We usually like to remember our guests, though in the height of the winter season with people coming and going all the time that can be a challenge. Sometimes, though, you remember people for the wrong reasons.
A few weeks ago some guests put some food from the supermarket in the fridge for cold suppers while they were here. Only they never touched the jar of herring.
I can understand that. Most Swedes like it though, at least if there’s some schnapps available to wash it down with. Perhaps that was the problem for our guests – no schnapps.
Anyhow, there was the jar, found in the fridge just after they ‘d gone to town to catch the bus to the airport. It was a virgin jar of herring. If I’d had any sense I’d have chased the guests up the hill and given it back to them. ‘No, no,’ they’d have protested, ‘you have it!’ ‘No, no,’ I’d have replied, ‘it’s yours, please!’ And they’d have taken it, very reluctantly, and stuffed it in their bag – planning to leave it by a rubbish bin in the airport.
But unfortunately I didn’t do this. I just stared at the jar in my hands, knowing it was a ticking bomb.
If people leave food behind we usually throw it away – unless it’s clearly unopened and is something we normally eat. The jar was sealed, but we wouldn’t have eaten it in a million years. Only we couldn’t throw it away either. The glass jar was recyclable, and you aren’t supposed to put recyclable materials in the ordinary bins. So the herring would have to be removed from the jar first.
Only, what to do with the herring? You can imagine the smell. (Or perhaps you can’t – lucky you.) You can’t just throw it in a bin. Our rubbish is collected every fortnight, and even at these temperatures I wouldn’t be too happy about herring in the bin.
For as long as the jar was sealed, it was ok. Like a bomb, ready to go off, but not yet triggered into activity. It sat in our kitchen, waiting for a decision. All that congealed raw fish, daring us to do something. We tried not to look at it. Even looking at herring is an experience to be avoided. There it was, day after day. We tried not to think of the guests who’d left it for us – the association in our minds between them, and the herring, was hard to forget though.
Then we had an idea – perhaps the neighbour might like it. We didn’t want to insult her by giving her a cheap jar of herring, but it would solve our problem. Only every time she was out in her garden, we forgot to mention the herring.
By now the jar had been moved into the hallway, to try and remind us to speak to her about it. Only then we thought perhaps it didn’t look too good for our guests, so each time someone came to the door we had to take the jar back into the kitchen – and then it was forgotten again.
In desperation one day I put the jar outside the front door. It got left there, like some strange talisman, perhaps warning guests not to stay here. The next morning we found it, deep frozen. Now what would happen to the herring? Perhaps frozen pickled herring really is inedible. We might have to live with this jar of herring for the rest of our lives.
And so the days passed, the jar coming in and out of the hallway, in and out of the kitchen.
Finally, the neighbour was asked. No, she couldn’t eat anything in vinegar – but her son would take it. When next he was visiting. The jar continued to be moved around the house, always where it shouldn’t be.
Then one day the conjunction of the planets was just right, the son and the neighbour and the jar came together, and the jar of herring disappeared from our lives. But the guests who left the jar we will always remember…