Excerpt

A Snake in the Raspberry Patch

Joanne Jackson

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Snake in the Raspberry Patch, by Joanne Jackson. Set during the sweltering summer of 1971, the story follows a young girl trying to make sense of a horrific murder in a small rural town.

Dad and some men from the neighbourhood have congregated in our living room to toast the birth of my brother with a glass of rye, but mostly the conversation is about the trouble that’s happened down the highway at the Tremblay’s. It’s all anyone has talked about for days. I’m on my front step because Jennifer, my best friend, is walking over from her house a few blocks away. Mr. Pendergrass, her next-door neighbour, is escorting her—kids haven’t been allowed to go anywhere alone since the afternoon it happened. Before supper Jen called and said she wanted to come over to talk about high school, so, because grade nine is weighing heavily on my mind, I rushed through dishes. Now she and Mr. Pendergrass are late, and I have to wait outside because our house is full of men.

The inside door is open allowing what little breeze there is on this hot evening to blow through the screened-in front porch, and Dad, not paying as close attention to his daughters as Mom would want, allows the men to talk freely. Deciding to make the most of being stuck out here, I slide behind the dogwood bush where I can hear them without being seen. All I’ve been able to discern is that the Tremblay family were killed the same day my brother was born, but I know few of the details. I knew Colleen, one of the girls who died, but we weren’t best friends. She was a girl who was there when you needed someone to play catch with so you didn’t have to spend recess alone. A girl you liked well enough to invite to your birthday party so you could get invited to hers.

I’ve heard some of the older kids talking outside Fogg’s Grocery Store, or while they’re gathered at The Park where they can smoke without being seen, but mostly they tell me to get lost before I can hear much. Knowing Dad wouldn’t know enough to restrict me, last night after supper I sat down in front of the television to watch the news. I’d made the meal, ground beef casserole with noodles, then washed and dried the dishes by myself. Dad never does dishes, and Rose escaped by saying she had things to do before the sun went down. I figured if I was old enough to be chief cook and bottle washer until Mom came home, I was old enough to sit down and do the same thing my parents do after the supper meal. Lloyd Robertson had just welcomed the viewers to CBC when our phone rang. It was Mom calling from the hospital. She said that under no circumstances is Elizabeth allowed to watch the news on TV. I don’t know how she knew what I was doing, but she did. She said it was going to be difficult enough at her age to get up with a new baby all night long, let alone a thirteen-year-old having bad dreams. You’d think she’d know I’m made of tougher stuff than that. Perhaps it’s being pregnant that’s caused her to forget. She’s been crabby for the past nine months and I heard her tell Dad that if this turns out to be a boy, she’s through. I surely hope her mood has changed when she gets home.

I was resentful about Mom’s decree, but I didn’t argue even though I’m more intrigued than scared. How could someone walk up to a stranger and shoot him in the head? Or kill a child as he ran away like those high school kids said he did? These things happen in the big city and you cluck your tongue and say What a shame. That poor family. Im glad we dont live in a crime-infested place like that. Here in Willowsbend, in the middle of farmland from horizon to horizon—except for an invasion of gophers, a deluge of hail, or a plague of grasshoppers—nothing ever happens.

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I listen as the men’s voices go around the coffee-table. Some I can put a face to, some I can’t. Mr. Henderson speaks first.

“Marj was sitting on the front porch playing cards with her youngest. Executed her and the little one right there. I don’t know which would be worse, shooting Marj first so the daughter sees, or the daughter first for Marj to witness. I can’t even imagine.” I can picture Mr. Henderson’s already long face, drawn even longer as he shakes his head at his own words. His voice pauses before he says, “Don’t know what in the world would possess him to take Marj’s tongue,” and I gasp, pressing the back of my hand over my mouth so Dad won’t hear.

“Henry and his oldest boy must have been checking the crops and heard the shots. Drove home to see what the noise was. They didn’t have a chance. Found Henry draped across the running board shot in the head, his son sitting in the passenger seat shot clean through the chest, bullet buried in the seat he was slumped against.” Mr. Krieger’s voice.

“Another boy was found in the hedge that circles the house. Shot in the back. Probably running, trying to get away. Killed the rest of the kids in the backyard. One was sprawled under the net Henry had nailed to the garden shed, basketball wedged under the boy’s hand. The oldest girl was lying in the hammock, hole clean through the book she was reading. Only blessing is the shots were dead on, and every one of them died quickly, the coroner said.”

