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She Can Bake a Cherry Pie

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She Can Bake a Cherry Pie ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

Judith Call was thirty-four and still unmarried. She lived outside town with her widowed mother and her younger brother, Curt. She had believed, since about age thirty, that she would never have a husband and would end up sole custodian of her mother’s dotage, while will-o-the-wisp Curt went about pursuing his own selfish interests, never giving a thought to anybody but himself. And one day Curt would bring home a wife (a pretty one but with the kind of prettiness that doesn’t last) and he’d become a father, and Judith would be the slightly odd maiden aunt who bakes cookies and saves Christmas wrap and quietly passes gas in church.

She had one physical deficiency that might have made her less marriageable than she might otherwise have been. Her eyes didn’t work in concert. She seemed to be looking in two directions at once; that is, here and there. People who knew her best were used to this abnormality and barely noticed it, but people meeting her for the first time pitied her and wondered if she was quite “all there” and if she needed help in getting to where to she was going. Wearing dark glasses covered up her abnormality and made her seem the same as anybody else, but there always came a time when the dark glasses had to come off.

Her mother always spurred her on, telling her eyes don’t make any difference.

“Any man would be lucky to have you,” she was fond of saying. “Any man worth having won’t care about at all about your funny eyes. He’ll see you for the lovely person you are.”

Judith, however, knew how important appearances are to the world in general. For a man to see her inner beauty, he would first have to look into her eyes, and if there was anything wrong there he wouldn’t look any farther.

Doctors told her the situation might one day work itself out on its own, but until then there was nothing medically to be done.

Curt had a friend named Gerald Pierson, handsome, slender and dark-haired. He was steady, decent, polite and always well-groomed. If Judith or her mother could have put all the qualities of a good husband and father (a regular Prince Charming) into a cup and shaken it and poured it out on the table, Gerald Pierson would have come tumbling out.

Finally, after a certain amount of coaxing by his mother, Curt agreed to invite Gerald Pierson to dinner on a Sunday afternoon in early summer. The mother didn’t think it was necessary to inform the son of the real reason for the invitation.

Judith would cook the dinner all on her own and it would be something wonderful. Gerald Pierson, who barely knew anything about Judith except that she was Curt’s sister, would see her in her own home. He would eat the food she had cooked with her own hands and see a side of her he hadn’t known existed. In one afternoon, he would witness all her best qualities and would come to think of her in a way he hadn’t thought of her before: a good wife for him and a loving mother for his children. She could give him the serene and comfortable home that every man wants. She could be the rock upon which he anchors his life.

Outwardly Judith seemed indifferent to the news that Gerald Pierson was coming for dinner, but privately her heart beat a little faster and her blood quickened in her veins. It might just be the thing she had been waiting for. When she logically analyzed the situation, she realized there was a very good chance that she and Gerald might discover they had a lot in common. A spark might be ignited at the dinner table on Sunday, a spark that could turn into a white hot flame. She couldn’t keep from smiling to herself when she saw the possibilities that lay before her.

She didn’t want to seem to be making too much of a fuss, but she planned the menu carefully. She loaded her cart with the largest and most expensive ham in the store, fresh cherries to make a pie, fresh spinach, freshy picked green beans, and anything else she could think of, sparing no expense. It seemed almost like Christmas. As an afterthought, she bought a bottle of before-dinner wine and a different kind of wine to serve during the meal.

Mother went to church Sunday morning and when she came home she was chirrupy and cheerful. She set the dining room table with the best dishes and didn’t have much to say.

Curt slept the morning away from his late Saturday night. He got up at eleven o’clock, took a shower and dressed in a white shirt and gray dress pants instead of the usual jeans.

“Why so fancy?” he asked when he walked into the dining room and saw the table. “Gerald is not royalty. He’s just a regular guy.”

“We don’t very often have a chance to entertain guests,” mother said.

When Gerald arrived in early afternoon, Curt met him at the door. They shook hands and Curt pulled him inside, as if he needed some persuasion.

“What’s with the jacket and tie, cowboy?” Curt said. “You didn’t need to dress up, you know. We’re strictly informal here.”

“I like to put on the dog every now and then,” Gerald said.

