A short story from 2015-
Dust covers the hidden jar. There are enough layers to capture fingerprints of anyone poking around in Auntie’s pantry. Not that me or Simon would dare venture in here and look behind jars of peach preserves and homemade salsa, except this one time. Auntie Jean never lets Simon climb on the kitchen furniture or cabinets, and those rules applied to the pantry as well. Funny how nothing else in here looks this old. Did Auntie forget about it?
I bring it out of the pantry and place it on the counter. I blow on the side and watch a storm cloud of dust fly toward her kitchen table. It spreads out, looking like sparklers drifting downward. Oh boy. She’ll count every particle and wonder who tracked it in. If she comes home.
I look for a butter knife to pop what will be a hopelessly stuck lid, especially with honey inside, but I notice something on top of the jar. I lean in closer and see a small hole in the top. It has an upward cone to it as though someone has punched the hole from the inside. Like a tiny gun blast. Easy to figure; a hole was punched when the lid was off. Something to do with ventilation I guess. But I know that honey should be kept tightly closed up. Strange.
I hold the jar up to the window and examine tiny, shimmering tendrils of honey that stretch to the hole and run into the pool of honey, which fills two thirds of the jar. The thread lights up like a LED light in the mid-morning sunlight that saturates the kitchen.
“Hey, Sunshine, where did you find that?”
I look up and see my dad, his inquisitive face looking like he’s on a mission. I stammer before replying, “An old jar of honey. The kind with comb still in it. My favorite.”
He pulls his glasses down along the bridge of his nose, and says, “Well….We don’t know where this came from, or how long it’s been here. I say throw it out. No need to take any chances on getting sick.”
“Can I ask Uncle Bill? He’ll know if it’s any good.”
“Well, he won’t be returning from the hospital for at least few more days. He’s still seeing little men flying overhead trying to…well, never mind. Since we’re looking over the house, I say it goes in the trash. Just an oversight I’m sure. He meant to throw it away a long time ago. I doubt he’s gone through the pantry lately, since your Aunt Jean left.”
“Why isn’t it turning to sugar? When it gets old at our house it turns all white and thick.”
He steps closer and furrows his forehead, and then replies, “It has a hole in the lid. This is bad. Throw it in the trash. No more discussion.”
Don’t understand why he still treats me like a kid. I’m twenty-five. But he’s never gotten over my brother’s disappearance four years ago. Honestly, none of us have. I’m all they have now, still living at home. And they keep saying Auntie Jean left my uncle the year before. She disappeared. They are still in denial after what happened to my brother.
I walk to the trash can and gently slide the jar down inside on top of two days’ worth of garbage, hoping it won’t turn over and spill out the hole. I wait for Dad to leave the room.
After what seems an eternity I pull the jar back out and return to the counter. I figure I’ll have to beat on the lid with a butter knife to break it loose, but I ‘m surprised to find it opens rather easily. Staring down into the golden contents I start to dip a finger in it but a speck of something moves. I know I saw something. I walk over to the window and hold the jar up to the sun again and inspect the comb from top to bottom. I figure if something crawled in the jar it’s hiding inside the comb. Well, the coast is clear. I’ll try a spoonful.
Or should I. How many times have I gone for it, all or nothing, and paid the price? Mom and Dad are right; be conservative, day by day, and over time you’ll have a comfortable life that allows you to retire and support yourself. And you may have to support the ones who squander their savings on dead end schemes, but that’s just part of living in a civil society.
Screw it. I never have fallen in line with rules anyway.
I dip the spoon into the clear, smooth surface, carving a spoonful out. I look it over and then put the spoon on my mouth, savoring the sweetest taste I’ve ever known, and licking the spoon clean before hearing footsteps coming up from the basement. I put the spoon in my pocket to hide the evidence and take the honey into the pantry, sliding it behind the other mason jars where I found it.
“We’re heading over to the hospital. See you this afternoon.”
“Okay, Mom. Have fun.”
She glares at me but walks away without a confrontation. Sometimes I don’t think about what I’m saying. I live on autopilot.
I pull the jar back out and dip out another spoonful. I am feeling unusually relaxed, like I did after my wisdom teeth were cut out and the pain killers kicked in. Like, chill. Enjoy life. I wonder if the honey is bad like Dad said. Can it ferment and turn to a psychedelic drug? If one spoonful works that well, two should do wonders.