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“At least he left the children intact,” Mr. Krieger says. “If I catch him, I’ll tie him up, gouge out his eyes, then cut off his….”

My rubber ball slips out of my hand and bounces down our walkway to the front sidewalk. Instead of slowing down, it picks up momentum as it heads across the street, ending up in the front yard of the Henderson’s. I know, at thirteen, I’m getting too old to play with children’s toys, but I still like to see how high it will bounce until it’s just a black dot in the sky.

The talking stops and the floorboards groan. I scrunch down behind the bush then sit as still as a mouse while Dad steps into the porch; his large frame blocks the screen door. He returns to the living room without seeing me and the conversation resumes.

“Are there any other suspects besides Stanley Drummond?” Mr. Fogg asks.

“The RCMP said Drummond is merely a person of interest. I assume, only because he recently got out of jail, and now he’s missing,” Mr. Henderson says. “They released him for compassionate reasons after his wife died in childbirth. There’s no warrant out for him, at least not yet.”

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“Can’t believe they only gave him five months. Wasn’t it the second time he broke into your store, Jim?” Mr. Krieger asks.

“It was,” Dad says. “As far as I know, he never steals anything, just ransacks the place. Though it’s difficult to keep track of every bolt and nail.”

“I don’t trust that Drummond family as far as I could throw them,” Mr. Henderson says. “Caught one of ’em shoplifting in the drugstore a few days ago. The oldest girl, Gail, I think they call her, was stealing safety pins and talcum powder, of all things. I didn’t say anything; let her take what she needed. Paid Neil a bit more when I bought my cigarettes. She’s got her hands full with that new baby and now no Mom to look after the wretched thing.”

“If Stan did kill Marj,” Dad says, “prison must have made him go off the deep end, that’s all I can think. I don’t know why else he’d do such a thing.”

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“There is the chance this wasn’t a local,” Mr. Fogg says. “Could have been anyone driving through town on their way to the city. Just a random shooting.”

“I suppose the RCMP have to consider all possibilities,” Dad says, “no matter how slim.”

In the quiet I hear the chug of liquid being poured. “When’s Patricia coming home?” Mr. Henderson asks.

“Tomorrow,” Dad says.

“You finally got your boy, Jim.”

Glasses clink as the men toast my brother.

“He’s going to have to learn to defend himself, growing up with five sisters,” Dad says.

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Two months before my second birthday, Rose was born and I quickly came to hate her because Mom didn’t pay attention to me anymore. I would reach between the rails of the playpen and pinch my baby sister, then steal her milk and throw it across the room. Mom would find the bottle behind the radio or the couch and say What a good pitching arm Rose has, then look at me and smile. Rose is the only one, of the now six kids, who was born at home. Mom has always said That girl wanted to start living and wouldn’t wait another second to be born.

Hoping for a boy and thinking time might make a difference, Mom didn’t give birth for five years, but to no avail; she had another girl and named her Francine. Then I felt sorry for Rose because she was in the same predicament as me. When Fran was three, Robin was born, and we all hated the new baby, though I think Franny was only trying to emulate her older sisters. And when poor little Robin had just passed her first birthday, Alexandra came along, but none of us hated Alex. She’s the only one with blue eyes and strawberry blond hair, the rest of us having green eyes and red hair, like Dad. Mom, who has blue eyes and dark hair, calls us her raspberry patch.

For the past few months the whole family has been suggesting names for our new sibling. I liked Marie, which is Mom’s middle name. Dad picked Marjorie, but Mom said that’s only because it’s the name of a girlfriend he had before he met her and she winked at me. My youngest sisters wanted Snow White, but changed to Violet when Mrs. Olyphant took us to see the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Rose wanted the more modern name of Kimberly. Mom had picked Janet for a girl’s name but unbeknownst to the rest of us who hadn’t even considered a boy’s name, she’d been saving the name Cole for years, hoping one day she’d have a son to Christen.

Dad didn’t stay at the hospital with Mom this time. At three in the morning when she went into labour, he helped her into the car while I put a sleepy Alex, Robin, and Franny in the back seat. He dropped the girls off at the Olyphant’s farm, took Mom to the city and admitted her into the hospital, then drove straight back home. I guess after having five kids, Mom didn’t need her husband to stick around and hold her hand. At eight in the morning when the phone call came, I was prepared to watch his shoulders droop as he found out he had yet another daughter. Instead, he stood tall and gave one of his rare smiles. Now Cole is the sixth in line and the only boy in our little dynasty, and we will always remember his birthday of July twenty-first nineteen seventy-one because it’s the day the Tremblay family was massacred down the highway that leads to the city. “Why are you scrunched down behind the bush?” Rose says in a voice loud enough for Dad to hear. She has her camera around her neck, something she never goes anywhere without. At an early age she showed an interest in photography and Mom gave her a Kodak for her seventh birthday. In the past four years, Rose has become very proficient at getting the right angle and the right lighting and takes candid shots of people all the time. The funny thing is, no one seems to mind. She pops in a flashcube and snaps a shot of me sitting in the shade.

