From the fridge to the dishwasher, Ella’s favorite vase lay in hundreds of pieces, along with a dozen rose petals, some empty stems, and a puddle of water.
“Before you say anything, this was not my fault,” said her husband Sean, standing barefoot in the middle of it all, “The stupid cat tripped me when I was watering the plants like you asked me to.”
Ella set the groceries on the counter and stooped to pick up the largest floral patterned fragment. Sean continued to stand in the mess, grumbling and making no move to help clean up.
“Are your feet okay?” Ella asked, gathering up the slimy green stems, “Did they get cut?”
Sean leaned over to the fridge and used it for balance as he stepped out of the accident.
“Uh, no, I’m fine.”
Ella said nothing more and looked silently at the debris. Sean disappeared down the hall after a few moments. Ella sighed and looked for the broom.
After picking everything up and mopping the floor, Ella took all the vase pieces into her studio in the garage, kicking the door shut behind her. Setting them on an end table next to her potter’s wheel, she tried to arrange the pieces in more or less contiguous order. Ella rolled up the sleeves of her sweater, used her wire to slice a two inch slab of clay off a new block, and slapped it on the wheel. She pounded the clay with her fists for a bit and felt a little better.
For a quarter hour she did not create anything, but rather tortured the clay, digging her nails in, twisting, pinching, rolling, lifting and slamming the whole mess back on the cold gray surface of the wheel. This was not anger; it was tradition. This was how she had made her favorite vase.
When she was ready to truly begin, Ella paused. Creating a specific shape was always more difficult than freeform sculpting, and she did not have a physical model from which to work. Ella looked at the broken fragments next to her and tried to remember the exact form of the vase.
At first she tried with her eyes closed, and the result was laughable. Wadding the clay up for the second attempt, she kept the image of the vase burning before her vision and tried to mold the medium to precisely fit the picture.
An hour passed, and many vessels that were decidedly not her favorite vase emerged from the clay and were squished back into formlessness. She sat limply, looking at her finger marks in the gray flattened pancake, then covered her face and cried. It had been the only vase she put flowers in, on the infrequent occasions she received them.
The heavy door leading to the kitchen behind her opened slightly and Sean leaned in. Ella snatched a relatively clean towel off the table beside her and wiped her eyes before turning around.
“Uh… hey, how’s it going?” Sean said, sounding apprehensive.
Ella sighed and shrugged, “Okay.”
“What do you want for dinner? We’ve got some mini-pizzas, I could heat them up.”
“Sure, sounds fine.”
“You want one or two?”
There was silence for a moment after Ella turned back to the wheel, then the door clacked shut. Ella’s cat, Wiffle, leapt silently onto the table next to her. Ella scratched its back with a clay encrusted hand, and murmured, half grinning to herself.
“Did you really trip him?”
The cat only stretched and flopped onto its side. Ella sighed again, realizing the futility in attempting to remake the vase. Every piece she had made was unique; she was not a machine and could not make an exact copy. Maybe if she wasn’t so distraught, she thought, she might be able to come up with something close. But it wouldn’t be the vase.
It was only an object anyway, she thought, standing and straightening her clothes. After dinner she would make a new, entirely different vase to put flowers in.
Ella washed her hands and went to check on dinner’s progress. Sean was trying to stop the ancient spring-loaded cooking alarm on the oven from going off even with twenty minutes left on the timer.
“Oh hey,” he said, futilely twisting the timer knob, “Shut up dammit! Uh, hey Ell, we still got a while before they’re done.”
Ella nodded and sat down at the table to read the newspaper.
“I’m, uh, sorry about the vase earlier.”
Ella stopped and looked up at him, “Sean…”
“I know what you’re going to say, okay-”
“Why don’t you ever apologize when things happen? You always apologize later.”
Sean held up his hands defensively, allowing the oven timer to buzz relentlessly “I know! I know, okay? I was just frustrated. Anyway, the point is…” he paused and slammed the heel of his hand into the timer, causing it to stop, “point is… here, I got you something.”
Sean snatched a plastic bag off the counter and presented it to Ella. Inside was a tall, fluted, crystal vase. Ella turned it over in her hands and said nothing.
“It was my fault,” Sean said uneasily, “and I’m sorry.”
It was a vase. A fancy, store-bought vase. Ella’s jaw tensed and she squinted her eyes shut. She folded her arms in front of her on the table and buried her face in them.
“What’s wrong?” Sean asked, stepping closer.
This was a very typical Sean solution, Ella thought. It was obvious; a vase had broken and needed a replacement, so he had bought her one. Ella peeked out at him, her face hidden from him by her hair.
Sean appeared to be holding his breath. He stood motionless, with an entirely uncharacteristic expression of uncertainty. Sean was, to the rest of the world, a confident, abrasive, and unapologetic man, but here, in front of his wife, he looked as though he was desperately trying to balance on an eggshell. The longer Ella watched him, nervously standing stock still, the sillier he looked. Ella couldn't maintain her somber composure, and was soon giggling quietly into the table top.
Sean appeared confused, but relieved.
Ella sat up and tried her best to look reproachful while laughing, “You bought me a vase without flowers?”
One of Ella’s favorite expressions appeared on Sean’s face. It was one that said: Of course, why didn’t I think of that? Ella stood to embrace him, and whispered forgiveness in his ear.
“I really am sorry,” Sean said, and Ella laughed again.
“Why do you always apologize again after I say it’s okay?”
Sean seemed embarrassed.
“I dunno, It's just when I screw up, I don’t know what to say most of the time.”
“It’s okay,” Ella said, pinching Sean's nose between thumb and forefinger and tweaking it slightly, “I know what you mean, most of the time.”