On the day of the church potluck, Rosamond woke up before the sun. To say she woke up is slightly misleading, as she barely slept at all. Her back ached and her feet hurt. A dull pain that had started and continued as she grew heavier in the middle pulsed from heel to the bunions at the base of each of her big toes. She was pregnant, again- her third.
In spite of her lack of sleep, the time before the rest of the family woke up was her’s. She allowed her mind to drift in and out of imagining and reasoning without disturbance or critique. She particularly liked to imagine herself as a girl running along the beach in Maine, eluding the grasp of any one of three boys who might’ve proposed to her, if only she had let them, then. It was almost as if she still had options if she remembered how much they adored her, those suitors from the coast. Dreaming was even more important to Rosamond than sleeping, most nights. Unlike rest, her imagination fortified her against feeling out of control. Proud and composed, Rosamond would never let on once the light of day shone how fearful she was or what desires she carried in her, heavier than the baby growing in her belly. Many years later, she would tell her granddaughter about how she was raised a Yankee, and Yanks don’t complain.
It was cold and damp outside, but not frosty, and that was something to be grateful for. Roz put on her housecoat and stuck her tired feet in the pink slippers next to the bed. For a moment, the soft cotton pads under her feet felt like luxury. Her husband, Robert, snored soundly across the bed. She reflexively resented his restfulness, but had a habit of changing the subject in her own mind before thoughts had a chance to creep into longing. In a breath she replaced the negative feeling with the to do list she had set for the day ahead. She was in charge of the pies, as usual, and needed to brown the precious, prize-winning crusts first thing.
Off to the kitchen with a cat and dog in tow, Roz put the coffee on, and, quietly as she could, set her mug upright on the clean, white counter. With a deep breath and slight hesitation, she opened the door a crack and brought in the milk, first skimming the cream off the top and into a dish, then pouring a little in the cracked China bowl by the base of the sink for Mama Kitty. The little Shelty dog, Sasha, watched with a forlorn expression as Mama licked delightedly at her milk, and Roz watched them both, amused. She scooped a little ground meat into a bowl for Sasha, who devoured it in moments. Roz, herself, couldn’t imagine eating a thing with the ceaseless nausea. The feeling reminded her of her own mother, Ruth, who would often lose her appetite. While Ruth, herself, had brought 6 children into the world, her upset stomach was caused by bouts of neuroses, which plagued her till the end of her days. Roz was the one who talked her into eating in those periods of depression. She cooked and cleaned, which was no small task with three older brothers, and nothing was ever clean enough.
Feeling her stomach turn for weeks on end, Roz couldn’t help but feel a nagging thread tied between her and her mother, an historic bond. Her little daughter, Ruth’s namesake, was not yet cut out for the task of helping her where she felt she was faltering, but one day she would have a companion in little Ruthie, and she would tell her she was doing just fine. She awaited this comfort as she weathered nor’easters: with jokes, composure, and honey in place of any bitter threat to the former. She waited on chances that weren’t quite her’s, anyhow.
With this baby, the weight surprised her. She wanted to go to the coast, to the water, to forget the weight. Roz was, in these quiet, most lucid moments, reminded that she was an island right down to the fact that, in her state, she could float especially well. At the table, warm cup in hand, all she could think of was that when the custard pie was ready she could easily inhale a slice. The sweet, cool cream was sure to settle her stomach, but there was still much to be done.
Roz heard whispering from the back room as she was pinching perfect ridges around the edge of the third crust. Robert’s voice broke the quiet. His left slipper was missing.
“Roz, where is my slipper? If that damn dog got it again, I swear…”
Roz carried on putting the baking dishes in the oven. The kitchen was warming up. She poured Bob a cup of coffee, adding three spoonfuls of sugar and a dash of the fresh milk. She placed it at his place at the round table and popped 4 slices of thick-cut bread in the toaster. The hard-boiled eggs were already peeled in a bowl and salted. She had 3 place settings ready at the table.
Ruth, 10, and David, 7, clambered into the kitchen with a loud “Good morning, Mother!” They sat across from each other, each sticking a fork into the bowl for the egg that looked the “nicest”. Worried Bob would complain of fork marks in all the eggs, Roz reasoned with the little ones: “Would Roy Rogers and Dale Evans stab their eggs? Manners, children of mine!” She always said you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. They each took the egg their fork was stuck in, and that was that.
Bob entered as the toaster popped. He walked towards Roz, looked at the oven, and sniffed, “The pies are in the oven already?” to which she replied “Leave the pies to me. Not to worry, Reverend…” and kissed his cheek, careful not to bump him with her belly.
