We put Nina in a jar. We didn’t need to, but it seems like the best way. With all of Nina’s midnight opera and lawn yoga and dishes strewn about the house, what else were we supposed to do but contain her?
And the Mason jar suits Nina.
Eva and I puncture six holes in the lid. We give her a napkin for bedding and a torn page of a book. Reading material. Then, crumbles of the peanut butter protein bar she’d eat before long morning runs. We bring her along on our dinner date, lady’s night, so she won’t feel left out. Eva figures: we can fulfill Nina’s basic needs and still keep our distance. It’ll be easy!
“Nina?” we say to her small make-upped face. “Can you hear us?”
She looks up and says something in French, which we can hardly understand. She is always speaking in si-vous-plaits and moi aussis, that we couldn’t take anymore. We giggle and wave, drop in a twig, pleased at our new creation, at our new control over all of her Irritating Traits.
But the jar doesn’t stop Nina. She wakes up at 11:00 am, runs in place, the heat from her body fogging the glass. She paints her eye lashes in the reflection with warm shards of chocolate chip, lips with squeezed cranberry. I am shocked at her contouring mastery for being so small.
Nina even has a miniature phone for all of her selfies. If you ask me, it all seems like too much work.
“Water?” Nina says, and mimes a cup. At least we think she says water. Her voice sounds like sea life, like noise in a shell. Eva dabs a finger in her ice tea and shakes tiny droplets over Nina’s mouth. She collects them on her tongue and swallows. Everything seems to be going okay.
I look at Eva from across the table and almost can’t believe what we’ve done. But living with Eva, I do feel more alive. I now know more about Stevie Nicks, about politics. Eva has taught me how to cook Thai, too. Plus, capturing Nina has really bonded us and the feeling consumes a space inside me with light.
The only downside—Nina’s a night-owl. Noisy Pilates at 1:00 am. Eva and I have both experienced this before when I let Nina crash at our place. I couldn’t say no. It’s been 48 hours now since she’s returned home, but I told Nina, Don’t worry. You have somewhere to stay.
And now that dinner’s done, Eva and I must decide: who will keep Nina bedside at night and tuck her in?
“This capturing business is beginning to be kind of a chore,” I say.
“But worth it, right?” Eva says. “I mean, look.” We peer into the jar and Nina is singing Music of the Night in falsetto. Eva is quite the opportunist and sometimes, I think, from her I can learn a few things. I tighten the lid and the melody fades out.
“Roger that,” I say. “Worth every ounce of sweat and tears.”
We play Rock-Paper-Scissors. I get rock, and Eva paper, so after dinner I carry Nina to my room and place the jar on my nightstand. I feel irritated for losing, for having to carry the ruckus home, but hey, that’s life! I scoop Nina out and bring her to the bathroom, set her on the toilet. "Time to, you know--," I say, and demonstrate a squat. I linger there blinking until Nina shoos me away. It’s not the most pleasant task to take charge of.
The toilet flushes and I carry Nina back to the jar. I get into bed and drape a bandanna over the lid for darkness, but then remember: breathing. So I slide the bandanna off to the window-side, block out the street’s glow, leaving three air holes. Nina looks up at me with big brown eyes and hair that has lost its curl. Her homeliness, a comfort to my own poofy waves. I tell Nina this whole thing isn’t anything personal. We just can’t stand her sometimes. It happens! The way she leaves tuna in the drain, or laughs a decibel above everyone. Maybe it’s all that happiness that’s got us annoyed. But worry not, Nina does have some Good Qualities, qualities that her fiancé, Matthew, is sure to miss.
Nina’s face remains still and I’m unsure if she can hear me, so I list off some of her Good Qualities, like: outgoingness, brains, perfume connoisseur, a knack for museums. And for a moment I feel a bit better, a bit guilt-free, like I’ve justified Nina’s entrapment with some honest-to-God appreciation. I give Nina a big grin, but she pushes back into Downward Dog, cracks joints. And then I feel that guilt creep back in as I lean back sleepily. I toss and turn into the night.
3:00 am, I wake to the sound of Nina sleep-talking. This time, her muffled voice resembles a ghostly-howl in the dark. She says something about a hospital and then children (which, awake-Nina has none) and her round belly covered in—gasp—hair! Clearly, this is a fear that has worked its way through her brain.
I peek under the bandanna and see Nina’s body twitching. For a second my heart races and I overheat. I understand all of that irrationality, how hard it is to know who we’re truly supposed to be.