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“Shush,” I say as I push her hand away, my eyes now blinded. “Don’t tell me to shush,” she says. She pulls a notebook out of her pocket and mouths “Eavesdropping,” as she writes. She titles all her pictures and has albums full of them stacked in our bedroom. Sometimes we fall asleep looking through the pages and remembering what we were doing at the time the picture was taken. She spends all her allowance on film, developing the film, flashcubes, and albums.

Dad opens the screen door and pokes his head out. “What’s going on out here?”

“Waiting on Jen,” I say.

“Just taking some pictures of Liz,” Rose says.

Dad sighs and I feel his pain. Raising girls is hard on him. He knows tools and nails, paint and shovels, mops and hoses; all the paraphernalia, minutiae, and household items he sells at Murphy’s Hardware. Females, he doesn’t have a hope in hades of understanding. It’s a good thing the three youngest are still at the Olyphant’s farm or I’d be babysitting them as well as doing the cooking, cleaning and gardening.

“Wait someplace else, you two,” he says. “You don’t need to sit there listening to the men talk.” He turns to go inside, then spins back to me. “And look after your sister. Don’t let her go anywhere alone.”

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“Yes, Dad.”

He allows the screen door to bang shut and returns to the living room. Dad isn’t a big talker. That’s the most he’s said to me since Mom left five days ago.

“I don’t need you to look after me,” Rose whispers. “I can look after myself. The only reason Dad told you to look after me is because Mom reminded him not to forget about his daughters while she was in the hospital. Anyhow,” she says, “I was already alone. I went to look at the Tremblay’s house.”

“You what?” I drag her to the front sidewalk, which isn’t easy as Rose is a stubborn girl.

“Let go of me,” she says and digs in her heels.

I let go before Dad hears. “Don’t you dare ever do anything like that again. Mom would get mad if she knew,” I say.

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“And who’s going to tell her, you? I’ll tell her I saw you sneak out the window in the middle of the night to sit in your treehouse.” She puckers up her brow. “Don’tcha want to know what I saw?”

“I guess,” I say, my curiosity getting the better of me. I toe the weeds out of the cracks while she talks.

“Well, there’s toys and stuff scattered everywhere, like always. Bikes, roller skates, doll carriages, garden tools. Looked so normal I kept thinking the kids were going to come running out of the house. But there’s tape, you know the yellow stuff? It’s stretched across the front veranda, making it look like a crime scene. And there’s a truck parked in the yard with the door wide open. I saw blood on the running board.”

“You got close enough to see blood?”

“I wish. Officer Brown came out of the house so I had to hide in the ditch. But it sure looked like blood.” She looks at her little instamatic. “I wish Mom would buy me a better camera with a telephoto lens. I could do some real detecting if I had one of those.”

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“Rose, you have to stop doing stuff like that. What if the killer saw you?”

“Don’t be a drip, the killer wouldn’t stick around for five days.” She fingers the strap on her camera. “Unless he’s a glory seeker. I’ve read about them. They hang around after they’ve set fire to something just to see how much commotion they caused. Or,” she taps her temple. “Maybe he’s crazy smart and wants to direct the attention onto some poor schmuck in order to take any possible focus off of him.” She dismisses the idea with a wave of her hand. “But he’s probably in Mexico lying on a beach drinking some exotic drink with a pineapple and umbrella in it. No one stays around after doing something like that. Not even crazy people.”

Footsteps slap the pavement and I put my hand above my eyes to peer down the block. Two figures are approaching and with the setting sun behind them, they look like child renderings of stickmen—all shadows and straight lines, their edges blurred by the glare of the sun. One of the figures races ahead of the other who is moving much slower, his long arms and legs propelling him forward as he tries to keep up. He’s calling for Jennifer to slow down and wait for him but she keeps on running, her dark ponytail flying out behind her.

