k a t y    g u n n

Why Jenny Needs to Shut Her Mouth

 

Jenny needs to shut her mouth about Grandmama’s milk because what does Jenny know, in her stupid glitter shoes and her Pac-Man book bag with the Pac-Man lunchbox like she’s some kind of hip throwback from somewhere, like she knows anything at all, no ma’am Jenny with her lunchbox full of green grapes or rainbow fish crackers or whatever she wants doesn’t know anything about anything in Grandmama’s refrigerator, and she won’t come close to understanding until she starts listening to Grandmama the way I do, sitting at the kitchen table with her, folding clothes or clipping coupons or clipping and painting Grandmama’s toenails the plum purplish blue that Jenny probably doesn’t even know Grandmama likes more than plain red or pink, since plums are the undeniable best, as Grandmama says, the best fruit she ever ate, best straight from the trees in her Mama’s backyard (a truth agreed upon by her sisters Joyce and Jean and Marie and Dorothy and Gayle and her brother Ricky and her brother Charles may he rest in piece), and probably just as good cut up in sugar icing by the surprisingly-nice German baker who rented Grandmama his basement in Hesse after the war, and probably even he would agree about the significance of plums, vehemently, since he always put such plums on his Wednesday morning cakes and these were the bestselling cakes at his bakery, which Grandmama would know, having observed a lot of this particular bakery’s goings-on (and eaten a lot of its cake) ever since that Wednesday she moved into the surprisingly-nice German baker’s basement and he gave her a free slice of plum-topped cake, which she liked so much that he gave her a slice every Wednesday after that, one slice for free every single week, the nice baker, though he might have stopped if he knew she always saved the slice for her husband’s day off, craving the sweet but waiting all night, knowing her husband Jimmie our Granddaddy would make her wait worthwhile by remarking how delicious the plums were in the almost-fresh cream and how he liked the taste of them almost as much as he liked the looks of her, powdered in her pressed green dress and waiting for him at the window of the bakery under which she lived with the two cats, no mice, some hundred bags of flour, and the short stacks of books she read when the soldiers’ boots stomping so close to her two-inch-tall glass slit of moonlight kept her awake at night, but in daytime on Thursdays she forgot about the bad nights and the plots of her books because that was when she saw her husband the hero Jimmie our Granddaddy, who would break off a piece of cake with his fingers, making sure to catch the darkest chunk of plum, and then hold it up to her mouth so she would bite it and eat it and think that some of Germany isn’t so bad after all, or at least some of Hesse, where she was always close to our Granddaddy not getting blown up and able to reward him for it every week with plum cake, and Germany, Grandmama says with worldview and a relish, does know its cake, at least, and she guesses it might have okay food all-around, though she can’t be sure, not having tasted much more than the bread (rye-wheat and wheat-rye and dark rye with pumpkin seeds) she ate for every meal to avoid going outside, the bread that left her stomach soft enough but spongy, too, with too many spaces where stewed tomatoes and collard greens should have gone, since her stomach was used to eating these vegetables in pounds because she ran the cooking for her Mama and Joyce and Jean and Marie and Dorothy and Ricky and Charles and Gayle before the hero Jimmy our Granddaddy turned seventeen and went to fix Germany and took her with him, moved her from a kitchen where she had to figure out how to feed a Mama and two brothers and five sisters with a vegetable patch and into a basement where she saved and ate only hard bread and hard bread with nuts on top and once a week half a slice of day-old cake, which Grandmama couldn’t even keep in the refrigerator, since she didn’t have one, as Jenny would know if she ever shut her mouth and listened or at least unstuck her face from the mirror or the TV or the refrigerator, where her face is now, complaining about Grandmama’s milk being chunky, like she’s always complaining about something, but if Jenny ever shut her mouth long enough to know anything, she would know that Grandmama’s going to use that milk for something great, maybe a Wednesday cake, and when Grandmama does that, the chunks won’t even matter.

 

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KATY GUNN is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama, and has recently had writing in Slice Magazine, Cellpoems, and the Tuscaloosa issue of The Offending Adam.


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