- Pocket Money
The mulberry tree sits in the far corner of the garden, alone, away from the petunias, and the gerberas, and the veggie patch. Underneath the mulberry tree, with its droopy tentacle branches and sprays of dark blue berries, sat a porcelain bowl, painted with little orange paw prints, and the name Genevieve. Inside the bowl sat a tiny dog collar, no bigger than a child’s bangle, with a brass bell. The bell was covered in a crust of brown oxidisation, and the collar had turned into a housing block for various species of mould.
“Give it some more water, love. It’s looking thirsty. Give it a nice big drink.”
I sprayed the tree over some more with the hose, which would only operate on the jet setting, impaling the ground with water that would have been better used for crowd control. Genevieve’s bowl began to fill up, her collar floating on top of the water. Once the ground begun to bubble, and I was sure that I had filled it with enough water that Genevieve’s canine body may rise to the surface at any moment, Mrs Grissom told me that that would be enough, and asked me to pick some berries off the tree. She wanted my help making the jam.
I picked the mulberries off the tree, and collected them up in a plastic bowl with Beatrix Potter illustrations on the inside. Mrs Grissom had several bowls like this, yellowed and scratched and covered in pictures from old children’s books and TV programs. She had kept them from when her grandchildren were little, and never thrown them out. The mulberries stained my fingers grey. I collected three bowls worth. On jam-making days, Mrs Grissom would always send me home with a jar, along with whatever money she would give me for my help around the house. I could never find the appetite to eat it. Whenever I would open the jar and look at the nearly black pulp inside it, I could only think of how the berries had grown from the nourishment supplied by the body of a buried dog.
We both mashed the berries, and had begun heating the fruit. A mountain of caster sugar sat on top of the berries, and the two were beginning to melt together. The sickly-sweet scent was so strong that I thought my nose hairs were beginning to glaze up like the outside of a sticky bun. Mrs Grissom had an entire cupboard dedicated to empty jam jars – she went through so much of the stuff that I wondered how her liver hadn’t turned into a hard lolly. She had jam on toast for breakfast, made jam and scones for morning tea, jam tarts for afternoon tea, and rice pudding with jam for dessert. She also made a cake every Tuesday and Thursday to take down with her to the bowling club, which contained at least three layers of jam, and just as many layers of cream. I had been to this same bowling club several years ago, for a school dinner dance, and noticed that there were two banners on the perimeter fence, and that they both advertised funeral homes, and thought that that was insensitive, but also probably practical.
After we had finished pouring the jam into jars, Mrs Grissom asked if I would mind dusting the dining room before I left. Mrs Grissom never used the dining room, because she didn’t have dinner parties anymore, and if her family came for tea they would eat at the kitchen table. The dining room was more of a storage space, where she kept her old ceramic figures of little ducks and rabbits and girls in pretty lace dress, and where she kept her cabinet filled with old china cups and plates and serving platters, and where she kept her husband, sitting on top the fireplace mantle, in a Delft china urn. To her husband’s right sat a photo of them cutting their wedding cake, and professional photo of them holding a young baby in a lace bonnet and dress. To her husband’s left sat another two photographs – individual portraits of them in their early twenties. Mr Grissom had pale eyes that appeared white in the sepia photograph, while his hair was black and shining with Brylcreem. He’s eyes were too big for his face, and made is mouth seem tiny in proportion, but he had a kind face. Mrs Grissom looked like Ingrid Bergman, but with crooked teeth. I dusted over the surface of each photo frame, and lifted them to dust the mantle underneath. I barely touched the duster to Mr Grissom’s urn, afraid that I would knock it over and send a cloud of ashes wafting through the house.
After the work was done, Mrs Grissom gave me a jar of jam to take home, and $40, and said that I was an angel for helping her, and that she was going to stay up tonight to watch the new detective show on ABC. I said thank you very much for the money and the jam, and that I would see her again next Sunday. I walked home with my jar of silky terrier infused jam, and wondered if I would ever show up to her house to find her dead, and if so, whether I was supposed to call the ambulance or the police, or the number on the banner at the bowling club.
Words by Hannah Cockroft, art by Jade Newton.
‘I Am Going’ is a collaborative story by the creative writers of Pelican. It is published in weekly installments.