Jen is only five months older than me, but she acts like she’s five years older. She bought a tube of pink lipstick at the drugstore and when we go to the movies or out for a Coke, she applies it carefully to her lips while looking at her reflection in a store window; there’s no way she could put it on at home, her mother would have a conniption fit. Jen bats her eyes at all the cute boys and is always flipping her ponytail and looking over her shoulder to see if they’re watching. But for all her girly ways, she’s also a tomboy. She can run faster than any of the boys, and when we have field day in the park, she always wins at long jump. Four years ago, she punched a grade eight girl in the nose for stealing the lunch of a grade two kid. She and the grade eight kid both got detention for a week. Jen told me she’d do it all over again if she had to. The one thing Jen is afraid of, though she’d never admit it to anyone, is heights. I’ve invited her to sit in my treehouse countless times, but she always has an excuse. Homework, housework, the neighbour’s dog needs walking; anything to avoid having to make her way across the roof, which is fine by me. I like having someplace to go where no one else is allowed.

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She skids to a stop in front of me, her lips pressed so tightly together, she looks like someone who’s bursting to say something but is trying to win a no-talking contest.

“Hi, Mr. Pendergrass,” I say as he catches up.

Mr. Pendergrass is a melancholy man. Very seldom have I seen him smile. He’s also never been married. I assumed he never married because he’s the garbageman and most women don’t want to be married to a garbageman, but Jen told me she heard her mom gossiping over the fence with the neighbour who said that Mr. Pendergrass was in love with someone, had been for years. When Mrs. Olsen asked her neighbour who the love of his life was, the neighbour said all she knew was that it was a married woman.

He touches the brim of his cap. “Evening, ladies.” He’s puffing heavily and pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket then pushes it back down and takes out a toothpick. “Trying to quit.” He pokes the wooden stick between his teeth. “Stay in the neighbourhood, now, Miss Olsen.” He wags a yellowed finger at Jennifer. “Your mom entrusted me with you tonight. That goes for all of you.” He looks at each of us in turn.

We nod with sombre faces.

“You’re welcome to go inside, Mr. Pendergrass,” I say. “The men are in the living room.”

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He doffs his cap which he wears when he’s not working, snaps his suspenders which he wears all the time, and strides across our front yard. When he arrives at the porch, he pauses with his hand on the handle and looks back at us, as if unsure he should enter.

“Go ahead, Mr. Pendergrass,” Rose urges. “Dad’s expecting you.” He nods and steps into the porch. He gently closes the screendoor then looks back one last time before entering the house. When he’s out of sight, Jen explodes. “I saw him,” she whispers as she grabs my shoulders.

“Who?” I say.

“The man who, you know,” she makes a slicing motion across her throat with her fingers.

“No, you didn’t,” Rose says. “Quit being so melodramatic.”

“And you,” Jen pokes a finger at Rose without touching her because Rose would poke back, “quit using words that are bigger than you.”

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Rose narrows her eyes at my friend. “I only use big words because I know what they mean, unlike you who has to speak in two syllable words because you’re illiterate.”

“C’mon,” I say to Jen, pulling her away from my sister. “What was so urgent you had to tell me?”

She glares daggers at Rose before allowing me to pull her away.

“Well,” her tone is conspiratorial, “you know how when we were in grade eight all the boys seemed young?”

“Actually, everyone in my class is thirteen or fourteen. Except for Billy McDougal. I’m sure he’ll keep redoing grade eight until he’s twenty years old. This year was his second try and still he failed. He can barely fit into the….”

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“No, not the same age, the same age, you know, mentally. Remember when I learnt in health class that girls mature much faster than boys?”

Being as how in the Catholic faith, where abstinence is expected until after marriage, sex education is not included in the curriculum like it is in the public school system. So, Jen, who goes to the public school, passes any information she learns from her health classes on to me. When the day came that Mom decided I was old enough to tell me the facts of life, I didn’t let on I already knew.

“But in high school, because we’re the youngest, we’ll have our choice of boys older than us, boys closer to our maturity level. No more stupid little-boy pranks like locking us in the bathroom or panty raids while we’re in the shower after gym class. No more panting as we walk past them in the hall or jokes about what size our boulder-holders are. The boys in high school will be so much more mature.”

From a distance, we hear Rose say, “Boy crazy.”

“Baby,” Jen says. “You don’t know anything.”

“I know you didn’t see the murderer on your way over here, that’s what I know,” Rose says.

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“Did too!” Jen says. “When Mr. Pendergrass and I were walking over here I saw someone skulking down an alley. He had the hood of his bunnyhug pulled up and kept looking around as if he was worried someone would see him. I’ll bet he was the murderer and he’s going to ask the priest for, what do you call it, asylum.”

