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Friday, 30 November 2007

My Mother's Last Pie

When I arrived, it was sitting on the counter. I hadn't fully expected to see it, a part of me thinking that it couldn't be real. But there it was, looking more or less like I remembered. Maybe the color of the crust had changed, but it just looked so typical. Like any other of my mother's pies.

I looked at the knife holes in the crust, searching for special meanings, but there were none. They looked hasty, as if the pie had been assembled as part of a larger process and not prepared specifically for this occasion. Indeed, it had been one of many pies that she'd made that day and frozen unbaked.

Like all her best pies, it was apricot. The baked syrup had bubbled out the slits in the top and around the sides, as normal. It was a little bit browner than usual. My sister-in-law apologized for leaving it in the oven too long.

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe we were going to eat it. I couldn't believe the general lightness of mood. I tried, gently, to broach the topic with my brother who seemed puzzled by my point of view. I tried a different track, "This pie should be enrolled in the first grade."

He laughed, "It's not that old!"

"Actually it is. We found a label on it that said '2001'" said his wife.

"It would have to be." I concurred. "Mom died in 2002 and didn't have a chance to make any pies that year."

My brother shrugged it off and turned his attention to the thanksgiving turkey. I tried to ignore the pie, sitting there. Eventually, it got moved to the top of the refrigerator in order to clear up counter space. It almost slipped from my mind. Except that it didn't slip from my mind at all.

I had plans to spend the night at a friend's house. She arrived at my brother's house in time for dessert and with an entourage. Encouraged by her presence, I again tried to cast doubt on the advisability of eating a six year old pie. "What if the power went out or something while it was frozen?"

My dad explained that he had given the last three pies to my brother over 2 years ago. My brother said, "the first thing I did was bake one of them and eat it. It was delicious." He saved the second one for last thanksgiving and the third one for this year. It was the last pie made by mother that anyone would ever eat.

As to a power failure, he'd had one for three days. After the first 45 minutes, he'd rushed the pie over to his neighbor's (still working) freezer for safe-keeping. The pie was still frozen solid at the time and, he argued, unharmed.

My friend was a biologist. Normally when I see her consume something, I feel like it's risk levels are acceptably low. So when dessert was served and she took a bite of the pie, I felt like maybe I could too. Still, I spent a long time thinking about it, voicing my objections. My brother assured me that he was just as happy to eat my share and I didn't need to.

This pie would surely kill us all.

How could they not see that eating this pie, made by mother those six years ago, before any of knew she had cancer, when she seemed well, how could it not kill us to eat it? But they ate and didn't die immediately, so I asked for a slice.

I stared at the tiny sliver on my plate for a long time. It was a different color than I remembered her pies. The fruit had browned slightly with age. I took a tiny bite. I chewed slowly. And then another bite.

Did it's age change it's taste? The texture was different. It was more like a pie made with jam than with whole slices of fruit. But the taste, I don't know. I can't think of it now. I couldn't think of it between swallowing one bite and putting the next in my mouth. Now, I don't know if I could even remember the taste of her pies when they were new: fruit picked and baked on the same day.

Instead with every bite, the undeniable truth - that this pie would certainly kill us in horrible ways - got harder to ignore. This was a mausoleum pie. Not a pie for the living.

I took three or four bites in total and then looked sadly at my plate. It was my last ever chance to eat my mother's pie. Her apricot pie. Her specialty. Something she excelled at. Made with love. I would never again have the opportunity to eat such a thing and I couldn't do it. I felt like an important moment had come and I wasn't up to the task. I felt like crying. I worried I would forever remember the terrible moment of having to choose between total panic and rejecting the pie. My sister in law informed me kindly that it wasn't a big deal. Nobody thought it was a big deal. Not my dad who provided the pie. Not my brother who saved the pie. Not my sister in law who baked the pie. Not the friend of my mom who arrived in time for dessert. Nobody.

Except for me.

I knew my truth of death-dealing pie was irrational, but there was no visible middle ground between joyous object and horrifying object. No room to grieve for the pie or for myself.

I'd also brought a pie. In case we decided not to eat the other one. It was a sweet potato pie. I took it with me when I left. My brother hoped I would leave it, but his wife told me not to, fondly patting his stomach. One left over pie for him to eat was enough.

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