There were thirty pies to make in the next twenty-four hours, and Mrs. Matthews only had one oven. And a half, if you counted the convection oven that her husband used to toast a plain bagel each morning, brown briefcase in hand. And three-fourths, if you counted that and the Easy Bake Oven they’d gotten their six-year-old son, Jeremiah, last Christmas; he had pastry-chef dreams that could not be satiated, and he’d soon discarded the toy in favor of the appliances that lined Mrs. Matthews’ countertops.
Unfortunately, Jeremiah was at summer camp, where he’d insisted that he be given an apprenticeship to the mess hall’s director. He wasn’t due home for another two weeks, and the request for Mrs. Matthews’ pies could not be delayed.
There was nothing to do but set out her mixing bowls and measuring cups and start sifting flour. So, that she did, until she wove the last strips of dough into a prim blueberry-cage. She’d slid that final pie in the oven with an extra pinch of sugar on top and had filled the sink with hot, sudsy water when the phone range.
“Matthews’ home,” she said, scrubbing a spatula while the phone lay wedged between her shoulder and flushed cheek.
“Yes, Mrs. Matthews?” The woman on the other line sounded tired. Her voice cracked with age and perpetual dehydration.
“Yes?” She set the spatula on a paper towel to let it air-dry.
“It’s Pauline Christensen, calling on behalf of the League of State Parks Park Rangers.”
“Yes, all right,” she said.
“I’m calling because, well, there’s been an accident down in the boys’ camp region of the Boys and Girls Camp campsite.”
“What kind of an accident?” She could feel her heart beating in her tongue, and her hand had moved to cover her mouth, hoping to prevent her fear and panic from spilling out. She’d told her husband three months ago that that camp was not a good idea for Jeremiah, who’d never had any interest in the outdoors. She knew it would break him. Her only hope was that whatever mishap had occurred hadn’t been the fault of one of the suspiciously sweet neighbor boys.
“Your son, Jeremiah—he seems to be lost at the moment. But I assure you that the League is taking every precaution to get him back to base camp at this time. You really have nothing to worry about, I assure you. I’m just calling as a formality. I’ve assured the camp director that we’ll have him back thirty minutes before supper, so he can help prepare the meal, as per his duties.”
The oven timer went off and Mrs. Matthews fell to a crumpled mess of cotton and nylon on the floor. She gasped a blueberry breath that the police, inspecting the pie-filled kitchen that evening, would imagine to be her last.
Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on July 2, 2012.