Left Hand (stories)

Seismicity Editions
Otis College of Art & Design
Los Angeles, California
191 pages, paperback
Book Design and typesetting by Guy Bennett

Left Hand was a 2004 finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in fiction.

Available through Small Press Distribution, Amazon.com, Alibris

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  for Lynn

My father wasn’t much of a drinker—one Pabst Blue Ribbon on the hottest day of the year, after we’d completed some grueling physical task. I’d say he averaged two beers a year. He died in 1973. In his will, he left me a small glazed ceramic wine jar. I never once saw him drink wine. Not having read his will, I did not know of the existence of this wine jar until about two years after his death. I was home for Christmas. My mother took me aside, when everyone else was out of the house, and showed me the jar. It was ochre in color, squat, and had a thick glaze showing no cracks. I6t had a tightly fitting lid, sealed with a thick coating of wax. She said, simply “Your father wanted you to have this.” And then she told me the history of the vessel, as my father had told it to her.

The wine jar had been passed down for many generations in our family—many. The wine in the jar had been collected at the “Marriage of Cana” in Galilee almost 2,000 years ago, by one of the guests who was a devoted follower of Jesus. After the feast, the man had poured the contents of one of the stone jars containing water that Jesus had turned into wine into this small jar and sealed it up as a keepsake. He, of course, had no idea of its significance. After Jesus’s crucifixion and the state of confusion among his followers, the man with the jar decided to give it to Joseph of Arimethea, knowing that he would take care of it. Joseph of Arimethea was imprisoned for 42 years, and after his release by the Emperor Vespasian, traveled to Britain to spread the gospel. He brought the jar with him. There is, of course, the legend that he also brought the Holy Grail. But that is another story. One vessel held water which had been turned to wine, the other, water and blood transformed to wine.

As a gesture of his faith in the local converts, he gave them the jar. This was in the present-day town of Glastonbury, Somerset. After some time, centuries actually. The jar made its way up to Scotland, into the hands of Bishop Aiden, at Lindisfarne. Apparently its presence aroused some jealously, and Aiden passed it to one of our relatives, named Lullach, a minor noble in that area, who had become a believer. This was in the 7th century. The family moved up the coast to a place called Navity, on the Black Isle, a peninsula near Inverness, and eventually from the west of Scotland to the east, to the vicinity of Wigtown, around 1300. At some point they crossed into Northern Ireland, and settled into county Antrim. They left Ireland because they were persecuted as Presbyterians by the English, and wound up in the delta country of Mississippi in the early years of the 19th century. They were farmers up to my father’s generation.

It seems odd to me that my father never once mentioned the jar to me during his lifetime. Then again, knowing my carelessness, maybe it wasn’t so odd. I asked my aunts and uncles about the jar, but they knew nothing of it. The records of the Midway Baptist Church, of which we were members, are quite thorough from 1808 to the present. I have gone through them carefully and there is no mention, even a veiled reference. To such an artifact. Although Baptists believe in miracles, my guess is that they would have pooh-poohed the authenticity of the jar as being too Catholic a phenomenon, like relics of saints, or a piece of the True Cross, o ether Shroud of Turin.

My father’s will stipulated that I was to inherit the jar and that it should be opened on the occasion of my wedding. I will be getting married for the first time, in just over a month, on the eve of my 60th birthday. Maybe the existence of the jar is what caused me to wait so long. He never mentioned, in his will or to my mother, why, after almost 2,000 years, it was to be opened at my wedding. At first, just the idea of it gave me the willies; it was kind of an emotional albatross. Then I thought that maybe it was a joke, but neither my mother nor my father were inclined to make jokes or play pranks.

That was 30 years ago. There were several times when I was on the verge of marriage, but none of those situations panned out. My mother told me that when she met you the first time, she knew that you were the right one. Last year, when we postponed our wedding, she said that she was almost beside herself.

I know that this is the first time that I have ever mentioned the jar to you. As my brothers, sisters and I myself have begun to experience our own mortality I thought it best to tell them about the jar. Naturally, they were bewildered. It is my intention to ask my mother to transport the jar to our wedding. If she puts it in her luggage that she checks through, I think that it will be fine. I can’t imagine that x-raying it will change it in any way, after 2,000 years. But what do I know.

It is my plan to stand up at our wedding guest and explain the jar. I could open it in private, but I am not embarrassed to witness in this way—despite what skeptics may think. I know, also, that you have a hard time believing in anything that smacks of the supernatural—I hope you will not be embarrassed.

I will open the jar, then pour the wine into two glasses and we will hold it to the light of that fading mid-May afternoon. Then we will drink it. I know that it has not turned to sludge or to an acrid brown powder—it is still wine. I expect it to taste like nothing we have ever tasted before. I’m sure the skeptics would tell us to have it analyzed before we drink it. Will we experience something like what Dom Perignon tasted when he “invented” champagne? Will it have a celestial bouquet, or will we discern the dew on the grapes of a hillside in Galilee? We will not drink all of it, but let anyone else who wishes to partake of it to do so.

I hesitate to tell you about the jar, knowing your pragmatic nature, and that you yearn to believe in the existence of such things, but that they have never happened to you. But believe me. It will change everything. Yes, we will, be changed forever. You have already prepared me for whatever alchemy the wine may work; my life was water—your love has changed it into the finest wine.

Painting by Lisa Nankivil for "Obsidian Point" Book Cover

Photos of painting, books and other works by Kathy Greden

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