Carrie sat on the bed paging through the tattered cookbook while her mother dressed. Bruises, the color of plums, covered her mother's thighs in bright blooms. Smaller marks, the size of her father's fingertips, dappled her belly, the color of dates and flathead cherries. That morning there was a new mark: a startling strawberry bruise on her mother's forearm. Her father was getting careless. Usually the bruises were in secret places, so no one would know.
"Coming?" her mother said, slipping on her sandals and smoothing her skirt.
"Yeah, I'll be right there."
Carrie closed herself in the bathroom and looked in the full-length mirror. She pulled up her tee shirt and pinched the soft skin around her navel until her eyes watered. Answers lay in that moment. She wondered if her mother would ever find the courage to leave.
When she released the pinch, her skin was the color of a red delicious. The color would transition as the bruise aged, from raspberry, to the warm blue of concord grapes, to a leafy green, then yellow, like the filling of her mother's lemon meringue pie.
Today was Saturday, the day they made pies. Carrie loved Saturdays. She was off from school, her father worked, and she had her mother to herself.
Every week was the same, they made four pies, yet every week was different, because the filling changed. That was the gift, the filling. Fruit-filled pies were her mother's favorite, then cream pies and custards. Her mother favored apple and blueberry. Carrie loved cherry and peach. She brushed her fingertips across her mother's forearm, leaving a skim of flour over the strawberry bruise. Her mother took her hand and pressed a whisk into her curled fingers.
"Mix the sugar into the berries. I don’t want the fruit to sit too long," she said.
Carrie stirred, examining the apples on her cutting board, their skin dappled with brown bruises with no character. They were not shaped like her mother's bruises: a butterfly, a half-moon, lips (a kiss), or a rose. The apple's bruises wore no clever disguises; they did not hide behind whimsical shapes; they did not pretend to be something they were not.
They sang while they worked, their mother-daughter voices blending sweetly as they worked the dough into perfect scalloped edges and brushed egg whites over the top crust. When they finished at four-thirty, flour dust hung in the air. Scraps of dough lay in curls on the cutting board. Mixing bowls sat in the sink, water no longer sudsy and hot, but murky and gray. Four pies sat on the stovetop, a hint of fruit peeking through their golden crisscrossed tops.
Perfect timing. Her father would arrive home from work promptly at five. Fresh pies tempered his mood, at least for a short while.
They cleaned the kitchen together. Carrie capped the flour bin and scrubbed the counter, while her mother washed and rinsed the mixing bowls and cutting board, placing them in the dish drainer. Her mother liked to wash the baking dishes by hand, even though they had a dishwasher.
Carrie placed clean dishtowels over the pies on the stove to trap the remaining warmth. Her mother set the table for dinner, a roasted chicken and potatoes that had cooked alongside the pies. The combination of scents filled the house with the comforting aroma of rosemary, apple, and buttery pastry.
Carrie picked up the carton of eggs on the counter to put them in the refrigerator, but the cardboard bowed and the eggs hit the linoleum with a wet smack, splattering the kitchen floor with broken yolks and shattered shells. It was three minutes to five. She looked at her mother with wide eyes.
Her mother peeled off a long strip of paper towels and knelt on the floor, while Carrie looked on, frozen. She handed Carrie the soggy carton, but Carrie just looked at it.
"Put it in the trash, dear. Please." Carrie shoved it into the trashcan beneath the kitchen sink and wiped her hands on her jeans.
"Sorry, Mom," she said miserably.
"It's okay. It was an accident." There was a quake to her mother's voice.
Just as her mother gave the floor a final swipe, the cuckoo clock in the dining room sang out five times and the front door opened and shut with a sharp click. Her father filled the arched doorway of the kitchen, navy suit coat buttoned neatly over his broad chest and shoulders, his red tie, a bright slash below his sharp Adam's apple. He closed his eyes and inhaled, smiling, and for a moment, Carrie saw what strangers saw: a content and happy man. She wished this man would stay with them. That he would kiss her mother, and give them both a hug, but the smiling man in the doorway opened his eyes, his smile fading, a sharp tack in his eyes. Disappointment. No matter how many pies they made, or how perfect they were, he was never happy, and Carrie knew there would be more bruises on her mother's body tomorrow. She was terrified of what might happen if they ever stopped making their Saturday pies.
"Is dinner ready?" he said, brushing by them and taking his seat at the head of the dining room table.
