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"The Girl on the Pickle Jar " by Amy Barnes

He stole Addie as she hid in the pickle barrel. He hated pickles so it felt like the perfect hiding place. When we were dating, I protected myself by eating big garlicky pickles to repel him like he was a vampire.

I kept her safe from him for years. Before she was born, I pushed her into a thimble in my belly. The Monopoly game piece turned her into Thumbelina on ultrasounds. My sonographer was confused and brought in the doctor. They compared notes and whispered.

“It’s okay. She’s safer that way.” I told them both.

When she was born, I taught her how to climb into bigger and bigger hiding places. First, Campbell’s soup cans. An igloo we made together in the front yard out of snowballs. My purse. Diaper boxes. TV boxes. A fish tank painted black.

I crammed her into an ironic milk carton at some point, the kind with her face on the exterior. Artificially-aged until she looked so different no one would know it was her when she emerged smelling sour and curdly like Little Miss Muffet.

Neither one of us were afraid of spiders sitting beside us, only of him. Her father. A venomous man that lurked next to ottomans and cheese factories and Crayola factories and schools and our cottage. We moved a lot but always found boxy houses, tiny ones covered in moss that blanketed the smell of both of us so he couldn’t bloodhound search us out when we slept under and behind creeping green.

During the pickle jar months, bought at a warehouse store, Addie complained about the smell and having her face squished against the jar. But she always understood. Before she contortionisted into the jar, I told her bedtime stories about cucumbers and pickles.

“Did you know pickles are made from cucumbers?” She told me all muffly and pickly gurgling the juice as she treaded pickle juice slightly green jaundiced nauseated from inhaling brine.

We cooked and baked with pickles and pickle juice, her little face peeking up at me. Her favorite recipe was a pickle granita which sounded fancy but was really only pickle juice frozen and turned into a shaved ice cone.

When she graduated to a pickle barrel for extra space to spread out her legs a bit, I honestly thought she would be safer behind the curved wood. I was wrong. While we slept he popped open the lid with a crowbar or so the police say. They didn’t help much, just stood there shaking their heads and eating pickles in their bare hands.

I contacted Peter’s Pickles, the local pickle factory and brought them Addie’s most recent school picture. They made her into their label mascot. For every jar sold, for every barrel shipped to a country store or rural gas station, they sent me a nickel and a note. Tips and sightings came in for months but slowed. We lived in a small town and the factory didn’t have much reach. Best pickles in the county but not sold in major markets.

I searched for her for years on my own once the police gave up. I knew she would still smell of milk and pickles. I played scratch and sniff on street corners and park benches and school crosswalks, running my finger along stair rails and windowsills trying to catch a whiff of her. On days when it snows and flakes fall on my face, I close my eyes and picture her and try to sniff her back into my life, even briefly. It never works.

I fry her favorite food fried pickles now on the anniversary of her disappearance, opening the windows and sharing her with the neighborhood in case someone has smelled her, seen her.

I still smell him and her on the bus some days and I watch for footprints of pickle juice green against the first snow. On my worst days, I scratch and scream her name at the sky until an artificial smell comes through that isn’t her, just some other girl who is lost on the bus or in the country sleeping next to cucumbers and cows that are blissfully unaware she is nearby.

Amy Barnes is the author of three short fiction collections: AMBROTYPES published by word west, “Mother Figures” published by ELJ, Editions and CHILD CRAFT, forthcoming from Belle Point Press in late-2023. Her words have appeared in a wide range of publications including The Citron Review, JMWW, Cease, Cows, Janus Lit, Flash Frog, Complete Sentence, The Bureau Dispatch, Nurture Lit, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, SmokeLong Quarterly, and many others. She’s been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfiction, long-listed for Wigleaf50 in 2021 and 2022, and included in Best Small Fictions 2022. She’s a Fractured Lit Associate Editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit assistant editor and reads for Retreat West, The MacGuffin, and Narratively. You can find her on Twitter at @amygcb.


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