Strawberry Pie – Shanna L
Although she believed passionately in relationships built on trust, Caroline knew that her husband could never know the truth. Nor would he understand why she had lied to him all those years ago.
“My father died when I was 10,” she had confessed one night to the man who would one day be her husband. The two had been dating for a few months and had run the gauntlet of likes and dislikes and past lovers and were now on to family history.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “That must have been hard for you.”
Caroline frowned and shrugged. “My father wasn’t a nice man. I suppose you could say that I have a lot of intimacy issues that stem from his behavior. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that not all men are like my father.” She reached across the table and grabbed her date’s hand. “I’m glad I did though because otherwise I would have never given you a chance.”
Her husband to be smiled and laced his fingers with hers, the faint stirrings of love shining from his eyes.
Caroline sighed as she remembered that night, the night she lied. The truth was that her father had not died when she was 10, but rather had suffered a debilitating stroke that left him with complete memory loss. That’s what she couldn’t tell her husband and that’s why she lied. Her own father didn’t remember her. He didn’t remember anything from the first half of his life, including Caroline. Oh, she still saw bits and pieces of him though. Sometimes when she looked in the mirror she would see his smile curving back at her. Sometimes she saw his eyes staring at her or the curve of his ear when she turned her head and she looked for him in every customer that walked into her flower shop. But she never saw him and now she imagined that his eyes looked at another family. Maybe he had another daughter who smiled his smile and laughed with his eyes.
Even now, she could remember the day it happened. Her mother, Louise, had stood at the kitchen counter, slicing the bright red strawberries and dropping them into the pie crust, her long fingers wielding the knife as she cut. Her hand dipped into the sugar canister and emerged with an over-flowing cup of sparkly white sugar that was sprinkled on top of the pie. Louise opened the oven door, causing a draft of sweltering air to emerge. She slid the pie onto the hot oven rack, closed the door and turned to Caroline.
“The flowers,” she began, “the flowers have been speaking to me, whispering in my ear, telling me their plans. The flowers have been quiet for a while, but now they are telling me that it’s time for your father to leave. “
Caroline watched warily as Louise washed her hands in the sink, the soap bubbles rinsing the red strawberry syrup and sugar coated sweetness away. Flowers? she thought. She looked around the kitchen at the daisies sitting on the counter and the sunflowers in the window, at the orchids sitting next to her on the table. Was her mother talking to the plants? And if so, were the plants replying?
She looked up as Louise came to sit next to her. “Your father doesn’t understand,” she said. “He thinks the flowers are just plants. He doesn’t understand them the way I do.” She stretched her hand out to the orchid next to her. Caroline watched as the orchid seemed to bend and curve closer to Louise’s hand.
“See?” Louise said. “Surely you’ve seen the way the flowers seem to bloom just by you touching them. The way the herbs are so much more potent from our garden. The way the petal colors are so much more brighter.”
Caroline shook her head in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve always had an affinity with the earth and the flowers,” replied Louise. “But lately your father has tried to break that relationship, telling me that only dirty girls played in the garden. That I should spend more time reading about my plants before I tried to take care of them.”
“Mom, maybe he just meant that you get dirt on your clothes when you work in the garden.”
Louise started to get agitated and her voice began to rise. “Oh I know exactly what he meant, and I am not going to let him say that.”
“No!” Louise yelled and slammed her hand on the table. “He has to leave! It has to be this way.” She jumped up and walked over to the window, stroking the sunflowers’ petals as if to calm them down.
Caroline sat, frozen in her chair. She had never seen her mother so animated, so forceful, and it scared her. She didn’t know what to think or believe and the sweet cloying smell of the flowers in the kitchen, combined with the baking strawberry pie, was beginning to make her nauseated.
“They have told me what happens if he stays. He would destroy us. He would take away my beautiful friends. He would destroy you, putting thoughts in your head that girls don’t need to have.” Louise was pacing around the kitchen, her carefully coiffed hair having fallen out of its style. “No, no, I’m not going to let it happen.”
Louise stopped and turned to Caroline. “When you were born,” she whispered, “I promised I would protect you.” She grabbed Caroline’s chin and tilted her head up. “You believe me, don’t you? My sweet, precious daughter?”
Caroline swallowed and slowly nodded her head. Anything to get out of this kitchen, she thought.
“You want the flowers to be happy, right? You want me to be happy?” Caroline nodded again. “Then it has to be this way.”
A buzzing sounded in Caroline’s ears. Just like a bee, she thought, buzzing around flowers. She would laugh if she wasn’t so frightened. “What’s going to happen to him? Is my father going to die?”
“No,” Louise chuckled. “He’s not going to die. My plants put something special into the strawberries to make your father forget all about us. He won’t feel a thing. He’s just going to go away and never bother us again.” She smoothed down a piece of Caroline’s hair and smiled at the girl. “No go practice your embroidery.”
That night Caroline watched from the second floor as her father bit into the strawberry pie, red juice running down his chin. She watched as he seemed to shake for a bit and then slump over his plate. She watched as Louise dragged him out of the room and out of the house and then returned 3 hours later alone. She watched as one week soon after, she and her mother moved to a new town 2000 miles away.
It was easy to tell people that he had ran off. Then it became easier to say he was dead. Soon, no one questioned the absence of her father, just as no one questioned the increasing amounts of flowers in Caroline’s home. After all, she did work at a flower shop.
Caroline shook her head. It was no good thinking of the past and things that she could not change. She glanced down at the fresh strawberry pie in her hands, forced a smile on her face, and walked into the dining room where her husband was waiting for dessert.
No, Caroline thought. There were some things better left unsaid.