Mama had these ornate bowls, she’d made them herself before she met dad. Each had a life all its own, molded with her young hands and adorned with orange dots, red tear drops, and blue lines. Her bowls had quiet personalities, hidden details only caught by those using them as often as I did back then. There were cracks, young embedded fingerprints in the clay, an odd shape to one of them—but they were always painted the same colors: orange, red, and blue.
Dad hated them. When we moved out, mama carefully placed them in a box and nestled it in the back of the station wagon, a few inches of space separating her bowls from the rest of the artifacts we’d taken with us.
“Has anybody seen my bowls? It was marked for the kitchen.” Mama’s eyes spilled panic while the rest of her face remained calm.
“You sure you took them from the car?” Dad was robotic, he moved from box to cabinet, box to table, box to floor.
“I thought you took them inside?”
“Jacob, go check the car?”
I’d never been handed car keys before. Their weight in my hands meant power, and when they jingled against each other I envisioned dad plucking them from the ignition, or patting his pants to find his thought. I ran my thumb over their teeth, felt cool copper, and imagined myself in the driver’s seat. But only for a moment. Mama was nervous, I could tell, and the car keys were how I could bring her relief.
We’d moved on one of the coldest days in February and I had to shovel ice and snow from our new walkway before we could bring in the boxes. A quiet street, at least that day. A Sunday. Snow-covered cars slept in driveways, and with the exception of two or three other houses, ours was the only one shoveled. For a young entrepreneur that only meant a means to make easy money, which I would go on to do the following winter. Without a person in sight, my young mind assumed everybody was either too old to come outside to play in the snow, or somewhere in my uncharted lands whizzing down hills in sleds.
Mama liked the car warm and dad bared it for her though he preferred the temperature, in his own words, as “more comfortable.” Her cocoon blanketed me when I lifted the trunk door, and I spotted her box, the only one left, wedged between the spare tire and side panel. The sides were closed in on each other, badly damaged, like it’d been left outside in the storm before somebody decided to take it in.
As soon as I pried it from behind the tire, I could tell most of mama’s bowls were broken inside. The box jingled, but instead of freedom, I felt an unbearable sadness. For a moment, I envisioned myself in there with them, or that I’d been placed in there by coming outside to retrieve them. The unfolded box brought my fear to life: not a single bowl remained. Red tear drops slid from one end to the other. Orange dots meandered, longing for blue lines to bind them. All fractured and broken, they could no longer be translated. Mama would be devastated. The rest of her face would remember how to smile, but her eyes would lilt in the memory of accomplishments and defeat.
I glanced towards the bay window, watched mom and dad continue to motion from box to couch, box to table, box to bedroom. I’d only been outside a few moments, but theirs inside were much different. We shared two separate worlds, connected by a box that now represented two things. If, somehow, I could prevent the two from meeting. If I could find the kids sledding down hills and forget this moment, erase it entirely, and replace it with joy. For mama. If only her bowls were safe, she’d rub a finger over one, captivated by the memory she’d molded into each, and place them into the hutch for future guests to pour over.
With the trunk closed, winter’s grip took hold over mama’s lingering warmth, and I only had a short walk up the shoveled walkway until an even colder reality was to set in.
I slowed my pace. I wondered how she’d take the news. I wondered how dad would react. I wondered how this even happened. It was tucked so snug against the tire, so safe. How could mama’s bowls be the only victim in our move?
Without thought I kicked snow over part of the walkway. I let myself go and hurled the box towards the front steps, enough for mama and dad to hear the commotion and come outside. Mama was first outside, frenzied by the crash and clang and me, face-down on the path in pretend-pain.
“Are you okay? What happened?” She rushed to me, the box on its side near the steps.
“I missed a spot, there was ice and I slipped!” I managed to rip my jeans during the fall and bled from my knee.
“Oh Jacob. Come inside. Let’s clean up that cut.” Propped up with one arm, we slowed at the box, and I watched mama’s eyes dart towards it in quiet calamity. She gripped my coat tight and pulled me closer towards her. She hurt.
Dad stood in the doorway taking in the scene. As we rushed passed him he hesitated to look at mama, but tossed me a curious glance.
“Where are my keys?”
The jingle left my hand and, in his, were muffled to silence. He walked outside, picked up the mangled and wet box, and brought it inside. When my act subsided, mama looked inside, sighed, and closed it up tight. She picked up the box and placed it with bags of garbage near the front door.