February 2020 short story of the month
I didn’t cry when she died, or at the funeral, or at the reception. It wasn’t until the next morning when I went to the pantry and saw row upon row of canned vegetables, fruits, and jams she had prepared for the long winter ahead. The shelves were filled with memories of her. Canning was one of her hobbies, left over from a time when she’d learned to do it for survival. It seems strange that magic users needed to do things like canning to survive. We could snap our fingers to make fields grow, but we didn’t.
We’ve always had to hide what we were by doing “normal” things. Tough winters meant canning and stocking up for us just like everyone else to make it through the season without attracting attention. If too much fortune favored us, people got suspicious. It wasn’t that long ago in history that witch hunts were common practice. We tried our hardest to blend in.
It was exhausting.
I picked up a jar of my mother’s homemade blackberry jam. It was a blue ribbon winner at the country fair. I smiled when I looked at it labeled in her sloppy handwriting. If I hadn’t been reading it my entire life, I wouldn’t have known it said blackberry.
I wiped the tears from my cheeks before I left the pantry. I didn’t want my daughters to see me like that. I was determined to be strong in front of them. Raising three girls was more challenging than I’d ever imagined. They were grown now and that brought a whole unforeseen set of problems. Most of my parenting now was about trying to steer them towards their own futures and navigating their constant bickering. For three people raised in the same house, they were incredibly different. They reminded me daily of me and my two sisters.
They were seated now at the farm style dining table. They were all sitting on one bench and their father was on the opposite side. No one was talking. They were all staring at their cups of various hot drinks.
“I found a jar of blackberry,” I said as I placed it on the table. I gathered utensils and small plates and started making toast. As I was about to place four pieces of bread in the toaster, a wave of grief hit me.
I placed my hands flat on the counter in front of me and squeezed my eyes tightly. I took a deep breath in and then let it out slowly. After I collected myself again and reopened my eyes, I snapped my fingers and there was a pile of perfectly toasted bread on the plate in front of me.
I took it over to the table and set it in front of my girls. They all looked up with shock on their face. I was always lecturing them about using magic for things they could do themselves.
“Not today,” I said and sat down next to my husband to eat some toast with my mother’s blackberry jam smeared on it.
The jam hit my tongue, and it brought with it a swarm of memories. They flashed through my mind so quickly I couldn’t focus on a single one. Then they settled and one in particular surfaced.
I was walking with my sisters; the three of us were holding hands. We were eight, nine, and ten. It was a summer day, and the heat was all ready sweltering. Our mother had made us wear baby blue dresses for family pictures. We were supposed to stay nearby, but instead, we’d wandered off a little bit to explore while our parents had pictures of the two of them taken.
We walked away slowly at first, but once we realized our parents weren’t paying attention to us, we increased our speed and moved quickly away. We were still walking hand in hand, the three of us strung together like beads on a string.
I was in the middle and with a sister on either side of me, I felt safe even though we could no longer hear or see our parents. Our oldest sister was pulling us towards something.
“Look!” she yelled as she pointed frantically. I saw what she was pointing at — blackberry bushes. There were so many of them I couldn’t see where they stopped and the rest of the woods continued. They were laden with fruit.
My younger sister didn’t immediately seem as impressed with this discovery as me.
“These might be someone’s property,” she said. “We should go back to mother and father now.” She released my hand and placed her hands on her hips, looking very haughty for someone only eight years old.
“We’ll only have a few,” my older sister said. “I’m hungry. We’ve been out here for hours.”
She moved away from us and began to pop berries in her mouth.
I looked at her and then over at my younger sister trying to decide which side of this battle I wanted to be on.
“They’re delicious,” my sister said, berry juice was on her hands and face.
I joined her and ate berries with abandon. Neither of us paid much attention to what we were doing, and after a minute of being the odd one out, our sister joined us too. We were giggling and walking along picking berries and popping them in our mouths without a care.
“Girls!” our mother yelled.
We stopped in our tracks. That’s when I looked at my sisters. Their dresses were spotted with berry juice and their faces and hands were sticky.
My younger sister spun around quickly. “I told them not to,” she blurted out. Tears were welling in her eyes. She never liked getting in trouble.
And we were in so much trouble.
Our mother was practically turning purple. She didn’t yell at us till we got home. She pointed back the way we’d came, and we walked off silently toward the car without making eye contact with her.
That night back at home we were scrubbed until our skin was red. And then the lecture began; she sat us all down in a row on the couch. We all sat looking down at our laps. And then my younger sister, always the pragmatist, opened an even bigger can of worms.
We were all thinking it, but usually we didn’t have the nerve to question our mother, especially about magic use.
“Mom, why didn’t you just snap your fingers and make us clean again?”