Best Blueberry Jam in Asheville

Submitted for Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about activism.... view prompt

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Looking back on it, I’ll bet you a ice cream soda that I was the only one in Asheville who wanted to do right for Horace Bannock. I’m sure the gossips would be shocked at a girl suggesting a bet, and Mr. Appleton would think I was getting men’s manners from working at his barbershop. Whatever they say, you would still owe me a soda—I like strawberry best. I suppose it isn’t sense, blaming the whole town for not doing right for Mr. Bannock, but I should probably start at the beginning.

Now, I’m not thinking of the Acorn Festival. Turns out that was just the Hemlock boys in a bit of high spirits, what the sheriff calls ‘willful destruction of property.’ The sheriff also told me Mr. Bannock was ‘convicted on multiple counts of vandalism’ but that just mixed up my thoughts. I knew Mr. Bannock hadn’t done that at the Festival, and Mr. Appleton knew, and we told the sheriff so.

“I’m right proud of you, Miss Mary Jeanne,” Mr. Appleton said to me. “Never thought you would shame a man into doing right, but you did.”

I blushed a little and tried to fix a crooked feather on the old duster. Mr. Appleton smiled at me in the barbershop’s big mirror.

“Doing right is nothing to be shamed about,” he said, real gentle. Then his voice got a little less soft, and he said, “But I don’t want you near Horace Bannock, you understand?”

I almost dropped the duster. “Why, Mr. Appleton—”

“He didn’t ruin the Festival, but he’s broken plenty of other places,” Mr. Appleton said, stopping me with another look. “You’re not safe around a man like that.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, all quiet again, and went back to dusting the shelves.

Like always, I cleaned the cracked bottles as much as the whole ones, and for every bottle I had a thought. I wanted to ask Mr. Appleton, if he and Mr. Bannock and my father were all friends, why didn’t he try to help Mr. Bannock? After all, he’d helped me ever since my father didn’t come home from the war. But I could tell from the slow way Mr. Appleton was sorting his razors that he had worries, and I didn’t want to add new ones.

I said, “Thank you, Mr. Appleton,” when I went home that evening, but I was still thinking.

I’m sure you would understand. You know about these things, how some of the men who came back from the war had hurts no one could see—what Mr. Appleton calls ‘broken in the mind.’ Maybe in other towns there were more, but in Asheville there was only Mr. Bannock. Of course, I kept the street between us whenever I could, but I saw he did things that no one else in Asheville did.

I’m not thinking of what he did to the old library, or the house on Maple and 11th, or the Sands place. Everyone in town knows about those, the sheriff just as much as the gossips. But he’s the only one who comes to the post office for the envelopes creased just right, the only one who goes into the bank the same day and comes out with his pockets full. He’s about the only one who buys at the grocer’s just for himself—even I do the shopping for the boardinghouse meals we all have together.

I tried to ask Mr. Appleton, but he didn’t seem to understand. “If a man wants to live alone, Mary Jeanne,” he said, “I won’t interfere. He pays his bills all right, so he can’t be in trouble that way.”

I started to tell Mr. Appleton that I wasn’t worried about the account book, but Mr. Beech came in just then, and I had to be busy with the duster.

Maybe you’re right, that the people in Asheville didn’t think about doing anything for Mr. Bannock. Maybe they thought the envelopes would be enough. Maybe they thought they didn’t have to help him. But you know that we do look after our people in Asheville, and there should have been someone to do right for him.

You don’t have to think I’m right, but I remember the days after the Festival, when everyone thought Mr. Bannock had done the wrong. All Asheville thinks he’s a bad character, but I remember the way he held his cap, the way he looked, the way he talked.

“Miss Mary Jeanne,” he said, like a man who’s seen something that was too much for him, “Please, Miss Mary Jeanne.”

That’s all he said, and I went to the sheriff in the end. You’re not the only one who knows that—all Asheville knows Miss Mary Jeanne Pearce gave Mr. Horace Bannock an alibi for the night of the Acorn Festival. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who saw the fright in Mr. Bannock, the way he looked at things as if he saw something else besides them. So I decided to do something.

I had to think about it some, because I still wanted to keep my promise to Mr. Appleton. After summer started coming on, I took my afternoon off to pick raspberries, the wild ones that grow along Asheville’s edge. You can laugh if you want, but I took those raspberries home and made jam. My mother taught me how to do it when I was almost too small to reach the stove, and I’ve been good at it ever since. Ask Mr. Appleton—or I’ll make you some myself.

