This is part 2 of the short story “Squash Pie”. Read Part 1 of Squash Pie here.
On Holy Saturday, Jean wakes early, puts on the tea kettle for her mother, snaps on the coffee for herself and her father. Then she walks outside to her cutting garden. She surveys, deciding which she will cut and arrange for the Easter dinner table.
Easter is late this year and it has been a very warm April. Her vegetable garden is not yet planted (there may still be frost, all the way through May) but some of the early spring flowers have begun to bloom from the fat papery bulbs she planted in autumn. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinth, paper-whites and snowdrops grow at the bases of the trees in the yard, in rows out front, in surprising places she almost forgot she planted while the warm autumn sun shone on her back, the sky that impossible depth of late September blue. Here, there is order. Here, she can nurture, coax, sing softly and there is loving reciprocation. Her eyes move over the delicate petals and saturated colors and green of the stems and leaves, and time waits and she hovers in some suspended sphere, happy. Is it happiness? It is a thing that a simple word cannot button down.
Her hands move over the flowers without hurry as she decides which flowers will grace the table, the sideboard. A little jelly glass of which she is fond will sit squarely over the kitchen sink on the windowsill that overlooks the backyard where the row of forsythia is just beginning to bloom.
Then, there are the meal preparations to begin before the Easter Vigil Mass.
The potatoes peeled and cut, placed in the big pot and covered with cold water. Carrots, green beans readied for the boil tomorrow. You can’t save all this for the morning; you will never be done in time to place it all, hot, on the table, an offering, to the family.
The Easter Vigil candles glow brightly as they move through the church. As the flame draws near, she closes her eyes for a moment. Wordlessly prays. She touches her unlit candle to the lit one being offered by the person nearest her in the crowded pew. She passes the flame along.
The world is lit and she, for that moment, believes in the light. Lives in the light, is enveloped. Consumed. She exhales, ecstatic. She lives.
Before bed, she kneads the yeasty dough and leaves the rolls to rise in the warmest place in the kitchen. Now shut the light, remove the Easter dress worn to the Easter Vigil and hang it up for tomorrow. Sleep.
Easter morning and the sun moves through the orange and pink ribbons into the blue blue sky. Cloudless.
“What a perfect morning,” says Jean’s mother.
Jean agrees and ties an apron over her pink dress. She smooths the glaze over the ham and pushes the heavy roasting pan into oven.
“Smells good already, dear,” says her mother.
Everyone comes for Easter dinner and the house is as full as it can be. All the siblings and nieces and nephews. The babies. So many children. Jean adores all of the little ones. They strip her of her thorns; render her smooth and sweet.
Evelyn shows up with her boyfriend at whom she makes eyes. She purrs around him, rubs up close.
“You’d think you were a cat,” Jean whispers to her once they are alone in the kitchen.
“What?” Evelyn snaps.
“You are like a cat in heat.”
“Shut up, Saint Jean.” Evelyn leaves the kitchen, her wedge heels wobble beneath her hips.
Jean hates it when her siblings call her Saint Jean, that old slur. Jean fans her flushed skin with a pot holder.
Helen arrives with two large casserole dishes. She sends one of her sons back out to the car for the pie.
“Don’t forget to grab the Cool Whip,” she calls after him.
Evelyn catches Jean’s eye, raises her eyebrows, smirks.
Jean thinks only, Pie.
“Get these in the oven, Jean, before they get cold,” Helen orders.
“There’s no room in the oven for two nine by thirteen dishes, Helen,” Jean says. “The ham is in there.”
Helen turns to Jean and widens her eyes, “I don’t want them to get cold and ruined, Jean.”
“Well, had you brought the one side dish I requested, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Sorry I wanted to make sure there would be enough to eat. Sorry I wanted to make sure it would be a good Easter dinner for our family.”
“When have I ever not cooked a good meal for this family, Helen?”
Helen squeezes her face starting with her lips, a gesture imprinted in the wrinkles the shape Helen’s face has come to be. She exhales a lungful, turns from Jean and opens the oven. She struggles to get everything to fit, closes the oven door and stands—red-faced—crosses her arms, cocks her head and says, “Hmm.”
