The lid worked loose in the night.
Though Eleanor had sealed it with yellow beeswax, wrapping the mason jar three times round with twine from Halder’s General, tucking it deep on the lowest pantry shelf beneath the light of a waning moon, that lid slipped and slid its way loose.
And miniscule trails of grey ash began to trickle out.
Escaping oh so silent bit by bit across the pine shelves; falling to the floor in a slow stream, visible only in the full light of day and don’t think it wasn’t clever enough to halt its flow then.
So it was Eleanor didn’t notice. Didn’t see the ash mingling with dust, coating her bare feet ever so slight as she darted into the pantry for another bottle of pears; a fresh tin of tea or yet more wheat flour and I’d better put that on the marketing list again!
Later Margery realized she should have foreseen it; should have thought to warn Eleanor that damn jar was a menace best weighted down with stones, taken far out to sea on the darkest of nights, tossed away as far as a human arm was able.
But Margery imagined the charm strong and true. She imagined what they’d done for the best, never thinking to question till it proved too late.
They loaded baskets of round, whole wheat loaves and cinnamon braids thick with raisins for the Farmer’s Market that Saturday morning. Selling out well before ten o’clock; giving plenty of time to spare for four tag sales, lunch out, and a check in at the thrift store on their meandering way home.
“Charlie won’t be missing you?” Eleanor asked and Margery rolled her eyes. “Charlie misses nothin’ so long as he’s got a beer and a book in his face”.
Eleanor laughed, letting it go; knowing her friend’s words true. It was nearing dusk when she dropped Margery at her neat clapboard house, driving on down Crow Lane to her own dirt driveway, purposely ignoring the weed strewn front yard, the front flower beds choked with winterberry and honeysuckle. At least the front door and porch look nice Eleanor slowed to admire the simple woven wreath, freshly crimson front door before driving around and parking near the back door, entering through the kitchen.
She smelled him immediately.
Spanish roast, ground fresh and over brewed; burnt really. Along with the twang of spearmint gun and an ever so slight hint of sweat; desert browned and dry.
She smelled him, felt cold fear drench her over, and willed her feet to walk on past the kitchen stove; staring at the fireplace where a single lamp shone lit, the fire crackled, and Tom sat waiting.
“You’re dead” Eleanor said, starting at the strength in her own voice.
His Shade wavered, a sickly pale yellow, nearly translucent.
And though she couldn’t make out his face she just knew the bastard was smiling.
‘Not so much” his words were a whisper in her mind; he wasn’t so strong just yet.
And she was in the pantry, digging, digging through those bottles, a slight haze of dust rising; tickling her nose, raising a fear in her mind. Her hands lit upon the mason jar, fingers recognizing the twine she pulled the thing out, staring lip curled at the cracked beeswax, that slight seam going round and round, the shimmer trail licking down the jaw and off.
She slammed back into the kitchen clutching the jar, forcing herself not to hurl it through his head. Were those his eyes glimmering? They’d never glimmered that way in life; alive they’d been watery beige with no eyelashes to speak of. Weak and blinking slow.
“You’re dead” she repeated. “I’d nothing to do with it and I can’t help you”.
“Not altogether true” his words whisper hissed in her mind. She imagined she saw him blink.
“You put me in that jar, you can let me out”.
“I put your ashes in” Eleanor tightened her grip upon the thick glass. Imagining squeezing, squeezing till the damn thing burst into a million shards; flying and piercing Tom’s Shade where it stood. “Not you. They sent me your ashes. You died; they cremated you, and sent me your damn ashes”.
“Well you are my wife” He blinked again; burnt coffee stench flaring thick.
“Ex wife” she corrected. Glaring at him; obviously he planned on being a problem.
“That was your choice” and she could hear his voice now, just a whisper that nasal twang. Eleanor bit her lip; considering her options.
“It’s special, this place you’ve come to” his Shade flickered again, edges wavering in the fire’s heat. “I believe you could mend me whole.”
You were never whole! Eleanor screamed silent, eyeing him sidelong as she hurry gathered the large kneading bowl, the flour sack, soda, eggs, cream. Measuring sure handed, plunging her fingers in deep without bothering to wash.
“You bake now” he drew nearer, curious. Eleanor’s hands worked smooth, blending dough: Too sticky. A bit more of the dry…
Her dough covered hand ripped at the lid, yellow beeswax rinds cracking on the counter and Tom’s Shade hollering as she poured that streaming trail of dull grey ash in; mixing and kneading it quick
The bread rose beside the fireplace as Eleanor vacuumed and damp mopped. Wiping every ledge till not a speck of dust remained; his fading Shade sulking mournful in the corner all the while.
Their bread baked dark brown; filling the house with an acrid roast mint. Eleanor opened all the windows, carried the still hot loaf into a deep autumn night.
Ignoring Tom’s fading sighs she picked it to chunks, bit by steaming bit; scattering moist bread across the field, around the bubbling pond. Imagining those fine morning ravens, sharp eyes glinting, sailing in; pecking the bread to crumbs as the sun rose.
Drenching each dark dusty place with its sudden light so bright; filling every shadow, healing each wound, erasing every shade.
"It takes two to make an accident.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby