Once there was a flower pot; it was hand-made. The owner of the house had made it. He’d taken a ceramics class one afternoon, and made this pot — but then he’d forgotten it. He’d taken the pot home and left it on the porch. He’d never even put any flowers in it. And so the pot just sat there, day in and day out, wondering what life was all about.
What am I? thought the pot. And why am I like this — all hollowed out and empty inside? What could be the purpose of existing like this?
The pot could never figure it out.
And what’s more, the pot thought, where exactly am I?
It stared off down the front path, toward the world.
And what all’s out there — in that huge place? it thought.
So many things the pot knew nothing at all about.
The pot had always hoped that its owner might stop by and help clear up a few of these glaring mysteries, but the owner never once even looked down at the pot — just walked right past it every day, going in and out.
And so the pot sat there, doing nothing much at all.
And pretty soon, it started to get bored.
And then it got more bored, and more and more and more bored, until eventually it became extremely depressed.
But then finally, one day, a momentous thing happened — a neighborhood dog came by. It was a big one — a smelly one — a nasty, hairy, scary one — and it came sniffling and snuffling about the yard.
It immediately saw the pot and came over and sniffed it, and then it turned and lifted up a leg. And then — and I warn you, this part is kinda gross — it peed right into the pot’s open mouth.
The pot was disgusted. Sickened. Revolted. It could feel its entire soul shriveling up. Just think: there it was, completely full of stinking dog pee — is there a worse thing in the world a pot could be?
And as the dog went running off, the pot just sat there, fuming. And the only thing it wanted, with its whole being, was to tip itself over and dump the dog pee out.
So that was exactly what it did.
It just tipped itself over.
And dumped the dog pee out.
Just like that.
It happened just like that.
My God! thought the pot, now lying on its side. I can move! I had no idea!
And it immediately leapt up and hopped about the yard.
I’m free! the pot thought. And I’m alive!
It leapt around in circles. Then it headed for the path.
Down the path! the pot said. Off and away!
And it hopped off down the front walk and out the open gate, made a left turn, and merrily hopped away.
It was hopping down the sidewalk, looking this way and that, taking in the houses and the cars. Marveling at the trees, at the hedges and picket fences.
And then it saw something up ahead.
What it saw was that dog — that nasty, awful dog that had peed right into its open mouth.
That dog! thought the pot. My God, I hate that dog! And now…now I can avenge myself!
And so the pot hopped over, its mind furiously churning — it was forming an unstoppable plan.
I’ll leap onto the dog’s back and scare it! thought the pot. And then beat it mercilessly about the head!
Unfortunately, however, the dog heard the pot coming — the hopping pot made a bouncing sound — and it turned and bared its teeth, and then it reached out, snarling, and snatched the pot up quickly in its mouth.
Uh oh, thought the pot, as it felt itself raised up.
Uh oh, the pot thought, as it paused.
Uh oh, the pot thought, as it started coming down.
And then, all of a sudden, the pot saw.
And what it saw, was a pot — a pot just like it — sitting on the front porch of a nearby house.
Oh hey, thought the pot.
Then it saw something else — it saw this other pot had something growing inside it.
What on earth? thought the pot. That pot’s holding a plant!
It could see the plant’s branches; it could see the dirt. It could even see the veins in the plant’s green and glossy leaves.
And then the pot saw even more.
And what the pot saw then was what it was supposed to be — it suddenly understood its purpose in life. It pictured itself holding and sheltering a plant as that plant grew up from just a tiny sprout.
My God, thought the pot, as it pictured that plant growing, getting larger, then being transplanted to the ground.
It thought of that plant growing up to be a tree.
And just then the dog brought the pot down.
And the pot hit the sidewalk and immediately shattered into about a hundred million pieces.
What the…? thought the pot, as all the pieces of itself went flying in a hundred million directions.
Oh no! thought the pot. Oh God, no no no!
But then it suddenly paused to consider.
Because it couldn’t help noticing something strange was going on — namely, that its mind hadn’t shattered.
Yes, the million shards of what had used to be its body were now arching off in so many different directions. But — perhaps because the pot had just found its true purpose? — its mind was somehow holding itself together.
Dammit, thought the pot, now redoubling its efforts, there’s no way I’m gonna let it end like this! My existence on this planet will not suddenly cease at the exact moment I finally get what it’s about!
And so the pot stretched out its mind to its many pieces, and stopped them all from coming down to rest. So those many shattered pieces didn’t settle to the ground — in fact, not a single one touched earth.
Instead, those shattered pieces were arrested in their fall — that is to say, they froze in mid-air.
And then the pot’s new sense of purpose flowed into them, and those pieces started flapping, and they flew.
They flew off all together, like a swarm of tiny shards. They looked a bit like terracotta butterflies. And they flapped and they fluttered their strange, jagged way down the block, then across the high school football field.
They flew up over the bleachers, and then above the school, and then they just kept flying up and up. And below, the town where they’d been born gave way to the countryside.
All right, they said, it’s time to see the world!
And so that’s what they did: They went to see the world. They saw every one of the seven continents. They explored the seas and oceans too — and the deepest darkest forests. And everywhere, they met all kinds of plants.
Hello, the shards would say to them. What kind of plant are you?
And they’d learn their names and ask about their lives.
And do you like the sun? they’d say. Afternoon or morning?
And they’d do what they could to help the plants to thrive.
They couldn’t hold them safe, of course — the shards didn’t make a pot. But still they did their best, as best they could. They’d sprinkle them with water from a stream if they were parched, hover over and cast shade if they were burnt.
Of course, the plants were very pleased.
Oh, that’s nice! they’d say.
And from the dirt, they’d lift their leaves in thanks.
No problem, all the shards would say. Really, it’s our pleasure! This is, you know, why we were put on earth!
And every now and then, as the shards were flying by, they’d chance to see a dog down on the ground.
And the shards would look at one another, and they’d grin a bit.
Come on, they’d say, let’s go and have some fun.
And so the shards would swarm on down, and whirl about the dog.
Hey, dog! they’d say. You pee on anyone today?
And the dog would shrink away from them, and cower down and bark.
Shh, shh, they’d say. Don’t worry, it’s okay.
And they’d settle down onto its nose, and give it little kisses, until it wagged its tail — then they’d fly away.
Dogs, they’d say, as they fluttered off. They sure are stinky creatures! But it sure is good for us they were made that way.
Ben Loory is the author of Tales of Falling and Flying and Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, both from Penguin Books. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, BOMB Magazine, Fairy Tale Review, and A Public Space, and been heard on This American Life and Selected Shorts. He is also the author of a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus.
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Image (cropped): Ron Nagle rocor CC2.0 ALT beautiful pot made by a master ceramicist, with its left side opening like a broken heart