“Father Mackinnon is harbouring a criminal? I doubt that,” I say.

“No, no. I didn’t actually see him talking to the priest, he was in an alley, heading in that direction. So, I can’t say for sure where he was going, but he sure looked suspicious.”

“Did Mr. Pendergrass see him too?” I ask.

“Are you kidding? He was so busy scrutinizing everyone’s front yard for weeds and broken fence pickets, he didn’t see anything else. He’s a bit of a fusspot, if you ask me which is kind of weird considering he empties garbage cans for a living.”

“What did he look like?” I ask.

“Who? Mr. Pendergrass?”

I scowl at her.

“Oh. You mean,” again she slices her throat. “It was hard to tell.

His hair looked tangled and greasy, blowing out the edges of his hood, and his clothes didn’t fit right, kind of baggy like they didn’t belong to him, or maybe like he’d lost weight. He looked like your basic run of the mill murderer.”

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“Like a murderer,” Rose guffaws. “And how do you, a girl who’s never left the Canadian prairies, know what a murderer looks like?”

“You’ll find out if you don’t watch your mouth.” Jen steps towards my sister. They’re both hot-heads and have never got along. I swing Jennifer around.

“Stop it, you two; you’re going to get us all in trouble.”

Mrs. Henderson’s front door opens and she sticks out her head.

“Show some respect, you three. A family is dead. You should be in your rooms praying for their souls, not arguing in the street about who gets to use the skipping rope first.” She points at her petunia patch. “And who’s rubber ball is that?”

“Sorry, Mrs. Henderson. That’s mine,” I say. “I’ll get it.”

She glowers at us before closing the door.

“Who gets to use the skipping rope first? How old does she think

I am?” Jen says. “I’m fourteen, for God’s sake,” she yells at Mrs. Henderson who’s pulled aside her living room curtains and is standing at the window watching us. “I haven’t used a skipping rope in two years!”

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The woman lets the drapes drop, veiling the sour look on her face.

“Busybody,” Jennifer says under her breath. She flips Mrs. Henderson the bird.

I slap her hand. “Don’t do that. She’ll probably tell her husband who will tell Dad. I don’t want to be grounded for the next week. You know how my dad is about not embarrassing our family.”

“Yeah, Jennifer, shut your trap,” Rose says. She turns to me. “But the woman is a busybody. You have to agree with that, Liz.”

Jen points at the ball in my hand. “If you’d quit playing with toys, maybe she wouldn’t think we’re still children.”

I feel my face heat up and toss the ball onto my front yard. “Let’s get away from everyone watching us standing in the middle of the road,” I say.

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Then, even though I know we shouldn’t be venturing so far from the house, the three of us walk to the end of the block and turn west into the sun that will set in less than an hour.

I put my hand to my eyes and look at Saint Mary’s church in the distance. The cross on the steeple glints in the sun this time of the day, sending rays shooting across the sky. I follow the shafts of light with my eyes as they point towards the grain elevators to the south that have poked through the horizon for fifty years, and the seniors complex to the north, which was built last summer. Along with my family, I attended the grand opening. We sat in folding chairs on the front lawn and listened as our mayor made a speech. He said this building is a modern addition to our great community and he knows it will be used for generations to come. Then he cut the ropes holding the wrapping in place and unveiled the sign. Instead of reading Willowsbend Home for Seniors, it read Willowsbend Cemetery. The town council had decided to have two signs made because they received a better price. The delivery people didn’t check which went where, just plopped one on the grass and left. At first everyone gasped, but soon laughter rippled across the crowd when they realized the cemetery got the Home for Seniors sign.

Saint Mary’s Church is across the street from Saint Mary’s Catholic Elementary School that I’ve just graduated from, and Willowsbend Public Elementary School Jen graduated from. A playground separates the two schools. It’s what we call, The Park. If you ever want to meet anyone, say you’ll meet them at The Park and they’ll know where to go.

Willowsbend High school sits in the far corner of The Park, separated from the elementary schools by a ball diamond. Enrollment at that school is large for a small town; it’s the only high school for miles around and is attended by both Catholic and non-Catholic students. Jen and I will be starting there in just a few, all too short, weeks.

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I know of town kids whose parents are staunch Catholics and have billeted out their sons and daughters to friends or relatives in the city for grades nine to twelve just so they could continue to attend a Catholic school. Many of the kids from my grade eight class are leaving for the city in the next couple of weeks. Thank God Mom won’t be doing that. She said by the time her child has finished grade eight, if she hasn’t learned good morals and Christian values, then she probably isn’t going to learn them and no amount of Catechism classes will help.

