling jar now. I try to write the stories as tiny as I am able to so I can save room for more stories.’ She told me that and then was off to her class and I was off to mine and I had a lot of thinking to do.

This all happened on the Friday before a long weekend so I had to sit and stew about all that she’d told me for three long days but as soon as we were back at school I sought her out and asked her about her jar.

‘Can I see it?’ I asked.

She tilted her head a little and her ever-present frown deepened.

‘Gosh, I never showed anyone before. I’d like that.

Can you skip class?’

Of course I could.

The girl lived three blocks from campus in a small apartment that was paid for with grants and funds and some other money for really smart kids. Sure, she was frowny, but she was clever as could be.

She was right in downplaying the magnificence of the jar because it really wasn’t much to brag about. The jelly jar was small and cracked and rested, full of small scraps of yellowed paper, in the bottom of a big glass pickling jar.

That jar was about half way full and I had a feeling that she’d probably fill sooner than later, if she kept up the pace she was on.

She picked up the jar with a grunt and handed it to me carefully. She had the look of someone who collects fragile things but never really enjoys them for fear of breaking them.

I lifted the jar up to eye level and looked into it and saw what had to be the miseries of a thousand people, all collected like some vast world diary and just holding it I felt the corners of my mouth fall down into a frown.

The jar seemed to just give off a feeling of sadness and doom.

I looked to the girl, who was pretty but might be beautiful if she were to smile, and I thought of the jar, and her uncle, and finally of the frown that turned into a smile.

I had a feeling about something but needed to ask her, just in case – Had the jar ever been emptied?

Of course not. That ruins the magic. That releases the stories she’d worked so hard to collect.


So I looked into the jar one last time then let go of it and let it fall onto the linoleum floor of her kitchen.

As soon as I let it go I heard her exclaim and saw her reach for it too late.

The jar hit the floor and shattered into a hundred pieces and the stories scattered across the floor.

I looked over at the girl and for a moment, all the rage of the world was in her eyes but then it changed and her face cracked open and a smile emerged like the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen.

She fell forward gave me a kiss like I’d never had before and never since, and then hugged me.

Sure, she was sad about the jar but, with it broken, it felt as if a great weight was off of her shoulders, a great responsibility, and she was glad to have it gone.

I smiled to her.

I had an idea.

We gathered all the stories together and put them all in a paper sack and made our way down to the park. In the park we found an open barbecue and loaded the stories into it and set them ablaze and as they burned they gave off a miserable green flame that had the worst scent I had ever smelled but, when they were gone the sun seemed to shine a little brighter and the day felt better.

We fell in love there, beside the burning miseries of a thousand people and bonded by our resistance to them.

We fell in love and made a new tradition then and there.

Sure, we still collect the stories, the good, the bad, the big and small, only this time we collect them in a box and when that box is full we burn it, and release the stories to the wind.

Maybe it’s me but the days feel longer, the nights not as dark, and her smile, well, it’s still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.


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