Simon walks up, and since I’m in a giving mood I add a drop on the spoon and let him lick it clean.
My phone rings. “Hello?”
“This is Mom. Your uncle is being transferred to a facility four hours away. We’re coming by to pack a few clothes and we’ll stay in a hotel through the weekend. Just letting you know.”
“I‘ll fend for myself. Tell Uncle Bill I hope he gets well soon. Thinking about him.”
“I will . Are you feeling okay? Your voice sounds different.”
“Sure, Mom. Just tired. I may lie down. You and Dad stay safe.”
I wonder if Uncle Bill got hold of Auntie’s honey. He seems awfully happy.
After I wake up the effects are starting to lighten. I still feel kind of groovy, but I’m ready for another hit of whatever that was. I wonder if Auntie had another jar and she took off so she could enjoy it in peace. I can relate.
My clock says I have been in bed for two days. I squint my eyes and look at the date again. No way. I roll over and go to step out of the bed and look at the mirrored closet door. For a moment I see many faces staring back at me, and I lean forward to see they are all me. I close my eyes tightly and look again, and the multiple exposures are gone. I look rough. One of me is enough. This much sleep doesn’t do a thing for my looks. I step off the bed and collapse into a heap on the hardwood floor. I lay there stunned for a moment, and then look around at the strange looking furnishings. Everything looks kind of the same, but the perspective isn’t right. I sit up on my knees and look up at the bed, wondering how I ever got up there in the first place. Then a large, furry creature the size of a bear enters the room.
I nearly scream before I recognize the I.D. necklace around Simon’s neck. He moves in and looks at me curiously, and I say, “Kitty, kitty, you remember me? Daphne? Or Sunshine? That’s what Dad calls me all the time. I do hope you remember me, the one who feeds you.”
Simon narrows his eyes to two green slits and bared his teeth.
“Okay, I usually feed you. Just not today or yesterday.”
Simon moved closer and pops me across the nose with nothing but padded paws. He turns his head to the side in curiosity and turns, and saunters out of the room without as much as a smirk.
. I think, that was close. Now, what is going on? Am I hallucinating from that honey? It has magic powers I think. I stand and move from my bedroom through the open door. Good thing the door is open. I’m not sure I can reach the door handle.
I smell the sweetness of Auntie’s honey from way up here. Either someone spread it along the stairway or my sense of smell is much better today.
The landing before the steps is carpeted, and, oh boy. That spider is the size of my hand. This is too much. I press my hand against the wall as I go down the steps and its adult sized gaps between steps with great care. This is like learning to walk again. I reach the bottom of the landing and begin to cry. I wonder where this will end. Will I shrink into nothingness?
My phone rings, but I don’t bother. I am drawn back to the kitchen. Simon comes up beside me and I think he’s bigger now.
The pantry door is still open. I swear I thought I closed it, but there it is. I walk in and look up at the fourth shelf, breathing in the overwhelming aroma. I could have made it here with my eyes closed, following the smell. I can’t reach beyond the first shelf, so I climb up, gripping best I can through the wire rungs of the shelf and I hear the sound of the brackets popping and groaning under the added weight. I pull up to the third, and then the fourth shelf and look down into Simon’s shining eyes. My leg slips through the wire rack and I grimace as I lose my footing. My body is shrinking at such a rate that I will fall through in no time. I stand back up and see that my head is halfway to the next shelf up. I grab a loose pack of sunflower seeds to take care of my hunger pangs and move between jars and cans until I reach the elusive jar of honey. Now I can see tiny objects moving inside.
After scaling three packs of loosely stacked Ramen Noodles I crawl up on an adjacent jar and then step up on the honey jar, pulling the sunflower seeds along, although they’re the size of a burlap bag and getting heavy. I catch my breath for a moment and notice a sweet smell drifting up from the punched hole in the jar’s lid. It smells more wonderful than any dessert I have ever experienced. I edge closer and look down through the opening. Nothing other than the string of honey that was there previously. Surprised it survived the trash can. Maybe it was built back.