The playground is empty, not even the high school kids are gathered here smoking tonight, and Rose races ahead to nab the best swing. She lays her camera on the grass beside the swing’s frame, then sits on the leather seat and pumps her legs so hard and fast, soon she’s parallel to the ground. Whatever Rose does, she does with all her might. I take the swing to the right of her and drag my feet in the rut where a thousand kids have dragged their feet before me. Jen climbs the ladder to the top of the slide then sits there.

“I wonder what it felt like,” Jen says.

“What, what felt like?” I ask.

“Being shot. I wonder what it felt like. Do you feel the bullet enter your body? Do you know you’re going to die? How bad does it hurt?”

“I doubt you have time to take assessment of the pain.” The wind from Rose’s swing blows my hair across my face.

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“You must feel something. Are you surprised? Do you wonder what happened?”

“I think you get shot and you die.” I pull an elastic out of my pocket and tie my hair back. “You don’t have time to think of anything. At least not the Tremblays. I heard the men talking tonight and one of them said that they died fast.”

“That’s good. I hate to think of the kids suffering.” Jen lies back; her legs dangle down the metal ramp.

“What was it like?” I ask. “At the funerals? Dad didn’t say much when he got home.”

The funerals were held yesterday and because Mom didn’t want Fran, Robin or Alex to see the people crying and carrying-on, she asked the Olyphants to drop them off at our house and then pick them up on their way home. Rose and I had to stay home and babysit. Jen was able to attend because it’s only her and her mom in their family. There are times when I’m jealous of her not having siblings, but there’s also times when I know she’s lonely.

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“It was what you’d expect, I guess, only more because, you know, there was seven of them at the same time.” She pauses. “I’ve never seen a child’s coffin before; so tiny.”

A robin sings announcing to the world it’s dusk.

“Mr. Tremblay’s brother spoke about what a good man his brother was. Then one of the aunties talked. Said she knew her niece was in heaven playing with her sisters. That brought a gush of tears from everyone. Father Mackinnon said they were a good Christian family, and it was a horrific way to lose friends and neighbours, but the town had to find it in their hearts to forgive whoever did this monstrous act. Saw lots of people shake their heads when he said that. If it had been announced that the killer had been found right then, there would have been a lynch mob in the street. Say,” she sits up, “I’ve never been to a Catholic service before. There was lots of sitting and standing and chanting and amen-ing. Is that what you do every Sunday?”

“Pretty much.”

The three of us are quiet for a while until Jen breaks the silence. “Do you think you go directly to heaven or hell when you die, or do you go someplace where they decide if you’ve been a good enough or bad enough person? Like a jury or something.”

Rose has stopped swinging and picked up her camera. She has it pressed to her eye as she pretends it has the telephoto lens that she covets and watches Jen on the slide. “Listen to you, an atheist asking about heaven and hell,” she says.

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“I’m not an atheist, you little twerp. I just don’t go to church ten times a week like you do. I still believe in,” she waves her hands in the air, “something.”

Rose snaps Jen’s picture then takes out her notebook.

“The Catholic Church believes in purgatory,” I say, “where you have to atone for you sins. I guess if you’re really repentant, you get to go to heaven.”

“Would you look at that.” Rose has shifted her attention from my friend, to the back doors of Jen’s school.

I put my hand above my eyes. “What?”

“Someone’s in the atheist’s school.”

“I told you, I’m not….”

“Probably the janitor,” I say cutting Jen off. “They like to strip the wax off the floors then re-wax in the summer when the place is empty.” I laugh. “Last September the vice-principal took a header and slid on his stomach all the way down the hall. The nuns had to wrestle him up off the floor.”

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“Unless the janitor has taken to wearing skirts, that’s not him,” Rose says.

We peer towards Jen’s school. A girl has pushed open a window and is climbing out. When she lays her eyes on the three of us, she takes off around the other side of the one-storey building.

Even though Jen had to slide down before she could begin running, she soon passes Rose and me then disappears around the corner of the school. Rose reaches the building next and turns in the opposite direction. I stop running and sit on the bars of the bicycle rack, waiting for them to circle the building and come back to me. Until I remember we’re not supposed to be alone.

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From SNAKE IN THE RASPBERRY PATCH. Used with the permission of the publisher, STONEHOUSE ORIGINALS. Copyright © 2022 by JOANNE JACKSON.




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