Pumpkin pie – Cath Barton

 

In the dark street the window of the sweetshop shone out. Maisie, aged nine and three-quarters, had taken a detour on her way home from school. She pressed her nose up against the shop window; there were meringues iced to look like ghosts, witches’ hats made of chocolate and little marzipan pumpkins. Maisie pushed her hands deep into the pockets of her coat as she continued to stare at the sweets. In the right-hand pocket her hand closed on something unexpected and she pulled it out. It looked like a small, hard, shiny nut. She held it in the palm of her right hand and touched it, very gently, with her left index finger. Would a fairy appear in a puff of smoke and offer her three wishes, or at least her pick from the sweets? Nothing happened. She touched it again, said one of her own magic spells under her breath and waited. Still nothing happened. She put the nut back in her pocket and turned, reluctantly, from the bright window.

When she arrived home her mother was in the kitchen, looking flustered as she always seemed to be these days.

“Tea’s nearly ready,” she said. “I wondered where on earth you’d got to, Maisie. Wash your hands quickly now.”

They had bread and butter and jam for tea, as usual. Maisie had a cup of milk and her mother drank tea, weak tea. The two of them sat in silence, each lost in her own thoughts, but after a while the warmth from the food and the one-bar gas fire made them easier with one another.

“I’ve got a surprise,” the woman said, and the girl looked up, uncertain whether to ask what it was. Her mother was unpredictable, and Maisie didn’t understand what made her upset.

“It’s a pumpkin. Your dad brought it round. I’m going to make a pie.” She smiled at her daughter in an entreating way.

Maisie found it difficult thinking about her dad, so she thought about the marzipan pumpkins in the sweetshop window instead. She had never eaten pumpkin pie, but she had had marzipan on Christmas cake and she knew she liked that. She managed a wobbly smile

“Tomorrow,” said her mother, “We’ll have it tomorrow. It’ll be a treat.”

That night, when she knelt by her bed to say her prayers, Maisie held the shiny nut between her hands.

“I’m giving you a third chance,” she said, and then, surprising herself with her boldness.

“And just so as you know, this isn’t for me. I want you to make things better for my mum and dad.”

Next day Maisie stopped at the sweetshop window again on her way home from school. The marzipan pumpkins seemed to be winking at her. When she put her hand on the nut in her pocket it felt different. She pulled it out and gasped: it had turned into a coin, as bright and shiny as the shop window. Maisie pushed open the shop door, a bell tinkled and a little old man appeared from a back room.

She ran home with her bag of sweets. At the door she hesitated, hearing voices in the kitchen, but there were no shouts, no tears. Just soft talking.

They had tea together, Maisie and her mother and father. Pumpkin pie. Which, actually, the girl did not like. But she didn’t say so, just smiled. As they all did. Later, Maisie looked in the bag for a marzipan pumpkin. But the bag was empty, apart from a small, hard, empty nutshell.

 

 

Author pic.CathBarton.smallCath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. She won the New Welsh Writing AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella 2017 for The Plankton Collector, now published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath was awarded a place on the 2018 Literature Wales Enhanced Mentoring Scheme to complete a collection of short stories inspired by the work of the sixteenth century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch. Active in the online flash fiction community, she is also a regular contributor to the online critical hub Wales Arts Review. She tweets @CathBarton1. Find out more at https://cathbarton.com.

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Nickeled-and-Dimed – Iris N. Schwartz

 

Brooklyn, New York; 1967

In the middle of the sitcom “Love on A Rooftop,” Lenore, eight, announced she had swallowed a nickel. Her voice was low, her words measured.

Imogene rushed over. “Are you sure?”

Her sister nodded.

Imogene paced the living room, muttered, “How could this happen?” Regarding her younger sister on the sofa still watching Judy Carne, the eleven-year-old again probed, “Are you sure?”

Lenore smiled, slightly.

“Why? On the one night Mother and Dad go out!” Suddenly Imogene was speaking with an emergency operator. “I don’t know how it happened!” and “She’s breathing fine.”

She hung up, shut the TV, glared at Lenore. “You better not be making this up!”

“I’m not.”

“Because if you are…”

The doorbell rang. Two lanky young men in police uniforms were at the door. They probably hadn’t spotted the mold on the mezuzah.

“Is this the household with the coin swallower?”

“Yes, yes, oh God,” the older sibling responded.

Blond Policeman sat down by the unsteady kitchen table. Brunet Policeman stood nearby in the living room, examining the family’s antique, glass-doored bookcase. He seemed rooted there. Would he be nesting soon?

“Can I get you coffee?” asked Imogene. “Gum?”

“No, we’re fine.”

Brunet finally walked into the kitchen. He and Blond questioned Lenore about how she’d swallowed a “Buffalo nickel,” which she “collected,” and was “examining in the dark.” She “didn’t want to bother her sister” by turning on a light. When the eight-year-old held the nickel high, it tumbled from her left thumb and forefinger into her open mouth.

Blond: “Any trouble breathing since the incident?”

“No.” Lenore spotted a humongous water bug by the table leg closest to Blond. Would he notice?

Brunet asked the older sister their parents’ whereabouts.

“Oh, God… they’re at a PTA meeting, and were planning to eat out. They haven’t been out in years, and…”

Brunet: “Well, we need a family member over eighteen to tell us whether she’ll stay here or go to the hospital…”

Lenore gulped. She hadn’t been to a hospital since her tonsillectomy. They hadn’t given her ice cream afterwards like they promised. Just watery Jello. She wouldn’t go! She tried to stomp on the water bug as it neared. It sped away.

Imogene decided their parents should be called and brought home.

Dad grumbled that this was the first time in three years they’d gone out, and now they were back. Early. Mother wore makeup. The sisters knew not to look her in the eyes, hers with mascara, theirs not.

Blond told Mother and Dad that Lenore could get her stomach pumped in a hospital, or the collectible coin would come out the next couple of days if she ate fibrous food and drank lots of water.

Brunet admired out loud the glass-doored bookcase. Was it for sale? Dad and Mother shook their heads, no.

The parents let nature take its course. They didn’t yell at or spank Imogene or Lenore. Mostly Dad grunted; Mother favored silence.

Two days later a dusky Buffalo nickel was affixed to orange contact paper, accompanied by Dad’s funny words. This was taped to the door leading to the basement. Anyone who visited could read it. It hung on that door for a year.

Lenore had dreams involving Blond and Brunet till early spring.

 

ins current cropped (1)Iris N. Schwartz is the author of more than forty works of fiction. Her literary fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including 101 Words, The Flash Fiction Press, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published widely, as well. Ms. Schwartz’s first short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth: And Other Stories, is scheduled to be published by Poets Wear Prada in Autumn 2017.