This story is by Alexandria Olivarez and won an honorable mention in our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Alexandria Olivarez is a writer and full-time high school English teacher. She has a passion for writing stories that draw her reader into a new world. She is a participant in the One Year to Publish program with The Write Practice where she is currently working on her debut novel. If you would like to read more of Alexandria’s work, you can follow her on her website: alexolivarez.com or on Instagram @alexolivarez.books.
If there was ever a day for pumpkin pie, this was it. I approached the wooden counter of my small, sunny kitchen and removed the glass case that protected the delicious treat and cut a slice for Mrs. Mayapple and myself. The pie shone like copper on the plate. I snatched a couple of forks and swept back across the room. Mrs. Mayapple had been assigned to be my chaperone ever since I was born.
When I was old enough to question it, my mother’s answer was, “How else are we supposed to guarantee that you stay pure?”
My father’s rumbling laugh followed. “That’s right. You know we can’t be with you every minute of every day.”
So anytime my parents weren’t home or if I ever needed to go out without them, she would be there. That was just the way it was for people like me. Although dwindling in number, we each had a chaperone. In the case of Mrs. Mayapple and myself, we got along okay. Although we didn’t get into many lengthy conversations, she loved board games and smelled like cinnamon, my favorite scent. Today we sat in the parlor with the windows open, letting the crisp air and the golden light of late afternoon pour in. As we spoke, her cheery face twisted into a knowing grin.
“You know, it’s almost your turn, Gwen.” Her eyes became two crescent moons as her plump cheeks rose.
Through the window I saw the orange tabby cat that made its home in our pumpkin patch. The orange fluff spread itself against a large gourd.
“I know.” Setting my slice aside, I resisted the urge to fidget with the sleeve of my sweater.
I was not exactly sure how I felt about my turn coming up so soon. It always seemed like it was a long way off. But sure enough, I would be right after Sarah Leslieh. I grimaced at the thought. I’d never liked her. She was not nice to anyone who had a turn after her. But I guessed she would be lonely now. Mrs. Mayapple turned to me, grabbing both of my hands in excitement.
“Are we going to go support your friend Sarah today?” The crescents brightened as she spoke.
I shifted my shoulders in an attempt to shake off my grudge. “I guess so.”
She wasn’t my friend, but I’d go. After all, I hoped people would come support me when it was my turn. It had been a long wait, but it would be over for both of us soon. I grabbed my favorite red jacket and a pair of boots, and we were out the door. The layers of amber and crimson leaves dazzled my eyes as we set off down the street. Those that the trees discarded crunched under my feet as I walked. Mrs. Mayapple sidled along beside me.
As we walked, I took the opportunity to take everything in. Pumpkin Falls was a pretty little town with picket fences. Flocks of children dotted the well-manicured yards, playing a multitude of games that would only be understood if one could see into the farthest reaches of a child’s mind. Even the houses looked happy, all different, but each with an equally amiable personality. It looked like a place one would see many smiling women carrying casseroles to their neighbors’ houses for one reason or another. I had seen one or two, but had heard rumors of many more. Against my will, my thoughts drifted to Sarah.
Although Sarah and I led the same privileged life, we never really “hung out.” We were two of about ten of our kind that got to skip the line at the movie theater. She would pick up her complimentary popcorn and walk with her friends to their reserved seats. There was always one reserved for me, but I hated small talk, so I would walk past them and sit in the back with everyone else. At Lulu’s Diner, Sarah and her friends would sit in the same booth to enjoy their free breakfast, their chaperones always in the neighboring booth, of course. I, on the other hand, would see them in the window and decide that Mrs. Mayapple and I would eat elsewhere. They were so annoying, always blathering on about how important they were. Well, I guess they were talking about how important we were, how we “played an important role in our little town.” But Sarah still thought she was the purest of us all. Early on, I used to sit with them in the booth and watch Sarah stuff her face in hopes that she would finally get fat. Sadly, she never did.
The sun began to set as we made our way into town. Paper lanterns in various colors lit the streets. Mrs. Mayapple babbled cheerily as we walked by the vendors with a variety of wares. The longest line was for the pumpkin pies. No surprise there; that was why we were all here, after all. People from all over the state came to town just for them. In fact, they sold so well, we were able to build a new town hall from all the out-of-county sales.
“Gwen?” A cheery voice rang out against the wind.
It was Sarah, still slender even bundled up in a jacket and scarf. She waved at me with a gloved hand. Her thick, golden hair flowed down her shoulders in ringlet curls. If I didn’t know better, I would have mistaken her for a nymph.
“Oh–hi, Sarah.” I was cordial. It was her turn after all.
Like a ballerina, she closed the distance in a few graceful strides. “I was hoping you’d come.” She flashed a broad grin.
“Yeah, um, I wanted to make sure someone was here to support you.” Her blue eyes grew dim.
“Yes, well, I appreciate it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Actually, I never thought you liked me very much.”
My stomach dropped. “Is that so?”
“Yes, but I’m so glad I was wrong. I actually blamed myself. I know I can talk a lot about myself and our purpose. I imagine that it could be hard to think about every day. So I’m sorry if I drove you away from the group.” She put a hand on my arm and looked at me with earnest eyes. “In fact, I always admired you, Gwen. You were never afraid to go your own way. You even gave up some of your privileges to have as normal a life as possible. I think we could all learn from that”
Against my better judgment, I felt a rush of compassion for Sarah. I began to question whether we could have been friends after all. Maybe I had judged her too quickly. Maybe I should tell her that all of this was stupid and that I would distract everyone if she wanted to leave.
A crowd had begun to gather around the stage. It was time for Sarah’s turn. She gave me a slight smile. Her hand dropped as she turned and made her way through the crowd.
As Sarah stepped onto the stage, her face held the same serenity that it always had. The town cheered as the band stopped their playing and stepped aside. Mayor Laurence bumbled clumsily up the steps until he arrived at Sarah’s side. He found his balance and smoothed his bushy black mustache.
“Are you ready, Sarah?” he asked with the excitement of a child on Christmas Eve. It was clear the anticipation was killing him.
She beamed. “Yes sir, Mr. Mayor. This is such an honor!” I felt a lump in my throat.
Mayor Laurence’s cheeks flushed. “Fantastic!” He fidgeted with his pocket watch. “Are you ready, Tom?”
Tom, the young man who worked as a bagger at the grocery store and part-time chopping firewood, took a step forward with an ax in his hands. Tom, in his new green flannel shirt, stood at perfect attention. “I’m ready, sir.” He flashed an impish grin which drew an audible sigh from one or two young women.
I wanted to scream.
Sarah’s family looked on with smiles as Tom stepped forward.
Then with a few swings, then a couple more, Sarah’s turn was over. Her blood was all over Tom’s new shirt. The rest of it would be collected into a bucket and diluted to water the pumpkin patches. Her perfect head now sat in a basket waiting to be prepared. The brain would soon be taken to be pureed and mixed into the pie filling for the town officials’ ceremonial pie. We left shortly after the ceremony, my eyes stinging.
After Mrs. Mayapple delivered me safely home, there was a piece of pumpkin pie waiting for me. I sat down at the table and took a bite. An unbidden tear rolled off of my cheek. It would be my turn next year. What an honor it is.