I broke a mug today. My favorite one. It was half-filled with miso soup when it shattered. Jagged cuts of blue porcelain and tiny tofu clouds hurled across my floor like a child’s version of The Big Bang.
I’ve always marveled at how containers can enhance the enjoyment of the contents. This cup, with its elegant patterns and exaggerated curves had elevated my nightly green tea into a royal refreshment.
Now this magic goblet lay in pieces on the floor, bleeding its fishy contents onto the thin carpet.
On another day, I would have sighed, cursed under my breath even. I would have carried the weight of that broken mug with me all day, shaking my head sadly each time I was forced to chose a less superior vessel to drink from, vowing to find an exact replica, even if I had to pay through the nose.
Not today. Today I swept it up without a word, shoveling its remains into a grocery bag and dumping it into the trash.
That cup breaking was no tragedy. In fact, it may have even been a victory, a sacrificial lamb to take the place of more ominous threats.
My little boy has been having symptoms. Mysterious ones that come and go, that are probably nothing, but might possibly be something. That slither into my thoughts at night and transform my dreams into nightmares that only grow stronger when I open my eyes.
It’s probably nothing. But it might be something. But it’s probably nothing. But it might be….
And so I sweep up the broken mug with the hopes that this is my kaparot, the sacrifical chicken (traditionally slaughtered on Yom Kippur), as an atonement for his or her sins. My hope is that this mug will carry my sins, my worries, my nightmares far away from me. In its destruction, that mug has become more useful than any hunk of clay, no matter how magical, could ever be.
My daughter watched me cleaning up the cup.
“Isn’t that your favorite?” she asked.
“It was,” I said. “But, don’t worry. I”ll get another.” I tried to make my voice light, reassuring.
“Can’t we fix it?” she asked. Her words were soggy with unshed tears.
“No. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not important.” I turned my back towards her and stomped towards the stairs, determined to carry out the rest of my sacrifice.
Her tears stopped me.
“But, it is important, Mama. It was your favorite. And now it’s broken and we’ll never get it back.” Two wet streams poured down her cheeks, racing towards her strawberry lips.
Any other day, I would have scooped her into my arms and comforted her. But, today her brother was sick and I was worried and she was crying over a stupid, fucking cup.
“Don’t be dramatic! It’s just a mug. It’s stupid to cry about it!” The words flew out of my mouth, rushing to slap her cheeks the way I wouldn’t dare let my hands.
My anger was lost on her. Only the cup mattered now. The stupid broken cup that was jutting out of the bag , making tiny red tracks down my bare legs.
She sobbed harder and harder, raising her arms for me to lift her. But I couldn’t. I had a sacrifical cup to dispose of. I marched down the stairs and out the door, my face the picture of resoluteness.
She needed to learn. You can’t just go crying over every stupid broken thing.
When I came back upstairs a few minutes later, she wasn’t crying anymore. She sat on the floor where the cup had broken, cradling a broken piece in her hand.
“You’ll cut yourself!” I said, as I reached to take it from her pink fingers. She closed her hand over it so tightly I didn’t dare pull at it for fear of slicing her transparent skin.
“What will happen to it now?”
“The cup is broken. I threw it out.”
“But it’s still a thing, isn’t it? Even though it’s broken. It will still be somewhere. It won’t just disappear.” Her words vibrated like tiny harp strings. I swallowed hard to drown the lump that had crept up my throat.
“It won’t disappear Mama. It won’t.”
I knew that voice. It was the one she used when she was determined to make us believe some crazy fact that even she knew wasn’t true. Like the time she’d insisted her kindergarten teacher used to work for the circus.
I sat down beside her and pat her auburn curls.
“No. It won’t disappear. The garbage men will come and take it to the dump and it will stay there.” She sat still for a moment, poised between tears and the fierce optimism of her tender age.
“There are mice at the dump, aren’t there?”
“Yes. I guess there are.”
“A mama mouse might want to make a nest in it for her babies, don’t you think?”
It was ridiculous, really, A mouse seeking shelter in a sharp piece of porcelain. But her face was just so damned hopeful.
“I think you might be right. It would make a very pretty mouse house.”
A sudden shaft of light beamed through her tears, transforming her wet lips into a rainbow of a smile. She hopped up onto her feet.
“It won’t disappear, it will just be something new, something even better! Houses are much more important than tea cups, aren’t they Mama?”
“I suppose they are.”
And then she left, skipping out of the room, the last broken piece of my favorite mug clutched in her hand.
I stayed there on the fishy carpet for a long time after she left, thinking of broken teacups and the fragility of life, and how sometimes they’re the same thing.