Katherine Cricket and the Loquacious Vase by Jamie Loftus

“Shut the hell up!” Katherine Cricket shouted, smacking the thick jar upside the head. “I’m going to work.”

“Whatever,” the urn replied, unwavering. “See you later. I’m gonna drink all the Smirnoff while you’re gone.”

This was a completely empty threat, and she knew it. The one time it had tried that bullshit, it nearly wept itself into hysterics over the resulting sogginess. Not that it would have made a difference, anyways—she was already on the list of “ones to watch” for mental instability after rushing it to the ER one night for a chip. They needed to stop hanging out so much.

“What’s up, Kate?” Marshall asked her, offering an exceptionally sweaty high five. She accepted halfheartedly, heading straight for her cubicle. There was probably a bunch of bullshit to do in there.

No dice. “So I read that artist’s profile on you in Suck My Butt on the train this morning,” he continued, planting himself precariously close to her keyboard. Katherine was pretty proud of the nod in the subversive art rag, and didn’t want her coworker’s sleep crusted eyes ruining it for her. “You know, you’re really cool,” he continued. “And really funny. Man, you’re funny.” This guy was terrible.

“Thanks,” she said. “But yeah, I have a ton of reports to finish, so—“

“You know, I wish more people could be funny like you,” he continued, resting his hand on her shoulder. Her mind flashed back to her first day in the office three years ago and the embarrassing sexual harassment videos they’d been forced to watch. “I wish my life were more funny. I blame my parents, they weren’t funny—if I’d known, I would’ve eliminated them early on and then—I’m kidding, I’m kidding! Okay, that wasn’t funny.” It definitely wasn’t funny. “But seriously, we should hang out some time.” Now that was kind of funny, and a pretty bad conversational segway.

“Right,” she said. “Well, I’ll let you know if I have an art show coming up for something, for the magazine or whatever.”

“Sure. Well, congrats on sucking my butt. I mean, Suck My Butt, you know. And yeah, hang out, definitely.”

Marshall was the plague with a hooked nose and the wobbly gait that refused to disappear… ever.

A few panicked moments later, Kate managed to get her best friend on the phone. “Seriously? It’s been forty-five minutes,” the urn said, sounding bored. “What the hell do you want?”

“Sorry, sorry,” she amended quickly, checking her back for any authority figures or co-working molesters. “It’s just Marshall, he won’t leave me alone.”

“Again?” asked the urn. “Jesus Christ, rent him a prostitute or something. Speaking of blowing money on shit, want to get some Thai tonight?”

Katherine continued to chew on her bottom lip. “Yeah, might do us some good,” she answered. “In approximately… nine hours. Set your watch.”

“Funny, bitch, really funny.” The whole ‘no appendages’ joke had played out long ago, and it was difficult enough for the urn to use the speaker phone every day without getting harassed. Katherine quickly hung up before her boss could round the corner, raise his brow in a strange acknowledgement of her presence, and head into his sweatbox office.

It was he, George Katsopoulous, who had put her on “To Watch” in the first place, after the hospital called the workplace one morning concerning the urn’s medical difficulties. Although he no longer bothered her to do any work and was too afraid to fire her, she still regretted the whole incident heavily.

“Have you ever heard of John Wayne Gacy?” he had asked in the same smooth tone that had been rated “Perfect Radio Voice” in college. She widened her eyes in false confusion—why no, sir, but please do inform me. “He’s a serial killer, Katherine,” he continued, holding steady eye contact (he had read on Google that this established trust), “and he used to talk to inanimate jars as well.” That definitely wasn’t true. “And then he killed thirty-three people.” Okay, that was true.

Her eyes widened even further. “So would you like me to do a financial report… on… him?” she asked.

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “John Wayne Gacy is dead, he can’t hurt us now. Doing a financial report on him would only open old wounds. I just wanted to remind you after receiving that call, because talking to jars can be a gateway into some serious legal repercussions.” And the office wondered why she had difficulty finding people to talk to.

“Just let me lick the fucking noodle, Kate!” the urn shrieked later that evening, plopping on top of the remote control in frustration. Kate laughed, whipping the fork away yet again, then finally relenting. She rubbed the noddle to the urn’s mouth a little, and it sighed in relief. “Jesus, you starve me.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she answered. “How long have you been dead now?” The urn didn’t like to talk about it, but it had been a solid forty-six years, three months, and sixteen days at this point. From what she could gather, its contents had served as a nurse in Vietnam, which she found pretty noble, but these days she preferred to bitch and eat with Kate. This was just fine with her.