I pull with all my might and tear open a corner of the snack pack I brought up here with me. I reach in and grab a single seed and pop it in my mouth. I nearly gag from all the salt. Funny, I’ve always loved seasoned foods. Nothing appeals to me now except the honey. I look down at the jars of salsa and see more grayscale than anything. The reds are gone. I can’t see anything red. My mind is disrupted.
The bag of seeds falls down and spills through the wire racks, hitting the floor with a thunderous boom. My ears are becoming more sensitive as each second ticks by. I feel like my head will explode. I edge closer to the opening, and realize I can squeeze a leg through now. All I have to do is wait.
I look back out of the pantry into the kitchen. Simon is coming toward the door, and he has a mouse firmly trapped in his mouth. That thing could eat me alive. Don’t bring it up here, Simon. I meant to feed you, I promise.
My vision is changing. Colors are different. I am metamorphosing into something. I hope it’s better. I edge over and slip both legs into the opening and grab the line of honey that extends down into the pool.
I slip into the sweet honey and my ears are filled with a sound like I have never experienced. A low tone that is becoming clearer as I drift slowly downward into the thick warmth that wraps itself around my body like a silky body suit. I hear voices, in a language that I knew before I was born. After a time I hold both arms out like a rudder and turn myself into a somersault. I look toward the side of the jar and see a dark figure pressed against the glass. I turn and swim with my feet. Simon looks in curiously, presses his face against the jar until he looks distorted, and then bares his teeth. I smile and wave as something gently grabs my leg, and then the other. I am pulled away.
Something floats up from beneath and wraps around a leg, and I think I’m being attacked. Then something attaches to the other leg. They slowly slide back down, losing grip, like a pearl slowly sinking in a thickened bottle of oil. They caress my legs, and I look down to see golden people, like magical porcelain figures of pure gold. One strokes my leg from inner thigh to my toes, and another does the same with the other leg. I lay back and close my eyes, soaking in the splendor of this place, and its people. My clothes are removed, and two figures stroke my arms and pull me along in a sea of pure bliss. I allow them to pull me along as I drink in the honey.
I am turned upright and look at a series of caves openings, all which look to be twenty feet in circumference. I look up at the lid far above me, with light streaming into the opening, when I realize where I am. Of course. The honeycomb. I have shrunk to something no longer visible with a casual glance from the outside. I swim toward an opening and enter the golden world.
I look to one side and see a man who looks my age with all the indications of aging wiped away by the golden liquid. He smiles and takes my hand. I have never seen anyone so beautiful. His eyes sparkle like a gold nugget, and his smooth head is as a sculpture.
Shimmering lights inside are more fabulous than any palace could be on the outside. I pass over many golden figures laying on indentations of the comb, some in fetal positions, and others stretched out like they’re in a relaxed sleep. Or perhaps a metamorphosis. They all look content; at least the ones whose glowing faces are visible. I look again at my new friend and decide his name is Adonis. He begins to swim faster and we move from one chamber to chamber, all connected by short tunnels.
We enter a new room that goes upward forever. I look around the floor and see something swimming toward me. Then another. I look at Adonis and he smiles real big and points toward the figures headed in our direction. They are golden but look to have fur.
Oh my. It’s Wanderdog. And Catty. They disappeared what, three years ago? Dad said Wanderdog had chased another pet from our yard and never returned. I figured it was true; we called him Wanderdog for a reason. And Catty, Simon’s brother. I cried so long that Aunty called and talked her sister into giving up Simon for a grieving family member. How did they get in here? Did someone feed them honey and then carry them along? They look so happy to see me.
I notice their paws are rounded off as if they had ridden off into a strong wind and had their paws smoothed over. I look down at my own hands and see the fingernails and tips of the fingers are smoothed away as if they were never there. I look down at my figure. It’s simple and beautiful. I run the palm of my hand across my head and it’s smooth as the rest of my body.
Adonis takes my hand and we swim along. I turn and see the animals swimming in the other direction. Oh well. They were always independent. I’ll see them at dinner time. We go upward into a vertical shaft that approaches a large, dark object that looks foreign to the comb. I slow, pulling back, and he turns and takes both of my hands and says, “Follow me.” I can’t hear anything other than a low hum, but I read his lips just fine. I smile and we resume our swim upward. As we approach the object I recognize the yellow and black stinger. A bee that was left behind. Hope no one above bites into it. We swim beside it easily, and as we pass by the wings and head a boy swims up to us. I do a flip and then give my missing baby brother a big hug. We swing around like a merry go round and Adonis stands by with a big grin. He is lit up like a golden light bulb.