Three crocuses in the jelly glass on the windowsill. It seems the purple of the crocuses sits on top of the yellow of the forsythia through the window. Jean stands in the kitchen alone, the drone of voices muted by the swinging door that closes the kitchen away from the dining room, her gaze on the place where the tall grasses sway to meet the fading blue sky setting sun.
“Marion says that Rosemary is pregnant,” Helen says as she passes the basket of rolls. “How old is she now?”
“Seventeen,” Evelyn says.
“I remember when she was a baby,” Helen says.
“I used to babysit her,” Marion says.
“Who is the boy?” Evelyn says.
“I heard the youngest of the Tucker kids.”
Heat rises in Jean. “Is this appropriate Easter dinner conversation?” Jean pointedly eyes her parents, who eat steadily, their eyes on their plates. “The children,” she says, nodding her head over to the smaller table where the kids eat, their voices and surges of laughter loud.
“They’re not paying any attention to us,” says Marion.
Jean stands with an abruptness that causes her chair to scrape loudly against the wood floor. She tosses her napkin on the chair. “I don’t know why we can’t just talk about something nice!” She shoves open the kitchen door. Exhales when she is enclosed by herself.
She hears Evelyn say, “What’s her problem?”
There is more talk but Jean moves to the window, as far from the door as possible, so she won’t be able to hear them. Their talk makes her feel lighter than is comfortable. It is more than she can bear, which makes it seem as though what they propel upon her is something that carries weight. But the effect is an over-awareness of her insubstantiality. She might float away. She pins her eyes to the marsh grasses, rooted deeply and essentially in the sandy soil.
The door swings open.
“Everyone is done eating. We should start the coffee and get the dessert ready,” says Helen.
Jean does not move to help. She watches Helen at the coffeemaker and then as she removes the pie she brought from the refrigerator. Helen places the pie on the counter right next to Jean’s chocolate cake.
“Pie, Helen? I made the Easter cake.”
“We can have both.”
“Squash pie? It’s not even seasonal!”
“They make it all year round, it’s so good,” says Helen.
“Everyone hates that pie, Helen,” Jean says. “Everyone.”
Jean feels the breath moving through her. The bodice of her pink dress rises and falls. Helen fixes her eyes angrily on Jean, then turns and places the Cool Whip near the pie, removes the cover and sticks a spoon into the white fluff. She leaves, the door swings back forcibly.
The kitchen dark, empty.
The flowers from her cutting garden soak up the water in the little jelly glass, in the bigger vases. By morning, the bottoms of the stems will begin to soften; green tendrils leaching into cloudy water. She looks into the flowers, around them, through them. The textures of the petals and stems, one against the other, create entire landscapes. The whites are not white; they are tones of pale lime; there are hints of blue, hues of pink.
Jean rouses herself: there is the kitchen to clean.
She clicks on the light and surveys the counters. Her sisters did a lot of the work, she will grant them that. A few leftovers to spoon into storage containers. A few serving bowls and utensils to wash. She works steadily and comes upon the remnants of dessert. The cake has been reduced to a pile of rubble—nothing left to save. The pie sits, round and, except for one narrow slice, nearly whole in its aluminum foil pan. Jean is sure the one piece was eaten by Helen. She sighs. Just because she knew this would happen doesn’t make it any less irritating. She picks up the pie and begins toward the drawer where she keeps the plastic wrap. The pie will sit in the refrigerator, no one will eat it and she will be forced, uncomfortably, to throw it away in a week. Damn Helen. Damn her.
She picks up the pie and carries it over to the trash. Jean stuffs the pie in. She shoves it down. She presses it down with the palm of her hand, smooshes it between her fingers. She shoves the pie down deep into the trash.
It will not be the last. She sees herself at Thanksgivings and Easters to come, pushing the pie that no one will eat down into the trash.
Jean washes her hands.
She looks out the window over the sink. The moon looks full. It sheds blued light on the marsh grass, the forsythia. She leaves the house through the kitchen door, steps out into the moonlit yard. The amount of light from the full moon never ceases to surprise her. So much light. Even in the depth of night.
There is always much more to see than at first meets the eye.