The Vase

Margaret put down the magazine she had been reading and sighed.  She had been looking at the recipes; somehow, nothing appealed to her today.  The tempting dishes seemed too complicated; the easy ones too dull.

It was just one of those days, she said to herself.  In spite of all the work she had had to do that day, she had accomplished almost nothing.  The ironing lay dampened in a plastic bag.  The mending was piled on the sewing machine, untouched.  The dishes were done, and the beds made, to be sure, but she would have had to be positively ill to neglect that daily routine.  The morning had been punctuated by a few phone calls, none of them very important.  She had sat down twice for a cup of coffee, and each time had paged rather aimlessly through a fashion magazine, stretching her coffee break a little.  After lunch she had tried to nap, thinking she might wake up in a better mood, but she had not even been able to doze.

She had been troubled all day by a vague uneasiness.  It had started at breakfast time.  Jeff had been unusually quiet for a nine-year-old boy; a couple of times, in fact, he had not answered her when she had spoken to him.  His mind seemed to be on something else, and she wondered what it was.  Perhaps he was having trouble with his school work, or maybe he wasn’t getting along with some of his friends.  She almost asked him; then she decided to wait.  If it was important enough, he would come to her eventually and talk it over.

She had watched him pedal off on his bicycle and had gone to bathe the baby, dismissing Jeff from her mind for the time being. But occasionally throughout the day that feeling of uneasiness had come back to haunt her, and now it was there again.  Probably this dark chilly weather had helped put her in a mood like this, Margaret thought to herself.  The weather man had predicted that the present rain would change to snow; it would be the first snow of the year, and surely to be expected, for it was already mid-November.

She glanced at the clock.  Jeff would be home any minute, and the baby was due to wake up.  She stood up resolutely and went to the kitchen to get a dust cloth.  She would at least dust the living room, so that it would look a bit neater if someone should come to the door.  She whisked the cloth skillfully over the tables and turned towards the mantel.  She paused a moment before dusting to admire her favorite vases on it.  It was only two weeks before that she had bought them in Chicago, and she still enjoyed standing back to see how pretty they looked.  She hoped this pair of vases would remain whole.  So many of her pretty ceramics had become chipped or broken.  The baby was just learning to walk, of course, and had little idea what he should not touch.  Even Jeff was not too careful, and often brushed against a table, nearly upsetting her lamps.  She had chided him for it, but he had shown little improvement; when she had bought the new vases she had spoken to him very sharply about them.

“You are to keep your hands off from these, Jeff,” she had said.  “I value them very highly, and would feel just terrible if they were broken.  Besides,” she had added, a little crossly, “I’d like to keep something in one piece around here.”

Now she walked up to the fireplace.  And then she saw the white envelope, with “Mom” scrawled on the outside in Jeff’s writing.  The uneasiness in her suddenly began to take form.  She tore open the envelope, her hands trembling a little, and found the note inside.  “Dear Mom,” it said.  “In case you find the piece out of your vase before I come home, don’t worry, I went to find you another one.  Love, Jeff.”

Margaret hurried to the telephone and dialed the number of Jeff’s school.  She recognized his teacher’s voice.  “Miss Arman?  This is Jeff’s mother.”

“O, yes, Mrs. Marsden, is Jeff ill?  We missed him today.”

“No – no, he isn’t ill.  I mean—I’ll send a note with him tomorrow.”  Without waiting for the teacher’s reply, Margaret put down the receiver.  Hurriedly she woke the baby and dressed him, and slipped into her own coat.  She scribbled a brief note of explanation to Jim, her husband, in case he should come home before she returned, then picked up the baby and ran out to the car.

Surely she would find him, she thought, as she started down the driveway.  The few times he had gone shopping with her she had taken him downtown, so that must be where he went.  She would go to the gift shops and ask whether a small boy had been there that day; after all, someone would remember.

But her heart was pounding with fear as she drove.  He had been gone all day.  What could he have been doing all that time?  What if something had happened to him?  She thought of a dozen possibilities.  She called to mind how sharply she had spoken to him, warning him about the pair of vases, and she reproached herself bitterly.  No wonder she had given him the impression that the vases were very important to her.  And so they were, she admitted to herself, ruefully, far too important.  She had treasured them far too highly.  Jeff had sensed that she would be angry and unhappy because he had broken one.

In her fear her thoughts came tumbling one upon the other.  Had she been putting too much emphasis on things for a long time?  Materialism, she had read in one of those church papers, was the spirit of the age in which they were living, and Christians should not allow themselves to be engulfed by it.  She had brushed the words aside at the time she had read them, but now they returned to plague her conscience.  Is that why she had been so often moody, discontented?  Did she have her heart set on too many pretty things?  Remorsefully she admitted to herself that she had, and that this had led up to Jeff’s present predicament.  Desperately she prayed, “Forgive me, Lord, and help me to find him.”

At the first two gift shops she received the same reply to her question.  “Yes, there was a small boy in here this morning, looking for a certain vase, but I didn’t have what he wanted, and he left.”  She inquired further in the department stores; she tried the florists.  Some of them had seen Jeff that morning; others simply shook their heads sympathetically

Finally, on the far side of the shopping district she found a shop where Jeff had been seen around noon.  Yes, he had found what he wanted, “that vase over there, but he didn’t have enough money to pay for it.  He said he’d be back for it.”

Margaret asked if she could use the telephone and dialed her own number, hoping that Jeff would have returned.  There was no answer.  She turned to go, when the owner of the shop called after her, “You’d better get some help in finding that youngster, lady.  This is no weather for you and the baby to be out in.”  Margaret glanced out of the shop window.  The rain had turned to a driving sleet that was freezing on the cars and pavement.

She looked at her watch:  it was nearly six o’clock.  Disconsolately, she went back to the car.  Her arms ached from carrying Johnny and there was a growing fear within her that something terrible had happened to Jeff.  She turned toward home, and in spite of the sleet her driving was almost automatic.

Then she saw him, his head bent slightly against the storm, pedaling slowly, as if he was very tired.  She pulled up behind him, stopped the car and ran out.  “Jeff—oh, Jeff,” was all she could say at first, as she hugged him joyfully.  Then, “Come in the car, son, and let’s go home.”

“But my bike—“

“Never mind the bike; we’ll leave it at this gas station and pick it up tomorrow.  Just get in.  You’re all soaked and freezing cold.”

On the way home, Jeff said, “Mom, did you find my note?  I mean—I thought when you dusted you might notice the vase had a chip out and so I thought I’d better explain.  Johnny climbed up when I was supposed to be watching him, and when I grabbed it out of his hand, I knocked it against the corner of the mantel.”

“Oh, Jeff, never mind about the vase,” Margaret replied, “It doesn’t matter.”

“But, Mom, I know how much you liked it and everything, and I found one just like it, and I’ll save up my allowance and get it for you.  I tried to find some odd job to do after I finally found the right vase, but everyone said I was too small, and should be in school.  Then I sorta got lost, and had to ask someone the way home.  But I’ll still get it for you.”

Margaret looked at the baby; he was sound asleep in his car seat.  She stopped the car at the curb, and turned to her small son.

“Jeff,” she said, “I must have led you to think that the vase meant more to me than you did.  That was wrong of me, and I’m sorry.  ‘Set your affections on things above’ God tells us.  Well, I guess I’ve been forgetting that for a long time, and needed a lesson.  Now let’s go home.”