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The Jar of Time

Anne Spencer Parry




Once upon a time there was a woman who was not young any more, but neither was she old. It did not worry her that she was no longer young, for she was not one of those who peer anxiously in the mirror every day to see if they have any more wrinkles. She did not find the thought of old age upsetting, nor did the idea of death fill her with dread, but what she did hate was the way that time was continually wasting away.

She had a tall preserving jar in her kitchen and this jar was where she stored her measure of time. Each day she would go to where it stood beside the sink, gently remove the lid and take out a pinch of the precious substance. Then she would carefully sprinkle a little of it around the house and a little in the garden, giving more to her favourite plants. In the evening she would put a dab of it on her dinner and afterwards a dusting on a pile of dreary books she was reading her way through. Later still she would put the tiniest amount possible on her pillow.

Thus, day by day, she eked out her time and slowly, inevitably, month by month, year by year, the amount in the jar grew less and, as she watched it go down, the woman became increasingly anxious. She measured the amount she used more and more carefully. Her mouth grew tight with calculating it, her fingers became claw-like from trying to clutch it more tightly to her, her movements grew stiff and jerky in her attempts not to waste a moment of it.

Sometimes people would call, wanting her to give them a little bit and then you can imagine the scrimping and the scraping and the measuring that went on! She had become a thorough-going time miser. The days no longer held any joy for her. She did not see the ti-tree coming into bud and the golden brightness of the wattle passed her by. All she cared about was to use her time to the greatest advantage.

At last one night she had a terrible dream. She dreamt that someone had broken into her kitchen and was stealing the precious jar. She tried to cry out but no sound came; she tried to run after the thief but found she could not move. She had to watch helplessly as the shadowy figure, whose face she could not see, walked softly out of the back door and into the moonlight.

Then, in the middle of the garden, the figure took the lid off the jar and tipped the whole of the contents out on to the grass. It gleamed silver, a stream of light, as it poured away into the earth and the woman’s anguish grew so great that at last she managed to force a cry from her throat and the sound of that muffled scream brought her back to consciousness.

She woke in her bed, trembling all over, her feet cold, her breath coming in gasps. She struggled up and hurried barefoot to the kitchen. There sat the jar, as always, beside the sink and it was just as full as it had been when she went to bed. It was very early in the morning but she knew she could not go back to sleep again. Instead, she put the kettle on to boil and went to get dressed. She took the jar with her, for now she dared not let it out of her sight for a moment. When she sat down to breakfast she put it on the table in front of her and when she washed the dishes she put it on the sink. While she made the bed the jar stayed on the bedside table and she did not leave it behind even when she went into the garden.

She was so relieved that it was still in her possession that she forgot to measure out pinches of time for all the things she had to do. She did not care whether she got anything done or not. She knelt in the grass weeding with the jar beside her and did not think once about how much time she had left; it was enough that it was there. When she got hungry she went inside and ate, taking her time with her, and when she was satisfied she took it outside again.

And so the whole day slipped slowly by and still the woman stayed in the garden with the jar beside her. She watched the sun shining on the flowers, she watched the bees and the butterflies hovering among them, she watched the shadow of the gum tree pass across the grass from one side to the other, she watched the sky changing colour with the setting of the sun and when it grew dark she went back into the house again. All day long she had not measured out a single pinch of time.

After dinner she glanced at her books but she realized they did not interest her and she wandered outside again. How different everything seemed at night! The golden laughter of the flowers in the sun was silenced and they stood still, folded into themselves, pale in the darkness. The butterflies and the bees were all gone and the birds no longer sang. The woman sat in her accustomed place, the jar beside her, and waited for the moon to rise.

At last it appeared above the trees and shone down into the garden, making the shadows more mysterious than ever. In the perfumed darkness the woman slowly stood up and made her way across the grass, the jar in her hands. Now she knew who the figure in her dream was. Deliberately she took the lid from the jar and, lifting it high, poured out the whole of her time.

As in her dream, the stream ran silver in the darkness but it did not sink into the earth. Instead, it spread out all around her, glowing with moonlight. From her toes to the tips of her fingers to the hair of her head it spread and shone and shimmered, a sphere of light, and within its magic radiance the woman stood and laughed for joy.

All at once she seemed both young and old, standing like a freshly opened flower and like an old, gnarled tree. No longer would time haunt her days like a thin ghost, treading in her footsteps, breathing its cold breath on the back of her neck, making the free days into marching minutes. No longer would she scrimp and save and struggle and strain, trying to fit everything into small and measured moments. Now she knew, beyond any doubt, that she had all the time in the world.











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