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February 12, 2010

The Heart Jar

The diner on the corner is one of those Disneyfied modern cut-outs trying to mimic the actual thing but failing utterly. The street, a vein of hipness running through an Ivy League campus that is still trying to cling to a time when it all meant something. As I walk by, I am blasted with a Motown song, a fabulous beat, it lifts the corners of my mouth into a smile even though it doesn’t make me happy. Around the bottom of the impostor diner, the good burger franchise people have added a metal facade to make people think of one of the classic little silver trailer diners from the old days. At least they have that. At least they have a facade, I mean. Unlike me. My facade has been destroyed, not as much by the jackhammer days that seem to come in violent spasms, but more by the slow water erosion of all the days.

I’ve been an atheist since so long ago, but now I actually know what it means to lose faith. It is a loss that starts filling the hourglass with black sand, fast, relentless, as gravity hisses it down into the last remaining empty space. Gravity, gravity, after the faith is lost (faith in the possibility of magic?) gravity stops being a steady and grounding force, and starts pushing, pushing, pushing, like a bully, so hard that the muscles respond with aches and joints all feel like they’re two parts of a mortar and pestle. This is when you become the walking dead. People like me, we’re the real zombies. We’re the only real thing left in a world that has abstracted itself so many times that artifice becomes the achievement.

The sidewalk moves past me on a conveyor belt. The college students and mothers with babies, the righteous professors trying to salvage as many lucid moments as they can from the deep pits of intellectualism and alcohol, the old poet women with their manes of long gray hair and their live eyes, all move past me in a silent movie I am no longer an actor in, only a watcher. But I’m not really watching either, am I?

The scent from the Indian restaurant begins to penetrate. This helps me to I know I am close. I am within a block of the store, the only store in the city that sells relics of Canopic Jars. Those jars the Egyptians used to keep their organs in during the mummification process. I may have to buy all four in the set, even though I only need one. But however I have to do it, I am going to buy my heart jar and take it home. I am going to put it on the mantel of my boarded-up fireplace, and I am going to wait.

I walk into the store and into a musty thickness. There is a girl unpacking a box in the corner. “Excuse me, do you still carry Canopic Jars?” I say without wasting any time.
“Yep, we sure do. They’re right over there,” she says as she points to the glass shelf in the back.
Relieved, I walk over to the jars. Right away I think I want the one that has more of an animal than a human face. I certainly know I need the biggest one. I pick it up and it is heavier than I thought it would be. I open the lid. “Miss, this is solid. I wanted to put something in it.”
She stands up and looks at me with this strange expression, “Oh no, sorry, those are only for decorative purposes.”
I smile again.

(I managed to get both my daughter’s homework and Three Word Wednesday into this week’s Friday Flash.)

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. February 12, 2010 2:27 pm

    Very ominous. You paint the bleakness of the MC’s life beautifully, so even though it’s depressing it’s also very compelling. I love this: “My facade has been destroyed, not as much by the jackhammer days that seem to come in violent spasms, but more by the slow water erosion of all the days.” Nicely written. And such a creepy ending. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. jimwisneski permalink
    February 12, 2010 2:45 pm

    WOW! This is really dark and bleak but so wonderful to read. I could just imagine this guy walking around looking at everything and finding a reason why it’s wrong or bad and not becuase he thinks he’s better but because he truly feels that the world is a joke.

    Nicely done!

    Jim

  3. February 12, 2010 3:27 pm

    There are lots of beautiful phrases in here (gravity, faith, façades) but this one spoke volumes:

    “…We’re the only real thing left in a world that has abstracted itself so many times that artifice becomes the achievement.”

    If you keep writing like you do, like this, even from behind a broken beautiful façade, we have little to fear. Wonderful.
    Simon.

  4. February 12, 2010 4:00 pm

    A heart jar – I want a heart jar. What a creepy/eerie but also solemn/noble thing.
    The erosion of all the days… ah, I’m going to be thinking of that one for a while.
    The smile that doesn’t mean happiness.. oh, there’s too many good things in here to single them out, the comment will be longer than the flash!

  5. yearzerowriters permalink
    February 12, 2010 4:48 pm

    Rich with metaphors for the alienation of contemporary life. I agree with Simon about that line, it’s so fabulous I wish I’d written it!

    Your daughter’s homework is in this you say? Who’s her teacher, Kierkegaard?

    marc nash

  6. February 12, 2010 7:17 pm

    “we’re the real zombies” sums so much up in this story and reaches out. Very nice.

  7. February 12, 2010 11:06 pm

    Thank you all for reading and taking the time to comment. I know it isn’t exactly a thrill ride. 😉

    Marc, it was the Canopic Jars that were brought in because of a wonderful 5th grade social studies teacher.

  8. February 12, 2010 11:53 pm

    Surreal and poetic. I love the analogy to losing faith and the feeling like reality is not at all that ‘real.’ I think we’ve all been there and you have painted it beautifully. Great writing. Your words flow through the mind like a wonderful stream as one reads them.

  9. February 13, 2010 12:37 am

    Lou, just amazing detail and creativity in this. And so many killer lines, I lost count. My fav? “…but more by the slow water erosion of all the days.” Classic. Great stuff.

  10. February 13, 2010 1:23 am

    Smart, beautifully written, with so many poetic phrases that I read it a few times trying to soak it all in.
    I have to ask… everyone else probably knows but I’m thick… how is she going to put a heart in a solid jar? Or, is she smiling because they’re like everything else.. just a facade…? that nothing in this sad little world is real at all?
    OK… think I just answered my own question. LOL!
    See? I told you this was smart!
    Smarter than me!
    Yay Lou!

