The pie on the kitchen counter is made with love. Mamma says that is the secret ingredient in all her pies. There is always a pie on the counter. Mamma makes them every morning. By the time the birds wake up Mamma is mixing sugar and butter. The entire house smells like her creations when she is done.
Mamma never lets me have any of her pies, she says they are for our guests. We almost always have guests. Hospitality is another one of her talents. Mamma says every good southern woman has it. Mine is taking a little while to get here.
Our guests never seem to share Mamma’s love for hospitality. They are all big city men who come late at night, their big city boots track mud on the floors, and their bags, stuffed to full of their city lives, take up so much space in our halls.
It’s my job to take their bags to their room when they arrive. I hate the way they smile at me after. Yellow teeth the color the daffodils in the garden. Mamma says their teeth are like that from to much city air. I wonder if the city air also makes their voices so rough. I hate seeing their sour footsteps lingering around all of Mamma’s sugar. When I tell Mamma this she just laughs and tells me to do what I’m told.
“All proper ladies use manners” She coos, sweeping the dirt off the floor. So I don’t complain when their shiny cars pulls into our driveways anymore.
“Thank you.” I say, “Enjoy your stay.” Sometimes one of Mamma’s guests will ask me questions. I just smile and pretend I don’t hear them. Sometimes it’s hard though, and Mamma scolds me later for being rude.
Every guest only stays for one night, that’s the rule. Their bags are always still there. Even after the time is up. They just up and leaves their fancy suits and shiny shoes. Sometimes they even leave gold watches the dressers.
“I hate these big city people.” I whispered to Mamma one night. Mamma just laughed and told me that hate was an ugly emotion, and that I was too sweet to get caught up in something like that. I laughed to but it didn’t make me any less mad. I wonder what is is like to be so rich that they can just leave what is theirs.
After Mamma finishes her pie we clean. Mamma cleans the floor while I wash the bedding. When I come down stairs the whole house smells like sugar and rosemary again. Just like Mamma.
“We’ll make a game of it,” She says, “Even cleaning can be fun when I’m with you.”
Next Mamma and I will gather up all of our guests belongings. What she can’t burn she’ll bury. Sometimes the fires will last all night. I used to worry that the fire will get to high and burn down our whole house, but Mamma started bringing out marshmallows and blankets so we could keep an eye on it. Now I don’t worry so much. Sometimes I will dance around the fire until my feet hurt, celebrating that no more city is left in our house. At least till the next one pulls into our driveway.
Every guest is the same, and everyone has a piece of pie before they leave. Mamma makes sure of that. She says that a good piece of pie will warm the soul and keep them safe on their journey. They all may laugh, but every one takes a slice. That is the power Mamma has over people.
Sometimes I ask Mamma why I can’t have friends over. Mamma says that part of the magic is in the secret. Me and Mamma have lots of secrets. I am the only person Mamma can trust.
“That is why you must not worry about the guests. They will be gone by the time you wake up.” Mamma whispers. They always are.
Mamma says the world lacks trustworthy people. That is why we should be so glad we have each other.
“I don’t know what I would do without you my love.” She hugs me and the whole world smells like Mamma, like sugar and blueberries, apples and cinnamon, rhubarb and lavender. She wakes me up with the sun so we can start the day together. She dances around my room until I am out of the covers and on my feet.
“Good morning love!” She sings, arms swishing over head and apron swirling around her hips.
On the mornings after our guest leave however she smells like dirt and forest. She doesn’t dance and the sun has already woken up. We won’t get to start the day together. On those days Mamma bakes. She bakes all morning and never lets me into the kitchen. When she comes out she feels better and smells once again like sweet things. She asks me if I want to help her clean. I always say yes.
When the man dressed in blue knocks on our door Mamma is still in the kitchen baking a pie. She never has guests back to back. Mamma doesn’t like it when I bother her in the kitchen. I think about sending him away and telling him to come back when she is done, but that wouldn’t be a good manners and Mamma would be angry.
