Jim Riggs first novel, Freedom Run, follows four escaped prisoners attempting to establish new identities. Jim is crafting a variety of short stories, several new novels, and even a bit of poetry.
A Shard of Red Wing Pottery
I Once Was a Crock
I live on an old desk in an old man’s office. Today my body is in the shape of a trapezoid. My bases have lengths of nine and four centimeters. My height is seven centimeters. My thickness is fifteen millimeters. In case you’ve forgotten about trapezoids, I’m like a rectangle with only two sides parallel. Currently I’m a paperweight, heavy enough to do the task well.
In my prime I was part of a Red Wing pickle barrel. I hate to brag, but that was an immensely important job.
I came to life high above the banks of the Mississippi River in the Red Wing Pottery Factory in Red Wing, Minnesota. Craftsmen harvested clay from deposits all over the eastern part of the state. From a lump, potters shaped the wet clay into a hassock-sized pickle barrel. They fired me into a pot, toughening the clay. A family purchased me, using me for pickling corned beef, sauerkraut, and pickles. After half a century, I developed a small crack and faced forced retirement.
For the next twenty years I excelled at storing magazines and newspapers. Then, at an auction, a family with a fireplace made the high bid. They carried me home and made me a vessel for storing kindling.
One day two grandchildren were playing catch in the family room. Thirteen-year-old Madison fired the baseball to her ten-year-old brother, Charles. The little girl intended to burn him out, to make his glove smoke. Her throw was low and wide, smashing me.
A replacement crock cost much more than the children had in savings. Charles and Madie began to contemplate ways of raising money for a new crock.
Charles picked up a trapezoid-shaped shard of broken pickle-pot. Shoving it in his back pocket, he rode his bike to the Raccoon River, and began skipping rocks. Thoughts of how he and Madison would pay for a new crock weighed on his mind. He reached into his back pocket, pulling me out and gazing at my trapezoidal shape. He noted the details forming me, the beige-colored clay giving me shape and the shiny, slick, white porcelain covering most of my surfaces. Charles marveled at how I could be so flat, like the meaty part of his hand. He understands that I was a piece of a large pickle-pot. Caressing my rough inner surface, he pulled his pocketknife from his front pocket. Charles opened a blade, stroking it against my irregular finish. Soon, his blade was shiny and razor sharp. Opening a second blade, he sharpened it on my rough surface. Closing his knife, he dropped it into his pocket. Bending low, he threw me across the water. Nine times I touched the water before sinking to the bottom of the Raccoon River.
For three decades I lay midst the rocks on the bottom of the river. Floods moved me around until I became part of a sand bar with similar sized rocks. I saw a kayak land on the rocky beach, a beach full of skipping stones. A man with a paddle sauntered along the beach, picking up flat rocks, skipped them into the Raccoon River, like a boy. His record was ten skips. I saw his eyes shine as he saw me. He reached down, picking me up, gazing at a shard of pottery, shaped like a trapezoid. After years of lying on the bottom, I had been rediscovered. The man’s arm went back to skip me across the surface of the river. Fate was about to send me into more decades on the river bottom.
Pausing, he pulled a pocketknife, using my rough surface to sharpen his only non-broken blade. The man stuffed his knife and me into his pocket and finished his paddle trip. I, an innocent shard of Red Wing Pottery, in the shape of a trapezoid, fifteen millimeters thick, found a spot on the man’s desktop–a perfect paperweight, full of wonderful memories. There I sit today, a useful part of the man’s life.
I sat on the man’s desk, doing my job. One day, a tall woman walked into the room. She made a terrible noise with her vacuum sweeper. In two minutes the floor was clean. She left, returning with a feathery dust cloth, moving it over me. It tickled. I wanted to laugh, but silence was a solid part of me. The only times I had ever made any noise were when I was struck with a baseball and smashed in pieces around the family room and later when Charles skipped me across the Raccoon River. Otherwise, silence has been my motto. I listened to the conversation of the man and the woman.
The woman turned toward the door of the office and yelled poetically, “Dear! Come here.”
The man walked into the room. He hugged and kissed her. “Yes, darling. Anything else?”
She smiled and picked me up?
“What’s this rock doing on your desk?”
“Isn’t a rock.”
“What is it?”
“A piece of Red Wing Pottery.”
“It’s garbage. It doesn’t belong on your desk.”
“It’s not garbage. It used to be garbage. Now it’s a trapezoid that makes a perfect paperweight. It has a history. If you’d think for a moment about its history, you’d understand how important it is. I figure it might be nearly a hundred years old.”
“YOU might be nearly a hundred years old.”
“You wanna throw ME in the trash?”
“Some days I wonder,” she smiled. “You don’t seem to do much worthwhile lately.”
“You never did like it that I liked history, did you.”
“You can like whatever you want.” She put the palm of her hand on his cheek and gave him a gentle kiss on his lips. “It just seems kind of silly to me to collect pieces of junk.” The woman changed the caress to a little pinch on his cheek.
“Well I like the shard. And I used it last week as a sharpening stone to sharpen your kitchen knives. You didn’t complain much then, did you?”
“Thank you. That was very nice of you. I can slice a tomato now.”
“Then we agree. I’ll use it as a paper weight, and when your knives get dull, you’ll ask me, and I’ll use it to sharpen them.”
“Alright. Just don’t let our friends in here.”
“It’s a deal. By the way, the shard makes a very nice coaster for a glass of wine and if you’ll bring me a glass of white wine, I’ll demonstrate its usefulness.”
Thank God for the man. Thank God that he defended me against that evil woman.
The man sat at his desk. His feet were up; he was reading a novel. One hand held his glass of wine. I gazed up at him with affection.
“You defended me,” I said. “I’m grateful.”
He glanced around the room, seeing no human creature.
“What?” he whispered.
“I appreciate your support.”
The man looked toward his desk, an incredulous look on his face.
“I’m your paperweight. Your shard of Red Wing pottery.”
He shook his head, focusing on the gray-colored trapezoid on his desk. “You talk?”
“When a baseball thrown by a thirteen year old girl smashed my pickle barrel, I was born. I howled in pain, but nobody heard. The girl, the boy, and their grandparents were yelling so loud, nobody heard my scream of anguish.”
“You were a pickle barrel?”
“I made dills, gherkins, and marvelous sweet bread-and-butter pickles.”
“A pickle barrel?”
“Crock’s a good word.”
“Okay. A crock.”
“I also squealed when the boy took me to the Raccoon River, skipping me nine times. That was a thrill for a trapezoidal-shaped piece of pottery. This is the first time I’ve been motivated to carry on a conversation.”
“Thank you for defending me against that bitch of a woman. She would have thrown me into the ocean with the sea shells.”
“Watch your language please. She’s my wife. I love her.”
“Didn’t sound like it.”
“We love each other. We don’t always agree, but we still love each other.”
“So be it.”
“So be nice to her. She’s agreed to let you live.”
I looked up at the ceiling. “And I will sharpen her knives, hold your wine, and converse with her husband.”
“Are you versed on many subjects?”
“I can speak first hand about Native American history and of river travel on the Upper Mississippi River. I watched the news almost every night when I was a crock. And I have hundreds of stories about paddlers who passed me on the Raccoon River.”
The man smiled.