Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Raspberry Jam

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Raspberry Jam

Article excerpt

It was close to midnight when Suzy's kitchen phone jangled. Startled, she nearly lost her grip on the jar of raspberry jam that she was pulling out of the canner. What? A burglar checking to see if she was away for the weekend? She steadied herself and managed to extract the remaining five precious half-pints from the boiling water bath. When she heard her old friend Fred's voice come through the answer machine, her heart leaped and she grabbed the receiver.

Fred, who was generally a sad sack, sounded uncharacteristically hyped. He apologized for the late-night call and asked if he and his friend Ta-bi-tha, he enunciated the name as if speaking of some movie star, could sleep over. "We were driving by and saw you were up."

"You were driving by in the middle of the night?"

Fred said something vague about being on the road and showing Tabitha the old neighborhood. "I don't want to put you out or anything."

Come on over, she said, her voice stepping carefully between loyalty and misgiving. But Fred had a lady friend. That was interesting.

Suzy opened her door as Fred and Tabitha sauntered up the front path. Behind them bats swooped in the warm August night. The couple seemed mismatched. Fred, in his jeans and denim shirt, looked like a friendly barrel. Tabitha, who had very sharp features, looked like someone pushing the barrel. She wore short shorts and appeared to be younger than Fred. When Suzy extended her hand in greeting, she found the other woman's clasp limp and lacking. Somehow, she made Suzy feel as if she should get out of the way. But Suzy chalked it up to fatigue and figured that friendliness would waken in the morning. Fetching some towels from the linen closet, Suzy escorted Fred and Tabitha up to the spare bedroom. She wondered how Fred had landed this gal in the short shorts. Unless it was Tabitha who had lassoed big old Fred.

The next morning, waiting for the couple to arise, Suzy sat on her front porch swing, reading a vampire novel. She was wearing a smock top and elastic-waistband jeans. Today, Sunday, should be a day of fun. They could all go on a hike or to the summer festival at the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area. On Monday, she had work at Good Friends, the life-care facility where she was an assistant to the recreational social worker, but by then the two would be on their way. A maroon SUV was parked in front of the house. It had to be their car, or rather Tabitha's. Fred did handyman and lawn work, rented a room in someone's house in Bucks County, and barely scraped by. She wondered if the new girlfriend had means, and, if she did, what was she doing with Fred?

It was nearly eleven when the couple appeared, holding hands. In the corner ofTabitha's mouth was either a spot of Suzy's new raspberry jam or fresh blood. Those vampire books put funny thoughts into her head. Oblivious to little red glop, Tabitha cuddled up to Fred on the wicker loveseat. She was wearing one of Suzy's favorite T-shirts, which Suzy had not lent her. Fred stroked his girlfriend's short brown hair.

"I was going to fix you breakfast, but I see you already ate," said Suzy, trying not to sound annoyed. She did not like folks puttering around in her kitchen or helping themselves to her T-shirts or unsealing her new raspberry jam for that matter. But they'd be leaving today. Suzy told herself not to be so uptight. Tabitha might become part of Fred's life and, by extension, part of Suzy's. Old across-the-street neighbors, practically brother and sister during their school years, Suzy and Fred didn't see each other nearly enough anymore, and they needed to catch up. Suzy angled her head. Was that a shadow from the hemlocks or a bruise on Fred's chin? In the dappled light she could not be sure.

"Great jelly, or whatever that stuff is," said Tabitha. "Can I take a jar with me? You have so much."

Suzy blinked. At least she was asking now. After some small talk, Suzy asked where they were headed. …

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