The next day, Matthew calls and asks, Where is Nina? Why hasn’t she been home? Why didn’t she take out the trash and recycling? And where is his phone charger? Did she lose it? He says her mother called him and her childhood cat, Peanut, died and would she like him cremated or buried? I tell him, Nina is on a week-long meditation and surprisingly, he buys it—he curses and hangs up. I lean over Nina to relay the message, but she looks oddly content, wrapped in her napkin and yodeling. So I refrain, at least for now. I mean, I’m no monster. Yet the closer I get to Nina the more I can smell a bitter aroma lingering above.
I meet Eva in her room with the jar.
“Nina stinks,” I say.
“Stinks? Like what?”
“You know, like garbage.”
Eva grabs the jar and Nina topples over. Eva isn’t as careful as most people. She does what she wants. Like the time Eva posted a half-naked pic on her Instagram, unapologetically, two hundred-some ‘Likes.’ I found it simultaneously disgusting but brave.
“Give Nina a sniff,” I say.
I unscrew the lid. The book corner looks brown and the napkin oily-thin.
Eva sniffs and recoils in horror. “What are we supposed to do?”
“You know,” I say.
“That makes me uncomfortable,” Eva says.
“Fine. Grab me a bowl,” Eva says. “One I don’t eat from.”
I go to the kitchen and find a bowl with the perfect depth. Something Nina can both relax in and tread water. I fill it with warm water and squirt in lavender shower gel. The whole preparation is an easy task to do, but I’m feeling more overwhelmed by the second. I feel the burden of responsibility, of unconditionally caring, weigh me down like a hot day.
In the dining room, I tip the jar on its side. “You have to undress now,” I say to Nina, and she steps back toward the glass.
“She’s not too keen,” Eva says.
Nina then strips off her leggings and shirt. Underwear and bra. Without clothing, Nina looks a little like me, with little-boy hips and a squishy middle. Cone-like breasts. I’m startled to see that beneath all of those layers, Nina is a tad less annoying and maybe even—normal.
And looking close enough I can almost see where Matthew had grabbed her, hard. Just once, Nina said, on the arm. A tiny bruise the size of an ant. Nina tiptoes over to the bowl, climbs onto the edge, and lowers herself in. She holds on and paddle-kicks, but looks surprisingly in fear.
“That’s not going to do much,” I say.
“We can’t force her,” Eva says.
“Well, you’re not helping,” I say.
Eva throws up her arms. “Who said I wanted to help?”
I un-cup Nina’s hands and she splashes, sinks to the bottom. I scoop her out and set her on a place-mat. Who knew she couldn’t swim.
Then, a knock on the door. Eva peeks through the eyehole.
“Don’t open it,” I say.
Eva opens it.
Matthew. He’s wearing a gray hoodie, LA Lakers. He’s sweaty and red. A man I’d never sleep with, but hey, people have the things that they like.
“Is Nina here?” Matthew says, and suppresses a burp.
Eva grabs my arm and pulls me into the other room.
“Maybe we should give Nina back,” she says.
“She’s not our responsibility.”
“Matthew is clearly a dick,” I say.
“Yeah, but they’re a thing.”
I put my hand on Eva’s shoulder. “I love you, Eva,” I say. “But I don’t agree.” I think about all that quiet with Nina gone. It all sounds so nice. But then I think about that empty jar and that lonely twig, just propped there.
We walk back into the dining room. “Okay,” I say, and it is all I can muster. But when we loom over the bowl, we discover—no Nina. Her clothes, in a heap on the table.
“We have a situation,” I say.
"Crap," Eva says.
Matthew peeks into the dining room. “What do you mean, crap?”
We’re all in the dining room now, searching around the salt and pepper shakers, in Mason jars, around fruit, beneath lamps. She couldn’t have gone far. She’s little. Then again, Nina sure can surprise you. And that’s not to say that I like Nina, that she’s grown on me. Because she hasn’t. No way. But women can do that. Surprise you. And maybe, I think, just being a woman, in all of our facets, is something surprising and terrifying and remarkable all in itself.
I take out my cell phone and open to Instagram. It’s a big world out there. Canyons, bars, graduations, crochet. I scroll through the feed until a video of Nina whizzes by and it fills me with an intense joy I can’t form into words. She lumbers into the outer petal of a flower, balances a bit until she disappears, and is gone.
Hannah Pass’s stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Wigleaf, Tin House and Kenyon Review Online to name a few places. She lives in Portland, Oregon.