“So Marshall was hitting on you again?” it asked, flipping to Antiques Roadshow. “Why don’t you just tell him to leave you alone?”

Kate shook her head. “Whatever, it’s not a big deal. That’ll just make things weird, and it’s not like I’ll ever hang out with him anyways. Did you seriously drink some Smirnoff?” The urn shook its lid, knowing it was never worth the repercussions.

“No, I just pissed about like any other day,” it answered, wiggling a little closer to its friend. “Same old shit.” And it was.

Of course, Kate’s initial frantic pleas to admit her urn into the hospital had elicited concern from others than her boss.

“How did you come to get that urn, Kate?” the therapist her mother had nearly forced her into speaking with asked. “Dead relative? Friend?”

Kate shook her head. “I don’t remember,” she said hastily, not wanting to mention that it was a happy accident. The number of people in the world who have ever woken up with a mysterious, unexplained urn on their doorstep could probably all fit in the same cramped waiting room, but she didn’t care to admit that she numbered among them. And she had tried to return it, for a while anyways—what could she do, anyways, aside from consulting the town funeral home? It wasn’t as if it wore a collar or anything like that, and so a kindly mortician suggested she take a row out to the lake and deposit the ashes there, if they were spooking her so much.

At that time, Ron had still been living in the house with his wide shoulders and law books. They always seemed to be having a good time that was technically illegal in one way or another, and it was in this fashion that Kate and the urn first had a proper, if hasty, conversation. One night, completely drunk and nearly forgetting that the urn was still in the house to begin with, Ron and Kate decided to dispose of the its ashy contents abruptly in the closest watery receptacle, the toilet.

Ron giggled, tripping over himself as he fell to his knees at the toilet, for once on a slightly different errand. Kate laughed with him and yelled, “Pour it, quick! They’ll drink the rest of it while we’re gone!” He continued to giggle as he unscrewed the lid of the urn, knowing full well that their freeloading friends would do just that.

“Say goodbye to this dusty motherfucker!” he laughed, watching the first of its contents spill out along with a piercing shriek that hit Kate in her core of cores (one that wasn’t cartoon caricature drunk, for instance).

“What the fuck are you doing!’ the urn yelled, and Kate slapped it out of Ron’s hands and to the floor before it could make another noise. Only a bit of the dust had fallen out, three fingers at best.

“What the fuck are you doing, Kate?” Ron echoed, annoyed. He didn’t seem fazed by the inanimate object’s qualm.

Kate panicked, checking to make sure the fall had not chipped the urn and screwed its lid back on as it moaned pitifully. “What the fuck were you doing, Ron?” she asked incredulously, marking the last time that phrase would be used that evening, thankfully. “This is someone’s life, have some respect. The shit was screaming!”

Ron shook his head, not caring what bullshit she was going on about one way or the other. He managed to stumble to his feet and planted a big wet kiss on the top of her head, or maybe he had just thrown up a little. The bathroom door shut, and the urn was not amused.

“Who the hell you think you are?” it asked in an outrage. “You went and fucking chipped me!” It was right—on the top corner there was a sliver of patterned floral porcelain missing.

Kate set it down in a hurry. Had she done a line that night? Not that she could remember, and it was easier to just hear the urn out than retrace her wobbly steps. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, snot and tears rising in every facial hole she had. “I didn’t know it would upset you. We don’t know you!” The urn’s consternating stare was too much, and she did her face with her ratty sweatshirt.

It turned away from her, finding her leaky face too embarrassing to witness. “I was supposed to be on a dignified mantel, not at a goddamn frat party,” it muttered, shuffling toward the bathroom door. “Eight years of war service and you think a woman could get some damn respect—“

“Wait!” Kate hollered after her. “Could Ron hear you when you yelled?”

The urn whipped around, disgusted. “I don’t know what that unpatriotic sack of shit can and can’t hear,” it announced, more than a little insulted. “I didn’t know your ears were so finely fucking tuned, either. All I know is that I have a mantel to be on and I intend on getting there.”

“By yourself?” Kate asked. Surely there was something she could do. “I could drive you, in the morning if you want. Where are you headed?” If she got in a car that night, neither of them would make it.

