Short Story – Margaret Jams
Two little girl scouts made their way down the quite neighbourhood street, dragging a rickety wagon behind them. Its wheels squeaked on every rotation, burdened by the dozens of boxes of cookies. The girls very in a cheerful spirit, singing songs that children often sing, skipping after every step of two they took. It was a sunny day, yet the sun seemed a little dim, its light and warmth touching the earth, but not quite. Autumn was stirring, causing leaves to waft down from the drying branches of trees. The song of the girls, the beat of their steps, their intermittent giggling, and the soft rustling of leaves created a symphony of sorts. The girls did not notice.
“Last house for the day!” declared June, the taller of the two. “Great, if I don’t get something to eat real fast, we will be missing a box or two”, April, the stouter one, grumbled. “You do know you are going to explode one day?” teased her sister. “No I’m not!” retorted April, crossing her hands over her chest and stamping her feet in protest. June giggled, pleased that she had managed to irritate April for the fifth time that afternoon. She then looked at the house that stood in front of them – the last house of the day, the last house on the street. Beyond the house lay the community graveyard, an expanse of crosses emerging from the ground, like little anvils nailing the dead down.
June shuddered, and April smiled, happing in knowing that her sister was not unshakable. The house itself was just like any other house on the street. In fact, it seemed very well maintained. The front lawn was immaculately trimmed and had the most beautiful rose bushes growing at its fence. Although it was Autumn, the flowers were in full bloom. Reds, whites, pinks, and yellows – June was tempted to pick one. But April tugged her on towards the front door. They rang the bell and a woman with the most shockingly white hair they had ever seen answered the door. A strong smell of strawberries engulfed the girls. April’s stomach growled, almost audibly – almost. The old woman smiled.
“Selling cookies?” she said, spotting their wagon.
“Yes.maam,” said June, realizing that they had forgotten to read the name on the mailbox.
“Margaret Jams”, smiled the old woman, “but you can call me Mrs. Jams. Now, what flavours are you?”
“Huh?” April was not sure she heard that correctly.
“We have chocolate chip, coconut and blackberries” answered June, understanding what the old woman had meant to ask.
“Oh! Don’t you have any strawberry?” quizzed Mrs. Jams.
“Huh?” April’s exclamation was even more confused now. None of the girl scouts had strawberry cookies – they were just too hard to acquire, although they were the tastiest. April’s stomach rumbled. She shook her head and said ‘No.’
“Well, I’ll have some blackberries then. They will go well with a topping of my home made strawberry jam.”
April looked at June. That jam sounded so good, she could nearly taste it! June, however, seemed transfixed. She was staring at Mrs. Jams to the point of being rude. Mrs. Jams, on the other hand, kept looking at April. For some strange reason, April felt like a big, ripe strawberry. She shook herself, and her tummy rumbled, very noticeably this time.
“It’s nearly tea time, why don’t you young ladies come in and we can have some of your cookies and you can try my jam” Mrs. Jams smiled. She really was very friendly, and April was so hungry. The smell of strawberries seemed to be radiating from the house now. June opened her mouth to say no, but April cut in with a loud, all too eager “Yes!”, followed by a more subdued “Please”.
June glared at her sister, but April held her stomach and made a silent appeal. Rolling her eyes, June stepped in. The living room was lavishly decorated. It has rich velvet and lace curtains of pretty floral prints. There were expensive looking porcelain vases on several tables and canvas paintings adorning the wall papered walls. Every vase was filled with fresh roses. June thought Mrs. Jam must be quite rich and wondered if she could sell more than two boxes of cookies to her. The smell of the roses made her feel better.
But April could not smell the roses, she only smelt strawberries. Mrs. Jams put on an old record on a truly old gramophone and the sound of Mozart filled the room. June did not know anyone who actually owned one of those. Mrs. Jams brought in a tray, with a delicate porcelain tea set, some bread that looked fresh out of the oven, and jar of strawberry jam that was so red that April’s jaw dropped open. Mrs. Jams smiled broadly.
June noticed that, for a grey haired old woman, Margaret Jams did not really ‘look’ that old. Her skin was plain and white, with a dash of pink around the cheeks - much like the tea pot that she was pouring tea out of right now. She had a very slight frame, bony hands stuck out from the sleeves of her brown tweed jacket. Her fingers seemed rigid, steely – much like the knife that she was using to scrap on red strawberry jam onto the white bread. The jam seemed runny, liquid almost, and some of it trickled down the knife and smeared her fingers. Mrs. Jams did not bother to wipe it off. She just kept smiling at April.
June realized that April was already eating a slice of bread with the enticing jam. June watched as April seemed to nearly swallow the slice in three large bites and extended her hand for more before she was even through with the first. Mrs. Jams handed her another, a look of strange pride filling her eyes. She said nothing, none of them did. June found that odd, and though even stranger that she had not noticed earlier. She was just beginning to think of leaving, when Mrs. Jams offered her slice of red topped bread. June thought of saying no, but the looking at the glossy redness of the jam, she could not.
She took the first bite and her head spun. She was not sure that she had ever tasted anything so delicious. She could feel the bread melt in her mouth, the jam tantalizing every taste bud it touched. June closed her eyes to savour the flavour. “What a strange colour though.” she thought, “Lovely red, not strawberry red.” She opened her eyes look another bite. The room seemed to be spinning now. “I must be tired, fatigued This is the last house one more bite will do good” said June’s broken chain of thoughts.
She opened her eyes and saw Mrs Jams smiling broadly. She had the most amazingly white teeth. They were smeared with jam right now, shocking red against shocking white. A little watery jam trickled down the side of her lips. Mrs. Jams wiped it with the back of her hand, smearing her white skin up to the cheek. “Shocking white bloody red” thought June. She took another bite and stopped. She felt something hard in her mouth. It felt like small twig. She daintily fished inside her mouth with her fingers and looked towards April. She was asleep, head nestled on the cushions of the couch they sat on, April was curled up and sleeping, blood red jam trickling out of her open mouth.
“What a strange time and place to fall asleep!” June thought, and she felt like sleeping too as she found the twig in her mouth. Except, it was not a twig. June squinted her eyes, to see it clearly, she was so sleepy. It was a little yellowish curved thing, like a crescent moon. “A toe nail!” June exclaimed loudly looking at Mrs. Jams, smiling dully as though she had answered a tough question posed by a tough teacher. “What a strange place for a toe nail to be” June thought as she fell asleep. Margaret Jams got up and walked into the kitchen.