squash pie—part 3

Read part 1 here and part 2 here.


Easter morning and the sun moves through 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, stands, closes the oven door and stands, red-faced, crosses her arms, cocks her head and says, “Hmm.”

“Congratulations, Helen.”


This morning Jean found three crocuses pushing up through the dirt near the oak tree. She brought them inside and arranged them in a jelly glass which she placed on the windowsill behind the kitchen sink. 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 towards 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 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 is 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.

squash pie—part 2

Read part 1 here.

forsythia“You know that girl is pregnant?” says Marion.

Evelyn inhales, then breathes out, “No-o-o.” She joins Marion at the kitchen door. They peer out the window together, one head tilted one way, the other the opposite.

Jean is making a three layer chocolate cake. It is the Easter cake. The frosting is chocolate buttercream and contains a pound of butter. She will spread raspberry preserves between one of the layers.

The evening is setting in. It is after supper and her parents doze in front of the television. The kitchen smells of the fish she broiled for supper. The scent of chocolate will replace the fish smell as soon as she can get the cake in the oven.

“I wish you two would let me get this cake in the oven,” says Jean.

“We’re just standing here,” says Marion.

“You didn’t even go to Good Friday service,” says Jean.

“What does that have to do with anything?” she looks back at Jean. “Anyway, I did go. I took my kids.”

“I didn’t go,” says Evelyn. She’s still looking out the window.

“I’m aware of that, Evelyn.” Jean turns to Marion. “I didn’t see you at Sacred Heart. I brought Mom and Dad.”

“We went to Saint Joe’s.”

Jean makes a face. “Saint Joe’s?”

“Yeah, Saint Joe’s. You know Frank’s family’s always gone there.”

“That girl is pregnant?” Evelyn asks, eyes still in the yard next door where the girl pegs sheets on the clothesline.

“Yeah. That’s what I heard,” says Marion. “Why would you hang sheets on the line at this hour? They’ll just get damp and heavy.”

“How do you know she’s pregnant?” says Jean. She cracks an egg too hard and then has to pick shell out of the batter. She sucks her teeth, irritated.

“I just said I heard.”

Jean walks over to the window and looks out. “She doesn’t look pregnant.”

“Well, they don’t start out eight pounds big, Jean.”

Jean goes back to her big sliver bowl. “I don’t believe it.”

“Why not?” says Evelyn.

Jean shakes her head. “She’s just seventeen.”

“What does that have to do with it?” says Marion.

“Everyone does it, Jean,” says Evelyn.

“Do you have to be so crude, Evelyn? Everyone does not do it. I don’t see everyone running around pregnant,” says Jean.

Marion rolls her eyes.

Evelyn laughs. “Some girls just get caught, but everyone is doing it.”

“I don’t believe that,” says Jean. “I’m not.”


Jean glares at her but says nothing. She turns the mixer on high. Its loud whirring covers the sound of her sisters’ voices.

Once they finally leave and the cakes sit on wire racks in the darkened kitchen, Jean settles into bed and turns on the small television on her dresser. She can’t seem to listen to any of it, her mind on the girl next door whose name is Rosemary. She tries to relax; she has a lot to do tomorrow. But she keeps thinking about Rosemary, who traipses around in her faded flared jeans, her tight tops. Jean remembers when Rosemary was a baby, a little girl, a gawky preteen. Could Marion be right?

She thinks back on herself at seventeen, cloaked in her parochial plaid. Her white cotton shirt buttoned up to the peter pan collar at her throat. The frowsy and bulky gray cardigan.

She did not do anything like Rosemary might have done.

Her last date—a set-up—had been disastrous. She had not known the right places to laugh. Men were not gentlemen anymore. His expectations came as a surprise to Jean. She was startled; she behaved abruptly at his advances. She was awkward. He did not call a second time.

“What’s the point of a wedding night these days?” Jean had said to her sisters earlier as they peered at the pregnant neighbor.

Evelyn laughed at her. “Oh, come on, Jean! Is that what you’re waiting for?”

Jean refused to meet her eyes, as if this simple gesture invalidated Evelyn’s sentiment.

No one knows the longings in Jean’s heart. That for which her body craves. Any knowledge of that she tucks deep.

Alone in her bed, the blue light from the TV outlining the shadows of her body beneath the blanket, she imagines the tiny seed growing in Rosemary’s belly. And she aches.

On Holy Saturday, Jean wakes early, puts the kettle on for tea 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 with their saturated colors, the 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 the flame moves from person to person 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 a yeasty dough for rolls and leaves them 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.

squash pie—part 1

pie “I love it. I could just eat it by the spoonful.” Which is exactly what she is doing. She heaps a glossy mound of mayonnaise onto a silver soup spoon while Jean makes the deviled eggs for Easter. The kitchen smells of sulfur. It is Good Friday. She is Jean’s sister, Evelyn. Jean has three sisters and two brothers.

“What did you ask Helen to bring for Easter dinner?” Evelyn asks.