He greeted Judith and mother shyly and shook their hands.

“I’m so glad you and Curt are friends,” mother gushed. “I haven’t always approved of some of his chums.”

“Gerald doesn’t want to hear that,” Curt said.

“Thank you for inviting me,” Gerald said politely.

Curt and Gerald sat on the couch and talked about things they knew, while mother and Judith went into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the meal. Before the dinner was ready, Judith came out of the kitchen bearing a tray with the little glasses of wine. She held the tray out to Gerald and then to Curt.

Fancy-Schmancy,” Curt said. “Where did these glasses come from?”

“They’ve been in the china closet for seventy-five years,” Judith said.

Gerald laughed and looked up her into her funny eyes. She looked back at him with crooked confidence and went back into the kitchen feeling that things were going well.

“Are you going to wear your dark glasses while we’re eating?” mother asked conspiratorially.

“No, I don’t think I will. It’s good for him to know the truth about me, don’t you think?”

Curt and Gerald took their places at the table, and mother and Judith brought the food in from the kitchen.

“This certainly looks wonderful!” Gerald said.

“I hope you like ham,” Judith said.

“Of course I like ham.”

“I’m starved,” Curt said. “I haven’t eaten all day.”

“Well, whose fault is that but your own?” mother said.

Before they ate, mother insisted on saying grace: “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

“A-men!” Curt said.

“I hope you don’t mind the prayer,” mother said.

“Of course not,” Gerald said.

“Some people are funny about those things.”

“Not me.”

“He’s a regular all-American guy!” Curt said.

“How do you like living way out here?” Gerald asked. “This far out of town, I mean.”

“It’s great,” Curt said. “The nearest house is so far away you can’t even see it. You can go outside naked and nobody will see you.”

“You don’t go outside naked, do you?” mother said.

“Well, maybe I will sometime. Hah-hah-hah!

During a lull in the conversation, Judith cleared her throat and, determined to look Gerald clearly in the eye, said, “You and I were in high school together.”

“Were we? I don’t remember.”

“We didn’t have any classes together. I was two grades ahead of you, but I remember you. You were very popular.”

“Was I?”

“Always getting your picture in the yearbook.”

“That’s our Gerald!” Curt said. “Big man on campus.”

“That’s not quite the way I remember it,” Gerald said.

“Well, anyway, it was a long time ago,” Judith said, “and it doesn’t matter much now.”

“The big man on campus doesn’t stay that way forever,” Curt said and punched Gerald on the arm.

“This is the best meal I’ve had in a long time!” Gerald said. “I’m so happy you asked me!”

“You’ll have to come again soon,” mother said. “We’d love to have you.”

When they were finished eating, Curt said, “What’s for dessert?”

“It’s a surprise,” mother said.

Judith went into the kitchen and when she came back she was carrying a tray with four servings of cherry pie, each with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

After a couple of bites, Gerald said, “Cherry pie is my favorite and this is the best cherry pie I’ve ever tasted.”

“Judith baked the pie,” mother said. “And in fact she cooked the whole meal on her own. All I did was set the table.”

“It could not have been better,” Gerald said.

After a while Curt and Gerald rose from the table and went out through the kitchen. Curt wanted to take Gerald down to the barn to show him the horse that he was trying to sell at a profit.

“He likes you,” mother said as she and Judith cleared the table.

“Who does?” Judith said.

“Gerald.”

“I think he likes everybody.”

“No, he looks at you in a special way. I’ve seen that look before.”

“You’re imagining things.”

“I don’t think he even noticed that your eyes are funny.”

“How could he not notice?”

“If he noticed, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Now that you have his interest, I think you should pursue it.”

“Pursue what?”

“Invite him on a picnic. Just the two of you. Picnics are always a good way for two people to get to know each other better. Make some chicken sandwiches and potato salad. Men like potato salad.”

“I wouldn’t want him to think I’m setting a trap for him.”

“Some men want to be trapped. They just don’t always realize it.”

“You’re being ridiculous, mother.”

The phone rang and mother answered.

“Run down to the barn and get Curt,” she said to Judith. “This is the call he’s been waiting for about the horse.”

“Can’t you just take a message?”

“He particularly wanted to speak to this person.”

