“Evangeline, what is WRONG with your sugar?”
There were too many people in Eva’s kitchen.
“Aunt Eva, where do you keep your star anise?”
“What do you need star anise for, Bellamy Jane?”
“Her middle name isn’t Jane…”
“Well, it ought to be.”
There were too many relatives in Eva’s kitchen.
“I like my middle name just fine! Aunt Eva…?”
It wasn’t fair of her, Eva knew. The family did this every year for the church smogash board. It was just, every year before this, it hadn’t been in Eva’s kitchen, because this was the first autumn she had been the Aunt.
“Bel, the star anise is on the top shelf of the cupboard to the left of the stove, and Aunt Rachel, I’m not sure what you mean by the sugar. It’s brand new, what’s going wrong?”
“It’s not holding this charm right at all.” Aunt Rachel was not by far Eva’s favorite relative, but she was a whiz with things like this – charmed baking, baking-with-a-purpose, as Aunt Asta had preferred to call it. “Something about it is twisting it towards the, ah, the red.”
“Towards the red?” complained Ramona, she who didn’t like Bellamy’s proper middle name. “What do you mean by that, Rachel?”
“I mean exactly towards the-”
“Oh!” Eva interrupted before it could turn into a brawl of old ladies. “It’s beet sugar, Aunt Rachel. It’s made from beetroot instead of from sugar cane.” She held up the bag and pointed at the appropriate line on the bag. “Bel, Beryl, go down into the cellar and bring up the older sugar, see if that’s made from sugar cane. Now, Aunt Rachel, what exactly are you trying to do with the pie? I thought we were aiming for peace-and-good-will, prosperity and community? Those ride on the cinnamon and the milk, the milk we got from the Hills’ farm, remember?”
“Oh, what do you know?”
There were any number of things Eva could say to that; she chose, in the silence that hung suddenly in the kitchen – in her kitchen – to say nothing.
A moment passed. Another moment. Nobody moved.
Slowly, Rachel turned to look at Eva. “There’s always someone who needs a little extra help. And the sugar carries the extra help.” Something in her voice shifted, and she was almost wheedling. It wasn’t a pleasant tone in a woman of her age. “You remember Denny Sharp, right? You remember how much trouble he was causing? Or Lisa Dowell? That whole thing with the pastor’s son…”
Eva shook her head. “All right. Let’s look at this pie and see what’s going wrong with the sugar. Maybe if the girls can’t find some cane sugar, we can come up with something else that will fix it.”
She nudged her aunt over with a gentle hip-push and tasted the filling, while around her the gathered relatives finally started talking again. A small victory, she allowed, but her tenure as Aunt was going to be built on little wins. And, it seemed, on pies.