But I made up the jam, and I took it to Mr. Bannock’s house when I knew he had gone to the bank, and I left it on the doorstep. I’d done it up with an old bit of ribbon round the lid, almost like a Christmas present.

“Maybe he won’t like it,” I said to myself as I was marching away, “but maybe he will.”

I didn’t pass by his house again for at least a week, and the jar was still sitting on the doorstep. The flies had got to it in spite of the lid—it looked like it had been knocked over and cracked a bit. My new pluck must have come out then, because I ran to the doorstep real quick and wrapped up the jar in my spare handkerchief. I ran back just as quick, but I was late to the barbershop because I took the jar to the backyard of the boardinghouse, for the birds.

“Where have you been this morning, Mary Jeanne?” Mr. Appleton asked me, when I ran into the shop a bit out of breath.

“Just putting out something for the birds,” I said, because it was true. There wasn’t much business that day, so I found another jar in the place for spares and asked Mr. Appleton if I could take it home. When he asked why, I said, “For jam,” because it was true.

So the next time I tried blackberries, but I had another cracked jar for the birds by the end of it. If Mr. Appleton had known about it, he would have told me not to interfere anymore. You can agree with him if you want, but I decided to try again.

“If he doesn’t like blueberries,” I said to myself, “well then, I’ll give him crabapple jam.”

“Crabapple jam?” myself said back to me, just like you’re saying now, “Crabapples don’t make jam.”

Maybe they don’t, but I had an extra helping of pluck that day. I picked my blueberries and made up my jam. Then I waited until another of Mr. Bannock’s bank days, and I left the jar on his doorstep. When I walked past his house again, the jar was gone. I guessed he’d taken it inside, so the next chance I had, I left another. It was gone too, and the one after that.

That’s right, I left jam for Mr. Bannock all summer long. I did my best not to be around him, so that Mr. Appleton wouldn’t be worried. But last week, the blueberries ran out, and I had to go back to raspberries. I went to leave the jar on the doorstep, but this time the door opened. It opened so slow that I could have run back quick as always, but I didn’t.

Mr. Bannock was standing in the doorway without his cap, staring at me like I was a ghost. Before I could convince myself not to, I held out the jar.

“Here you are, Mr. Bannock,” I said, just as bright as I would to Mr. Beech. “The blueberries wore out, so I had to do raspberries. Maybe you won’t like them, but—”

He took the jar from me. I suppose it was the jar’s turn to be a ghost, because he gave a kind of shiver and dropped it. That’s why you’re sitting here, since it landed on my foot. It doesn’t hurt that much—it was a small jar—and it was a good thing that it was early. There weren’t any gossips to see Mr. Bannock escorting me back to the boardinghouse, and the poor landlady had to use all her wits to ring you up. By the time you came, he was gone.

Now please, Dr. Hollins, don’t be upset. Mr. Bannock didn’t say much when he was helping me limp along, but he did say the red in the jam reminds him too much of the war. He doesn’t understand why, and I don’t either. I might ask Mr. Appleton—he’s probably going to be shaken up a little when he finds out what I did, but I have a hope he’ll understand.

And Asheville? I still bet you it will go on the same as it always has, and you can take me to the ice cream parlor for that strawberry soda. If you think Miss Mary Jeanne Pearce can change Asheville’s thinking with jars of jam, you might as well buy two sodas. Maybe Mr. Bannock will like a blueberry one.

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6 comments

Nandan Prasad
12:07 Jun 19, 2020

Beautiful story with a great ending! I liked that this was a narration; narrations of stories always fascinates me. Also, I'm a new author here, so I'd really appreciate it if you comment on (and hopefully like) my stories. Thanks and hoping to see more such stories from you! Good luck!

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00:44 Jun 20, 2020

Thanks! I will send some comments your way soon (for your stories). If you'd like to read more about Mary Jeanne, "Horace Bannock's Alibi" (on my page) also stars her

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21:58 Jun 17, 2020

This was so engaging and I loved the narrator - you did a great job showing her personality! Your use of a dialect is also very well done and adds to the story instead of being a distraction.

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22:19 Jun 17, 2020

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. If you want to read more Mary Jeanne, ‘Horace Bannock’s Alibi’ is also on my page

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C. jay Loren
00:35 Jun 16, 2020

That was such a sweet story. Even the little things we do can have an impact for the better on someone’s life.

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22:37 Jun 16, 2020

That’s very true! I’m glad you liked it

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