“Is there a cherry pie, Mama?” David asked. “Of course! How could I forget your favorite?” David giggled and blew her a kiss. Roz caught the kiss and put it in her pocket. Turning in one swift motion, like a dancer, she put the toast on a plate. Bob sat down and took a sip of his coffee, satisfied in a usual way. The kids sat up a little straighter as Roz put toast on their plates, thanking her. Roz gave them each one slice and Bob two. He waited for the butter, sipping and staring off out the window over the sink. The timer for the pie crusts began buzzing just as Roz started to sit down. Opening the oven door with a grin, she proudly assessed that the crusts were all perfect and set them aside on the cooling racks.
“Dear, will those be ready before the service is over?” Bob asked. Roz smiled and said, in a reassuring tone, “They shouldn’t be more than an hour, now.”
Bob continued, “You know how they love your pies, darling. They’ve got to be on the table before the crowds filter out.” His tone was complimentary, and if Roz wasn’t ill, she might’ve felt valued. She turned and said, “Robert, dear, would you please cut me a slice of the custard pie before it’s gone? It’ll help settle my stomach.”
Bob looked up, concerned, “Well, you’ll be there, won’t you?”
“I’m feeling very out of sorts… I thought I would stay home and join you later.”
Bob nodded. He finished his toast, kissed his children and wife each on their foreheads, and carried his coffee into the study, as he usually did with a little time to spare before heading over to the church. He could be found reading any one of a number of thick, leather-bound books on theology, history, or ancient languages, but was best left alone to it. Meanwhile, Ruth and David finished up their eggs and were excused to go get ready for the service. David called Sascha to come along with them, and so Roz was alone with Mama Kitty as she gathered up the dishes. She would wash them after the pies were in the oven, she decided.
Regardless of what task came first or last, Roz went about fulfilling her duty. In this very moment, it just so happened to be fulfilling a duty related to pie fillings. The cherry came out of a can, and to the Comstock cherries she added three careful drops of almond extract, dabbing the single stray drop on her wrist and inhaling deeply. She peeled, cored, and chopped a half-dozen bright green granny smith’s, doused them with cinnamon sugar, and overfilled the crust with the mix. To each of the two she added a lattice top that checkered over the fruit fillings and placed them in the oven. Next, she whisked together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar, carefully sprinkling in the salt once the rest was combined. From a pot, she slowly added the scalded cream into the fragrant eggs, stirring as she poured. Once the custard mix was in the crust, it joined the others in the oven. Roz set the timer for 15 minutes and went to check on the children.
Ruth was dressed and ready in the living-room, but David was not feeling well and refused to come out of the restroom. His father was growing impatient, standing outside the door and all but raising his voice, “If you don’t come out of there in 10 seconds, I will open this door myself!” Roz knocked and entered to find David sitting on the side of the bathtub, still in his pajamas.
Sitting beside him, finally off her feet, she stroked his hair and asked, “David dear, why aren’t you ready, yet?”
“Mother, I do not want to go to church, today.” He said this so matter-of-factly she barely felt she could argue the point, but she knew her husband would be embarrassed to have half of the family missing for his sermon, so she continued, “Are you feeling unwell?”
David looked up at her then back down at his feet, “It’s just that I feel better after the service. Must I go? Can’t I stay with you? I could help you bake the pies.”
Roz felt a smile grow on her face, “You know…yes, you may stay, just for today, and help me with the pies. Now, wash your hands and go get dressed. Your father needs to wash up.” Bob was at the door. “Well?” he said, more impatient than curious.
“David isn’t feeling well this morning and will be at the church potluck later. He just needs a little extra rest. Ruthie is all ready, so you can walk over together.” She nodded and squeezed his arm gently.
“Oh, all right. If he can’t come, there’s no use forcing him.” David took his mother’s hand and they walked to the kitchen; the bathroom door closed loudly behind them.
David sat at the table in his usual spot facing the window. “Would you like some milk?” Roz asked with a grin. He nodded. From where he sat, he watched Mama Cat track the crows on the fence outside with her sharp green eyes. Roz set the timer for 30 minutes, removing the custard to cool on the rack, after which she poured a glass of milk for her entranced son, placing it before him quietly, so as not to disturb his entertainment. Knowing she needed a break or she would surely collapse, she used her last few steps to pour warm coffee into her cup, and, with utter composure, slid into her chair. She slowly sipped the black coffee.
“We’re off. See you later, dear.”
Bob and Ruth walked hand-in-hand down the porch steps and across the street to the side entrance of the church. They got along just fine, back then.
David finished his milk.