The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Slate’s loss, your gain

Rachael Conlin Levy

This 75-cent jar was the inspiration for a short story contest
co-sponsored by Slate and Significant Objects.

I found the small, glazed pot in the back of the cupboard where I’d placed it five years earlier when we bought our home. Now the house is in foreclosure and I’m packing again. We’re not moving until the bank forces us out, but I want to be prepared so I pack one or two boxes a day. We won’t miss the brown pot from my first job after high school, but before I could wrap it in newspaper, my four-year-old daughter found it and asked to paint. The knobby handle fit her small hand perfectly as she dipped the brush into the paint. I returned to packing.

The pot was given to me by my boss. He was a ranger and I was an aide at a state park. He taught me how to drive a garbage truck, mend a barbed-wire fence, clean an outhouse, use a chainsaw, and kiss. Kissing was the most useful thing I learned. Garbage pick-up produced the best stories.

The job involved hauling trash from fourteen beaches. The bags were heavy and the flies quickly found them, so the bottom of every can held a toxic tea. I wasn’t strong enough to lift a bag straight out of the can, so I’d tip it on its side and drag the bag out. Wriggling maggots slid off its sides. Next the bag had to be thrown into the back of the truck. And, again, weak arms forced me to use chest and knee to heave the bag in, sometimes sliming myself with maggoty juice in the process.

The weekend of Bocce and Barbecue — an annual competition that drew hundreds to the beach where they’d play ball and roast a pig in the sand — meant eight hours of nonstop trash pick-up. The bags were so heavy it required two of us to send one sailing into the truck. We drove our way across the beach, hopping out to grab and toss. But at one stop I lost my grip. The bag snagged and innards spilled out. Pig parts, sticky and red, smeared my uniform and splattered my arms and face. Pig blood, I thought, and opened my mouth in horror. I steeled myself for the metallic taste of blood, but tasted tangy and sweet instead. Barbecue sauce.

The next day I found the pot on the lunch table with my name taped to the lid. And because I was just 17 and in love with my boss, I loved the pot and took it home. But summer ended, the job ended, and so did we. The jar stayed. Eventually, it became a handy spot to dump change. Later a boyfriend used it to hold his stash of pot. And finally it served a small artist. My daughter’s painting is of two stick figures, holding hands. I packed the painting. It’s time for the
the pot, like the house, to go.

My story was one of more 600 submitted in the Significant Objects Story Contest. The challenge was to write a short story in which a barbecue sauce jar plays an important role. The winning story can be read (and bid upon) here.

The idea behind Significant Objects is: “a talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to our hypothesis — acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!”

Significant Objects is filled with many stories about once worthless stuff, all quick reads, well written. I loved R.K. Scher’s “Indian Maiden.” The comic by Betsey Swardlick, Dilbert Stress Toy,” is fabulous. And “Spotted Dogs Figurine” by Curtis Sittenfeld is bittersweet. Go treat yourself.

One response to “Slate’s loss, your gain”

  1. mochiv says:

    nice… i can taste the bbq sauce.

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