“A vegetable side dish.” Jean does not look up from the bowl into which she measures ingredients.

Evelyn licks the last of the mayonnaise from the spoon. “You know what she’s going to do, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Jean says to her, ready to pounce if Evelyn tries to stick that spoon she just had in her mouth back into the mayonnaise jar. Jean whisks the egg yolks and the mayonnaise together, encouraging them to fluffy silkiness.

“She’s going to bring two vegetable side dishes and something to snack on before dinner. And pie. She always forces that terrible pie on everyone from that bakery she thinks is so great. What was it she brought at Thanksgiving?”

“Squash.” Jean keeps mixing and adds a few spoonfuls of mustard.

“Squash pie.” Evelyn frowns, her eye teeth show. “Whoever thought that would taste good except Helen.”

Jean’s hands keep working and she simply shrugs. That pie is terrible but she would not say so explicitly to Evelyn. Something stops her. An agreement in which she cannot take part, corroborate. A tightening in her chest.

Jean is the serious one. The serious sister. That is what is said. But that is not how she feels. She doesn’t feel serious, although this is the word others choose to describe her. Of all the words, she doesn’t feel it is accurate. But who is she to say?

She doesn’t feel serious. How she feels is as though she is above her surroundings wherever it is she may be. As though her presence in her own life is not required. Why does everyone seem more authentic? Their lives more solid? She suspects these are not original thoughts, which is neither a comfort nor a validation. She is not in color, not filled out, or something like that, as others are. She wonders why she thinks of everyone else as more legitimate.

It’s not as though she doesn’t have plenty to do, though.

The trick to good deviled eggs is to first boil the eggs right so there is no green ring around the yolk and how you do that is to bring the eggs to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for twenty minutes. Then plunge them in ice water. Roll them gently on the counter to loosen the shells.

Then you must whip the yolks.

Evelyn moves to dip her spoon back into the mayonnaise jar, just as Jean knew she would. Jean does not take her eyes from the bowl of yolks when she says, “Evelyn, don’t you dare dip that dirty spoon into my mayonnaise.”

“Okay, fine.” Evelyn walks over to the sink where she turns on the water and rinses the spoon.

“Use soap,” Jean says without bothering to turn, because she knows Evelyn isn’t. She doesn’t have to look.

She hears Evelyn sigh and Jean listens for proper washing sounds. Jean is surprised it hasn’t occurred to Evelyn to get a new spoon out of the drawer rather than wash the used one. Evelyn’s laziness knows few limits.

Jean fills the concavity of every impossibly smooth and shiny half egg with a dollop of spiced yolk. She uses a pastry bag fit with a cake decorating tip. She makes beautiful globes of fluted yellow and dusts each with paprika, red-orange brilliance. Eggs for rebirth. Red spice the redemptive blood. It feels holy to her. Her petite homage. She covers the eggs with some waxed paper and places them carefully in the refrigerator. She cleans up the dirty dishes.

Evelyn watches her work while she licks another spoonful of mayonnaise. Jean screws the big round blue cover securely over the mayonnaise jar and places it in the refrigerator.

“I need to get ready for church,” she tells Evelyn as she removes her apron and folds it.

Evelyn makes a sound at Jean which means she thinks it is stupid to go to church today.

“It’s not even a Day of Obligation,” Evelyn says.

“I have never understood why the day our Lord died should not be a Holy Day of Obligation,” she says. “Of all days, you would think this would be one.”

“But it’s not. And it’s such a depressing service.”

“Well, Evelyn, of course it’s depressing. It’s the day Jesus was crucified. Would you prefer a disco ball and DJ?”

Jean is not trying to be funny but Evelyn laughs. She misses the point as usual. “Now that I might go see. Disco at Sacred Heart! Father Graves boogying on the alter!” Evelyn shakes her hips lasciviously and laughs from her belly. Jean rolls her eyes and goes to the bathroom to fix her hair and freshen her lipstick. There’s a good chance Evelyn will still be laughing when she leaves the house. Maybe even when she returns.

But when she gets home from church, Evelyn is gone. She looks in the sink and, yes, there is Evelyn’s dirty spoon.


Jean lives within sound and scent of the dark heaving Atlantic. The smell of the ocean wafts into the house at unexpected moments. Even though she has been here always, it still possesses the power to surprise her. The house in which she lives was built at the edge of a salt marsh. The house is almost one hundred years old; the salt marsh primeval. She lives there with her mother and father who have begun their descent into old age. Jean’s brothers and sisters all moved away and Jean is the one left. She wakes up in the morning, sets the kettle to boil for tea, scoops the coffee grounds, taking a moment to put her nose close to inhale the scent, and presses the button on the machine. She stands in the hushed kitchen, her gaze on the place where the tall grasses sway to meet the purpling sky rising sun.

And she waits.

Waits for her parents to awaken, for the coffee pot to fill, for the work day to begin, then end, to come home and fix the supper, clean the dishes, shut the light, Johnny Carson’s monologue, sleep.

Please come back next Thursday for part 2!