“Can I take your bags.” I offer. The man does not seem to have a bag with him. His suit is weird with lots of patches on it. Nothing like Mamma's usual guests. It also has a metal badge on the front which I hope he doesn’t leave because it won’t burn and we will have to go through the trouble of burying it.
“Are you here all by yourself?” He asks. He does not say anything about bags but I keep my hand out anyway hoping it will remind him. It does not.
“Mamma is in the kitchen. She isn’t ready for guests, but I can take your bags to your room so y’all can get settled.” I give the man my best smile, but he doesn’t seem to notice. A few more men in the same blue suit come up, none of them have bags either.
“Can you fetch her for us?” He asks, kneeling down so I can see the individual hairs of his beard. Mamma says that people with facial hair are known for devious character. I don’t like how pie gets stuck in their beards.
“I can take your bags.” My smile is getting harder to force. The men in the matching blue share a look with each other. My arm is getting tired but I’m afraid Mamma will walk out of the kitchen and ask why I haven’t taken proper care of her guests.
The man looks like he is about to ask again but one of his friends nudges his arm. He looks up and I follow his eyes. Mamma is walking towards us. I try to telepathically warn her that these guys are weirdos. She smiles and extends her hand. The man shakes it, but pulls away fast. His hands go back to hovering around her belt.
“Hello officers, What can I do for you today?” She says.
“Sorry to bother you ma'am but we’re here to speak about a Mr. Jefferson Moes. He apparently stayed here a few weeks ago.” The men asks.
“Of course, come on into the dinning room. Can I get you a piece of pie. Fresh out of the oven.” Mamma’s smile never wavers but her steps are stiff and quick.
One of the men stays and sits with me on the couch. He asks me questions about me and Mamma, like how long we’ve lived here, and where my daddy is. He asks about the guests as well, he seems especially interested in the fires. I answer honestly because Mamma says that people of purity don’t lie. Even to strange men who wear ugly blue suits with lots of patches, don’t come with bags and refuse to eat your Mamma’s pies.
He doesn’t move his hands when he talks, he keeps them firmly in his lap. Like a statue. The only thing that moves are his lips.
“Would you like to see one of the fires? It’s not lit right now but if you stay for supper it will be.” I ask. Mamma never lets guest stay for them but she never said anything against it. Mamma is usually pretty clear about what sort of things are against the rules.
He says yes and I lead him through the glass door to the path in the backyard. Usually Mamma wants me to tell her when I leave the house alone, but she is busy with the other men right now, and I am not alone.
He doesn’t ask me anymore questions until we get to the fire pit. The last guests clothes are in a heap, ready to be burned. The man kneels by one of the shirts that has fallen off the pile. I want to tell him not to do that because Mamma will be mad but I don’t want to be rude. He seems pretty focused. I don’t know why, it’s just a standard blue shirt.
“This is sure a lot of stuff to leave behind.” He says, kneeling down by a pair of brown leather shoes.
“Mamma says that big city folk have so much stuff they don’t mind leaving some behind now and then.” I say. The man is walking around the fire pit, pulling on a pair of plastic gloves.
“Why don’t you run back to the house, I’m sure your mother has a piece of pie waiting for you.” He says, his back is turned and I can see the muscles in his neck tick.
“I am not allowed to have any. Mamma says they are for the guests. Nothing like a pie made with love before a journey.” I say quoting Mamma.
“Then we should go back inside. You must be chilly. My friends and I will come out here later.” He says, pulling the gloves off and putting it in one of the pockets in his ugly blue suit.
The man is silent the entire walk back. Mamma is waiting for us by the glass door. At first I was afraid she was angry at me for leaving without telling her, but when she sees us she smiles. She holds out a piece of apple pie to the man.
“I just fed the rest to your buddies. Saved the last piece for you.” She says, smiling he takes the plate.
“Thank you” The man says.
The next day the men’s blue suits are sitting in our fire pit and Mamma is hard at work on another pie. Sitting on the counter next to the sugar and the flour is a bottle of Mamma’s love.
“Our secret.” She says, pouring in a generous helping. No one but Mamma and I know that Mamma’s love comes in a bottle labeled arsenic.