“Oh, all right. I don’t want to, but I will.”

She crossed the back yard, trying to keep from stepping in the mud. At the point where the back yard ended, the barn was about three hundred yards down to the right.

She didn’t see Curt and Gerald anywhere so she figured they must still be in the barn. The door was partly opened. She swung it back, took a few steps inside and paused for a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom.

She heard a voice, maybe a laugh, but she wasn’t sure if it was Curt or Gerald. She was reminded of the time when they were children and Curt would call her to come into the barn and when she did he’d hide from her and jump out and make her scream.

She was going to call out to Curt but then she saw the white of his shirt over to the left against the wall, behind the stall where the horse was. She squinted her eyes then, not sure of what she was seeing. It was not only Curt but also Gerald, standing together.

Taking a few steps closer but still not close enough that they knew she was there, she knew in one fleeting moment what she was seeing. Curt and Gerald were locked in a tight embrace, kissing passionately. Gerald had his back to the wall and Curt was leaning into him. Gerald’s hands were around Curt’s shoulders. Curt’s trousers were on the ground around his shoes. When she saw Curt’s hands, she knew they were fumbling with—trying to undo—Gerald’s belt.

Judith’s one thought was that she didn’t want to be seen, that she didn’t want Curt and Gerald to know she knew what they were doing. She ran out of the barn, back up the muddy road, to get back into the house before she was discovered.

She came to the back yard and saw the house. A hundred feet more and she would be safe inside. She ran across the yard, not caring that she was treading mud. Almost safe, she forgot the low-hanging limb on the sycamore tree. Almost safe, she hit the limb—whack!—in the middle of the forehead and was knocked on her back.

She lost consciousness for a few seconds, maybe a minute or two, and when she regained herself her mother was kneeling beside her asking if she was all right.

With her mother holding onto her arm, she made her way into the kitchen and sat in a chair at the kitchen table. She sobbed, once and then twice, and mother thought it was from pain, but it was more from what she had seen.

“I’m going to call the doctor,” mother said.

“No, I’m fine,” Judith said. “It was just a stupid accident. I should have known better.”

“I’m going to have that limb cut off.”

“No! Don’t do that! That limb has been there my whole life.”

“Where’s Curt? He can drive you to the hospital.”

“I don’t need to go to the hospital. Curt is down at the barn entertaining his friend. Leave them to it.”

Mother hovered over Judith, daubing at her head with a wet rag. “You’re going to have a goose egg right in the middle of your forehead.”

“Good. That completes the freak look.”

“You might have a concussion.”

“I’m fine. Stop fussing.”

Mother placed her hands on both sides of Judith’s face and tilted her head back.

“Look at me!” mother said. “Can you see me all right?”

“Of course I can see you all right!”

“Oh, my Lord!”

“What is it? What’s the matter?”

“Your eyes!”

She looked closer at Judith’s eyes to make sure of what she was seeing and then she went out of the room and came back with a hand mirror.

“Look at yourself!” she said.

Judith held the mirror up, looking at her eyes from the right and then from the left. “For the first time in more than twenty years,” she said, “my eyes are as straight as anybody else’s.”

“This morning when I was in church I asked the Lord to fix your eyes, and He did! It’s miraculous! God is good!”

“It’s not every day I get knocked unconscious by a blow to the head,” Judith said. “Maybe I ought to try it more often.”

She put the mirror down and went out of the room.

“Where are you going?” mother asked.

“I’m going to bed.”

“But it’s still daylight outside. It’s not even seven o’clock.”

“The day is over for me.”

“What about your dinner guest? He’ll want to say goodbye before he leaves. He’ll want to thank you for the lovely meal.”

“Just give him a message for me.”

“What message?”

“Tell him I won’t be bothering him again.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“Good night, mother.”

She went upstairs and locked herself in her bedroom, pulled the curtains closed and got into bed. Her head throbbed but she wasn’t going to let it keep her from sleeping.

In a few minutes she heard voices and laughter outside in the driveway and she knew it was Curt and Gerald. They would be leaving together in Gerald’s car. Curt probably wouldn’t be returning home until morning. Yes, God is good, as mother said, to let all the pieces fall into place exactly as they should.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

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