Esther C.H. Walker

Handle With Care

Everyone knows you don’t commit to ceramics (especially porcelain) after just one date, but they bought the vase anyway, together. It was hiding in the corner of an antique store, behind a brass Buddha. With blue and white designs depicting Japanese fishermen in some unknown sea, the vase was part of a pair—but they couldn’t afford two.

Ensconced at the entrance to his apartment, now, “their apartment” (because her clothes, shoes, and hair products seemed to have sprouted there like flowers in spring), the vase was like a heavy perfume: it made itself known immediately. Within the first year, his mother hit it with her cane (“accidentally,” she said). Her father tripped on its stand. Friends asked: “Couldn’t you do better?”

He chipped the vase one day, and told her. She chipped it one day, and told him. They sought advice on the internet about how to patch it up. Some, who overheard their conversations about the chips, gave them unsolicited advice. They listened patiently to the raspy-voiced tales of elderly men and women on park benches, a chatty commuter wearing tennis shoes and opaque panty hose on the streetcar, and the butcher and his wife in Little Italy with the hand painted sign over their store door, who seemed to dance as they moved around behind the counter preparing orders together, unable to function without the others’ extra hands, feet, or (indeed) words to finish sentences.

They learned, for example, that if they tapped the vase with a fingernail and the vase did not emit a clear tone, but instead sounded flat and dull, there was structural damage. “You can’t come back from that kind of chip,” a sandy-haired man in the park with bifocals told them. “If that happens, it’s best to put the vase on a dusty shelf somewhere and forget it.” They filed their fingernails to nubs after that conversation, and each eyed the vase warily for weeks: neither of them wanted to be the one to test the vase.

And then, one day, he ran their bone china through the dishwasher in an effort to be “helpful” after a family meal; their tense exchange, as she opened the steamy appliance and attempted to fan the plates cooler with a thread bare turkey-shaped dish towel, morphed into such convulsive, foot stamping, wall slapping laughter that the vase seemed to jiggle alive from the vibrations. They stopped obsessing about chips. They didn’t bother to make excuses for them or investigate restoration; they talked about them, and lived with them, like their own scars. They bought a feather duster to run around the inside of the vase and across its sturdy, wooden resting place. And they tapped it with their fingernails whenever they felt like it.

Esther grew up near the rolling foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction has appeared in the Virginia Literary Review. She lives and works in Seattle, Washington with her husband.
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