A month later on Saturday, Carrie woke to the sound of the front door closing, the signal her father had left for work. She rose and went to the kitchen, expecting to find her mother, but instead, found it empty. She peeked in her parent's room and saw her mother in bed. She tried to rise when Carrie came into the room, but sank back against the pillow and started to cough. Carrie pressed a palm to her forehead; her skin was hot and damp, dark circles underlined her eyes.
"We've got to make the pies," her mother whispered.
"I'll do it, mom."
Her mother closed her eyes and was quiet, and for a second, Carrie thought she had drifted off to sleep.
"There are cherries in the refrigerator, and I sliced up some apples this morning, before I started feeling sick. They're in the bowl on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Two pies should be enough. We can catch up later in the week when I'm feeling better. There's beef stew in the crockpot, and fresh bread in the breadbox," she paused. "He'll be angry if things aren't ready on time."
"I know. I'll take care of it, mom. You rest."
Her mother sighed. "I'm so tired of this."
"It's not going to be like this forever, mom. We can leave."
"I don't know how to leave," her mother said, rolling away from Carrie.
Carrie looked around the clean kitchen, heart pounding. She had made pies with her mother dozens of times, but suddenly, she couldn't remember a thing.
"Two pies. You can handle that. Come on," she said, opening the refrigerator. A carton of cherries winked back at her. She set the cherries and a bowl of sliced apples on the counter, and retrieved her mother's giant mixing bowl, measuring spoons, and measuring cups. Mixing flour, shortening and salt for the crust, she rolled out the dough, dissolving into the process of preparation.
Two hours later the aroma of her two pies melded with the earthy scent of beef stew. At four-thirty, the oven timer chimed, and she set the apple pie on the counter. As she pulled the cherry pie from the oven, she saw her father standing in the doorway.
The pie slipped from her hand and hit the floor.
"Where's your mother?" He looked at Carrie with flat eyes.
She's sick," Carrie stammered. "She's got the flu."
"I doubt that. Lazy, useless woman..."
"She is not." Carrie placed one hand on the counter for support and balled her opposite fist. "Why are you home so early?"
Her father frowned at the mess on the floor and took a step toward her. It took all her will not to step back. He pointed to the floor.
"Clean that mess up."
Carrie didn't move. Her father reached out and grabbed her upper arm. His grip was tight, his fingertips dug into her flesh. He had never touched her like that before. She yanked her arm from his grip, and stepped forward, glaring at him, breathing heavily. He stepped back, eyes wide, brows raised.
"I'll tell everyone what you do to her," Carrie said. "You try to keep it a secret, but I know what you do. I have photographs of the bruises. I'll show them to everyone and they will know what a coward you are!" Her father's eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared, he knotted his fists. She braced herself for a blow, wondering where he would strike her. Would it show? Instead, he took another step back.
"Clean that up, now." There was a waver to his voice. "And have supper on the table by the time I get back." He slid out the front door, slamming it behind him.
Carrie knelt over the ruined pie, trembling, and tried to gather the hot filling with her hands. It burned her fingers and palms, but she barely felt it. She started to cry, rocking back and forth over the ruined pie. She squealed when a hand fell on her shoulder, but it was her mother.
"I heard a crash. What happened? Are you okay?" Her eyes searched Carrie's face.
"He came home early," Carrie whispered.
Her mother examined Carrie's burns, then her upper arm. The flesh was red and angry where her father's hand had been.
"That's going to bruise," her mother said, making a soft clicking sound with her tongue. Her eyes held a biting light, sour-bitter like lemons, quick and sharp like her paring knife.
They cleaned up, set the table, and ladled out the stew. They filled the glasses with ice water, and sliced the apple pie. They straightened the chairs, and smoothed the tablecloth. Carried followed her mother to the kitchen, surprised when she reached up into the wooden flour canisters on top of the cupboard, the ones they never used. They had belonged to Carrie's grandmother and were just for decoration. Her mother pulled a large plastic bag from one, covered in flour. She shook it off over the sink. In the bag was a thick stack of bills.
"He is going to miss our pies," she said, draping an arm over Carrie's shoulders, she kissed her daughter's cheek.
The late afternoon sun washed the kitchen in gold, and Carrie saw who her mother would become, her body no longer marred with berry-colored-bruises, her skin the color of the cream she whipped, the custards she baked, the clean pallor of freshly rolled dough.
Hall Jameson is a writer, artist, and cat wrangler from Montana whose work has recently appeared in "Swamp Biscuits & Tea”, “Cream City Review", and "Eric's Hysterics".