Week 13 | 1,244 words
Woman of Clay
The thing I most resent is that it was a gift. Occasionally I feel foolish for expecting anything else from my father-in-law, the mighty and petty Zeus. Surely wedding days – like the day a child is born or the day a beloved dies – should be free of manipulation? It is this streak of naivety that runs through me that probably prompted the idea in the first place. It is impossible to be a member of this family and not be perpetually informed of the order of things, and the jar, the enigmatic wedding gift, is a constant reminder.
The jar, the jar, the jar.
It is huge. Runnels of swirls decorate its glazed exterior, and it gleams with a dark pearlescent beauty. There is no denying that it is a remarkable work of art. I could fit inside it if I were limber enough to make it through the narrow neck. I wonder what I would find inside if I did? Something hideous, that’s for certain. There is no way that a gift you have been instructed not to investigate further can contain anything good. At best it will be a jack-in-the-box, something that startles me and sends satisfaction running through Zeus. At worst it will contain curses and bad luck. But that is entirely foolish. I am an entirely practical woman. I was moulded from clay and brought to life by the very same man who gave us the jar. You can’t be formed of something as ordinary as clay and then be prone to flights of fancy. So perhaps I should consider the problem of the jar from a practical perspective. Or perhaps I should stop thinking about it altogether. That would be the most sensible thing to do.
But you see I can’t. Whilst Zeus may be arrogant and egotistical and somewhat insane with power, he doesn’t usually do things for no reason at all. Even if his end goal is to perform something as hideous as rape, his methods get him what he wants. So what does he want from us with this mysterious infuriating gift? And does he want it from me? Or from my oblivious husband, a man so intimidated by his father’s power and so desperate for his love, he’s just thrilled that he was given me and then a gift to celebrate our union? It doesn’t matter to him what that gift was. He has an incredible talent for only reading the purest of intentions in Zeus’s actions. But I have my father-in-law’s breath running through me. I know that he has not given us the jar as a blessing, or because the wedding day crept up on him and he had nothing else to give, or because it’s something he thought that we would like, or would find amusing… He has given us this gift as a test, and whilst everything in me wants to refuse to participate in such an aggravating exam, he has found the perfect way to get under my skin. He has given his clay daughter a clay jar and told her that she cannot look inside. Has he told me I cannot look inside myself? That my inner secrets and deepest thoughts are known also to him? That I can never have access to my own soul, that perhaps I do not even possess one? But then I remember his booming laugh and his short fuse and I cannot align that man with one who would send so subtle a message in such a clever form.
The jar is nothing. It’s an empty jar and its only purpose is to remain closed. I should leave it at that.
We have stood it on a plinth in our atrium. It is the first thing you see when you enter the house, the last thing you see when you leave. When you wake in the morning and drag your slightly weary body down the stairs it is there, its stoppered neck glaring at you from the floor below, daring you to fall, or trip, and accidentally send it smashing to the marble floor. I wonder what it would sound like, that sudden clamour of breaking pottery, the heavy thud of the cork skidding into the wall, the hissing shards sliding to a stop. And looking down at a floor covered with an impossible jigsaw of jar, but really only seeing… What?
I can be resolute in my decision to avoid the damned thing if I can stick to the idea that it is empty of nothing but a ridiculous prank. A prank only Zeus will find amusing, and all it will bring upon me is the withering fulfilled expectations of the rest of our family. Is this a test of my obedience? Or of my willpower? Will the clay woman behave as Zeus expects all women to behave in this scenario? To crack under the strain of being told not to do something? To disobey purely because curiosity is a more powerful force than compliance? Is this something I need to resist for all women? To prove that we are neither as predictable nor as weak as he thinks we are? I wonder if out of sight is truly out of mind? Will this endless cycle of questions and second-guessing end if I just find somewhere else to put it? A dark corner, shrouded in shadows; somewhere I can forget about it and occasionally spot it from the corner of my eye and think “Oh yes. That damned thing.” And then immediately disremember it again.
But this is just another part of the game. If I hide the jar I am disrespecting my father-in-law’s wedding gift. There will be raised eyebrows and hushed gossip. My husband’s love will drift away in a cloud of puzzled and quiet anger, and my life will be breathed away in empty gusts. Perhaps I will end up exactly like the jar. Stiff and ceramic and hidden. And so it stays where it is. Obvious. Bold.
Perhaps if it becomes truly familiar to me I will learn to love it. By learning to love it I may want to protect it. Perhaps that is the safest way to ensure that the stopper stays firmly in the neck.
I must sit and contemplate the jar, consider its beauty and perfection and how that is enhanced by the instruction to keep it closed. I can do that.
When I touch the jar I can feel clay and throbbing warmth. It is like drawing a hand across a sister’s skin. I wonder if there is a child inside. Maybe it is something to make me feel less alone. Maybe Zeus has a tender side to him – it is his breath that drives me, after all. What if the instruction is nothing but a tiny joke; he never had the slightest intention for me to leave it closed for so long.
I wrap my arms around it, and feel movement and desperation. Whatever is in there longs to be here with me, and all of a sudden the clay jar, so ornate and large, seems such an obvious message that I can’t believe I have overlooked it. Woman of clay – take this womb of clay. I am ferocious in my need. My hands scramble at the neck, my fingers pull at the cork. I will claim whatever lies within. It is all mine, and I will love it.
Whatever it is.