After a time he motions for us to come on, and I grab his hand, and hold my brother’s hand too. We move through the shining city. We pass by the missing neighbor, whose wife swears she saw him get swept off the jetty at St. John’s during a storm. Life insurance I guess. He waves as we go by. Aunty must have invited him over. Makes me wonder about those two. But, he was probably just drawn by the honey. Who wouldn’t be?
We pass by a cluster of beings that try to grab us as we go by, but Adonis and my brother pull me away safely. I ask about it, and he says they broke in the house and stole some honey, and now they are here. The smell lured them for some unknown reason. A bad element for sure.
Shadows fall over the land and we all turn and look toward the source. After a brief swim we can see the jar’s side and a monstrous face is pressed against, meowing like it wants to come inside to play. Simon has dropped the mouse. He licks the side of the jar, and we all stare for a moment before disappearing back into the play land below.
We exit a tunnel and all three of us stop. Below us, stretched out for a lifetime of swimming stands a palace so ornate I can’t begin to describe it. I am the only one who hasn’t seen this before, but the others are enchanted as well. We swim down and enter the front door. That’s when I see Auntie for the first time in five years. Her big hide is floating lighter than air. I see she is happy but still big. Must eat lots of honey. She takes my hand and pulls me along until we reach a room deep within the catacombs, as I have named them, to a room decorated with exquisite décor of gold. Or probably honey drenched ornaments. She points to four chairs and my brother moves forward and sits in one. He motions for me to sit next to him, and I point to Adonis. Auntie smiles and motions us over next to her where two chairs sit side by side. She sits on the larger one and picks up a staff before slipping a royal crown over her slick head. I notice her ears have partially worn away but the edges are smoothed over, like river rocks that have spent generations in the water, being slowly honed to perfection. She is the queen bee. Fitting, since it’s her sweet honey.
Auntie speaks in low tones that I understand but can’t articulate. I figure that will come with time. She says this place is her nirvana and only a select few will enter and stay. I ask her about the parasites and she says they snuck in, but will soon be gone, like the others before them. I can stay here forever, she says. She reaches down and picks up gold pellets and consumes them. Her face relaxes and her eyes seem to roll back in her head. Her golden elixir. Like the worm at the bottom of the bottle.
She takes us on a tour of her kingdom, and on our way back Simon swims alongside us, now resized for our world. He slides up against me, making amends. I am glad I gave him some honey.
As we head back to the palace everything begins to move. The catacombs move like a giant earthquake has uprooted them and they slam against the jar’s edge, well below us, thank goodness. I hear voices, and as my world tumbles I see Dad’s face on the outside, fire red with anger. So now he knows I didn’t throw the jar away. I think he’s doing it for us.
I hear a massive sound that makes me think of a vacuum exploding and expelling me into the next universe over. A chill overcomes me that is difficult to fathom. I feel like a newborn child must feel when that first dose of reality hits square in the face. The honey is flowing in all directions and my friends are gone. I am struck from behind and go tumbling into a strange world without honey until I slip off a patchwork of something that resembles burlap, it being covered with hideous remains of a fried creature that towers over me but looks harmless. Chicken nugget pieces from two days ago. Can’t believe I ate that. I must be in the garbage can, as Dad had instructed. I can hear him now. If you want something done right, do it yourself.
The sweetness of honey is everywhere, and I am drawn in all directions. I slide like a slithering creature to the burlap’s edge, unable to stand without the honey to support me, and I roll over the edge, falling forever. I land, as I had hoped, in a pool of honey and I submerge myself, regaining my strength as I take gulps and breathe in its sweetness.
I wonder how soon my new place will dry up outside the jar, but I dismiss the thought. I slip underneath the surface again as a strange light is switched on, as though sunshine has peeked out on a cloudy day. I return to the surface as a figure overshadows my honey, casting darkness on my last remaining piece of home. He is bigger than life, like I am gazing into the face of the universe. That’s how he wanted to look to me. He did nothing wrong. I just wanted more; my own life.
I feel afraid. Dad’s tears fall in a salty rain as he searches for answers, I can see it on his tear-streaked face. For some things there is no going back.