When she heard the smack, Emmie stood up quickly, facing the back wall. Uncooked blueberry pie sludged toward the floor. She turned and saw her grandmother holding a piece of paper, every wrinkle on her face whiter than ever.
“What on earth?” Emmie asked. Her grandmother only baked pies — especially blueberry — when she was happy. Wasting one, destroying happiness the shade of purple, was an act of sacrilege.
“Your…. Mother….” She spat the words. Emmie’s mother had left with her new boyfriend six weeks earlier, right before school let out for summer. She and Emmie lived with her grandmother in the apartment above the bakery, so what was supposed to be a two-week vacation, wasn’t particularly noteworthy. And, this kind of thing had happened before — with Jake then Alan then Peter then another whose name escaped her.
Every night, her grandmother took a small bourbon to the bedroom to read trashy magazines. Emmie fell asleep hearing her grandmother’s echoing refrain of: “what on earth?!” and “who comes up with this stuff?” At least something was constant.
“What about my mother?” Emmie knew that if something serious had happened, a police officer would have told them the grisly news in-person.
“She’s not right in the head.”
“Well, we’ve known that for a while.” Emmie giggled, trying to lighten the mood. What was it? Was she pregnant? Out of money? Deserted?
“They’re staying in Arizona.”
Silence enveloped them. Surely her mother would ask Emmie to join them in Arizona. She loved her grandmother, but she wanted her mom. Well, not the mom she had, but the mom that Emmie believed with all her might would return and would love her if she was good enough. She had even lost the last ten pounds of baby fat her mother always nagged about.
“You’re staying with me.”
“Can I read it?” Emmie whispered, her hand extended.
“But it’s from my mom!”
“No child should have to read a letter like this. You and I know both know that she loves you. She does. She just doesn’t show it well.”
Emmie’s hand rested near another pie. She threw it at her grandmother’s face. Raw blueberry filling and wet pie dough spattered her grandmother, seeping into the white wrinkles of her face and the white fibers of her t-shirt.
“I want to read it!” She grabbed the letter and instantly registered her mom’s large, loopy handwriting. She knew her mom must be having one of her spells because she had three types of writing, and Emmie had learned early how to decode her mother’s mental state from each of them.
Mom, Rex and I have found jobs and an apartment here. I wasn’t ever fit to be a mother, and I’m not going to do it anymore. Emmie’s yours. Do a better job with her than you did with your own. And get her to lose some weight, will you? Tell her to have a good sophomore year. Probably think it’s best for us to not talk for a while.
Emmie ran along the silver counter, pushing fourteen pies onto the pristine bakery floor. Her grandmother knelt and cradled Emmie as they sat in a puddle of blueberries. The letter fell into the filling. Emmie picked it up and tore it, relishing the sounds of squidgy blueberry slop and the crisp, angular ripping of paper.
“I wasn’t much of a mother to yours, or to your uncle, but you and I – we’ll get through just fine. We’ll figure it out,” her grandmother said, standing up and handing Emmie a mop. She grabbed a towel, rubbed blueberry off her face, and headed upstairs to change. When she returned, Emmie was still sitting on the floor in a pool of pie filling, staring at a wall.
“Hun, mop up this mess and go change. You’re needed out front.”
“Needed?” Ellie thought. “Oh yes, the bakery.” She stood up, and did as her grandmother instructed. “I’m needed. I’m needed. I’m needed,” she repeated in her head, over and over. As long as she was needed, she could keep moving.
Every customer that day wanted to take home a pie. They were the bakery’s specialty after all. Each time Emmie said, “we’re fresh all out today. Maybe next week,” hoping that maybe by next week they’d be up for making blueberry pies. Then again, maybe they’d smash those, too.