Jennifer Stewart

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The Exchange

From below, an unrelenting knocking upon the door breaks into her Saturday lie-in, her sanctuary of solitude. She doesn’t wish to interact or be disturbed. But no one else is home. So she clutches the banister and feels every shag stairstep down to see a boy, barefoot as she, standing on the front porch. Leggy limbs have a shameless running start, the trousers and shirt lagging behind, a bit demoralised. He is clothed in solemn tones of Amish plain dress; his crown of blood orange curls are live wires writhing in sacrilege by contrast. He is, she muses, a struck match, head aflame, pinewood handle gone to cinder. Chapped lips split in a wide grin as he introduces himself. His name might be Eli. But she’s distracted by the basket of strawberries he thrusts in her direction. Her hands accept them slowly, her mind still upstairs in bed, until he explains. The berries are for letting him fish the pond. He smiles again, nods, then walks to the buggy to get his fishing pole. From the corner of her eye, she swears she sees him exit like the angel too-wonderful-to-be-named, herald of hot-head Samson, ascending on a flame of burnt offering, Can I get a witness? Closing the door on the fates of bass and bluegill, she enters the sunlit kitchen to clean and cut strawberries. Their sensitive red flesh baptised in a dish of water; each heart shape is rescued one by one so as not to bruise. As she prepares her feast, she wonders about those scars on his hands: Is there a matching set under all that dust and ash on his feet?

Jennifer Stewart ran wild across acres with imaginative sisters, Doberman Pinschers, Rhode Island Red chickens, Quarter Horses, Black Angus cattle, and occasionally, Bigfoot; now, she runs somewhat respectably through her suburban neighborhood. A teacher, poet, wife, and mother, she’s finding her little way through middle life. She reviews movies here.

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Artwork: Strawberries by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c.1905.

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