  11. February 13, 2010 2:44 pm

    Lovely, just lovely with sadness twining through. So much many great metaphors, gravity bullying us all. Really loved this simple opener:

    The street, a vein of hipness running through an Ivy League campus that is still trying to cling to a time when it all meant something. As I walk by, I am blasted with a Motown song, a fabulous beat, it lifts the corners of my mouth into a smile even though it doesn’t make me happy. Around the bottom of the impostor diner, the good burger franchise people have added a metal facade to make people think of one of the classic little silver trailer diners from the old days. At least they have that. At least they have a facade, I mean. Unlike me. My facade has been destroyed, not as much by the jackhammer days that seem to come in violent spasms, but more by the slow water erosion of all the days.

    No veneer here; all honest stuff. Peace, Linda

  12. February 13, 2010 2:45 pm

    Hmmm.. got too excited and dumped excess adjectives – make that “So MANY great metaphors…

    :^)

  13. February 14, 2010 4:14 am

    This is very dark, but you handled it so well. Not at all cloying or cliched. It was a difficult piece to read because I remember being in a pit like this and you portray it so well. Beautifully done. ~ Olivia

  14. February 14, 2010 2:28 pm

    Thank you Maria and ThomG, your taking the time to read and comment means everything and I’m glad you were able to find some things to like and identify with in this piece.

    Cathy, you got it. The jar, like so much around us these days, serves no real purpose other than than the way it looks. And stop with the smart thing, cause I can actually disprove your little theory by reading your blog! 😉 What I find interesting is that you read this as a woman, and I wrote it as a man in his fifties. I had a reference to this at some point which I took out, and I never thought about that being the only identifier of the narrator. So when I read ‘she’ it shorted my brain out. But now, I like the fact that people can read it however they want. Thanks for the comment.

    Linda, I will take all the adjectives I can get from you! Thank you so much.

    Olivia, Thank you for sticking with it, thank you for your kind words, and I’m glad your ‘pit’ is in the past-tense. Best to you.

    Lou

  15. February 14, 2010 6:00 pm

    This is a wonderful find. A really, really, wonderful find. I loved the idea of the person (and, I confess, I naturally assumed that the narrator was a man) going out to find the canopic jars. I was wracking my brains to think if I knew of any place to buy canopic jars, outside of bad markets in Egypt. Or auction halls. I failed, but I digress.

    Your wordsmithing is fantastic. Your pacing is just lovely. You showed us the inside of (his[!]) the narrator’s mind and world view. Wonderful.

    I would have paid to read this.

    Thank you very much for sharing this. I look forward to visiting in the future.

    Tschuess,
    Chris

  16. February 15, 2010 3:29 am

    I know a guy who does masonry work. One day we were standing together just looking at the sad decay of a brick column and he said, “Gravity always wins.”

    Linda’s comment is right on. There’s no bullshit in your work, but there is poetry.

  17. February 15, 2010 11:45 pm

    I’m humbled by your encouraging words. Seriously, thank you.

    Mark,

    When I write I give myself permission to fail (which I do a lot) but I do not ever give myself permission to be dishonest.

    Chris,

    Please do come back, even if you don’t like me so much the next time. 😉

  18. February 16, 2010 4:57 pm

    Dig it.

    Self-mummification, hmmm.

    Ornamental Canopic jars. Great metaphor there.

  19. February 16, 2010 8:10 pm

    When I was younger, I thought I was weird. I was, but not in the way I thought. Many people felt a similar displacement, but we were all so awkward, we didn’t recognize our kinship. I wish that I could have read (and understood) someone’s statement of freakness sooner.

  20. KarenDC permalink
    February 16, 2010 9:50 pm

    Oh, this is stunning and I am proud of you!! I also just got back from San Francisco where I got to see the Tutankhamen exhibit–lots of those jars, presumably not solid, but great reminders of the honoring of the after-life.

    Also, in related news, hugs from Fe!

  21. February 17, 2010 3:25 pm

    Lou, this is a great writing. I liked the way you developed the idea of facades and the canopic jars. It had me thinking about Identity theft and the way we all need to cling to our past in certain respects, in order to maintain our self image. In some respects, to even find it necessary to dump some clawing aspects of our past, in order to grow as individuals. I think this is why some wars are started…some people feel very strongly about this.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Chris

    PS. You’ve a small typo in L1… a “be” has buzzed its way into that line and is sitting just in front of “mimic”…I don’t know why?

  22. February 22, 2010 12:00 am

    I thought the image of her wanting to use the canopic jar for its intended purpose was grim and sad, perfectly suited to the rest of the piece.

    The whole tone here was gray and subtly potent – nicely done.

  23. February 22, 2010 1:57 am

    I want one of those jars. I got something to put in it. Well done.

  24. February 23, 2010 10:28 pm

    Glad to see you back up…This is literally suffocating – your character seems to be at a point of utter despair. Can really sense the feel of the world continuing on without him while he is in the pits. Great stuff. Aand am impressed by your ability to combine 3 word wednesday with your daughter’s homework. (Glad to see Egyptians on the curriculum both sides of the Atlantic)

  25. February 26, 2010 9:30 pm

    Thank you all for your comments. It is kind of grim and sad and despairing, so again I appreciate you reading and letting me know what you found.

    (Thanks also for the editing, and I removed the extra word)

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