The urn appeared to wilt in the slightest, and faltered for the first time. “I don’t really know,” it said. “I overheard at the goddamn funeral home they’ve sold my house, God knows where the fuck they’re moving with the money. Fucking kids, it’s fucking disgusting, really. They’ll display me and tell my snotty future grandkids how great I was the second after they’ve gotten rid of everything I’d worked for. I put my fucking life into that house,” it said, sounding more tired than before. It paused, noticing Kate’s blank expression. “What, too moving a story for you?”

Kate blinked wildly, as if waking up from a dream. She felt a lot more sober than she had a few minutes before and noticed for the first time the raucous noise coming from the kitchen. “I don’t think I’m high,” she said carefully. “Oh, and you can stay with us, if you want. Me and Ron.” The urn, to her surprise, agreed that this would be a good idea. Of course, their happiness as a three-person unit remained short lived, as Ron finally admitted to fucking the better part of the female undergrad community, and all of a sudden they were two.

“So Kate,” the therapist continued, hoping to get the dialogue back on track, “you don’t know whose ashes are inside that urn?”

This was enough. Kate shook her head and snatched the urn from the table, which had been sighing in annoyance the entire time anyhow. “They’re mine,” she said primly, “and it’s none of your goddamn business.”

And that was their story, demented and unbelievable as it was; and they got on just fine. Kate would still go out with her friends (the ones she had been given custody of in her split with Ron) and off to work and occasionally out to get some more Smirnoff and cookies, and the urn would occupy itself with jigsaw puzzles, daytime television and internet porn. They were quite happy, and may have remained as such had Kate’s family not cared about her so damn much.

“I am concerned,” Mrs. Cricket said, sitting on the corduroy sofa on a Saturday morning when Kate wasn’t feeling too hung over. She had dutifully instructed the urn to remain at the foot of the bed where it slept and not to reappear downstairs until her parents had left. “Katiebell, you’re living alone in this house that that awful man broke your heart in! And can you afford it?”

Barely, but it was easier than moving. “Listen, Mom, I’m fine,” Kate reassured her quickly, trying to lock eyes with her in the hopes that it would help her case. “I’m making good money and I’m living my life. I don’t see what the problem is—” Why wouldn’t her mother look at her?

“What’s that?” she asked, frowning at something behind Kate’s head. “That platform thing?”

Shit. She had forgotten to remove the pulley system she had created for the urn, a sort of elevator that helped it get downstairs a little easier. After all, it could take a tumble when she wasn’t home and God knows how long it would take for someone to notice or even care and—

“I dunno,” she said quickly, trying to mimic Mrs. Cricket’s puzzled expression but only succeeding in making her face look somewhat lopsided. “Ron left it here and I didn’t know how to take it down. I never use it, though, I mean, it must’ve been some kind of dumbwaiter.”

Mrs. Cricket’s eyes narrowed—she had never been one to be fooled. “And whatever happened to that strange jar you brought to the pediatrician at three in the morning?” Why was this laundry list of people the hospital had called so damn long?

“Lost it,” she said. “Smashed it. I’m going to get a ferret.”

But it was already too late. “I knew it!” her mother announced, bounding up the stairs in a fashion most would deem impossible for her age. “That’s why you’re acting so damn strange, holding me hostage in the living room and—aha!” Kate could barely keep up with her, being weighed down with the take-out she and the urn had become so fond of. Mrs. Cricket emerged from the bedroom holding the urn over her head like a newborn lion cub.

The urn was bored by the whole spectacle. “Are we really doing this this early in the morning, Kate?” it asked with a yawn. Kate’s eyes flashed in acknowledgment, but she had a woman on social security who needed appeasing first.

“Why are you freaking out about a stupid jar?” she asked, trying to sound aloof.

“Because!” her mother said, placing it on the table. “It’s full of something powdery and dead and you treat it like a cocker spaniel!” She could see Mrs. Cricket’s point, but only wished she wouldn’t yell so much.

“You’d better get a roommate or something, Katiebell, I’m too worried to deal with this.”

“It’s not your concern to deal with—“ Kate tried.

“That’s enough!” her mother cut her off. “I know a few people who might need some lodging. Or take in a couple college kids, someone to steal food from in exchange for buying them beer.” Kate grunted—she had been that kid far too many times. “Think about it. I’ll e-mail some friends. Now I’ve got to go and make your nephew’s soccer game, unlike some aunts I may know,” she concluded accusingly, kissing Kate on the forehead and heading for the door. It wasn’t that Kate didn’t want to go to the games, it was just that the urn got so competitive.