“Mary! Mary, wake up!” Distantly, I heard someone calling me. I rolled over, my eyes still shut. “Mary!”
“… There’s cake!”
My eyes shot open. Somewhat blinded by the morning light, I stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen. Upon entering, I saw Alice at the stove. She heard me and turned round, greeting me with a smile.
“Good morning, Mary,” she said, transferring some food to a plate. “I hope you slept well. I made you breakfast!”
“That’s not cake,” I said, taking a seat at a stool by the counter. “You lied to me!”
Alice giggled. “Pancakes are close enough, aren’t they?” she said as she set the plate of food next to me. On it sat a few bright red strawberries and two golden-brown pancakes, delicately rolled and dusted lightly with sugar. To the side were a couple strips of bacon. I immediately became transfixed by the sweet smell and forgot all about my complaints. I took my fork, drew it to my mouth, and froze. I glanced at Alice out of the corner of my eye, where she was preparing her own breakfast.
… Is she still an awful cook?
I looked back at my fork, my mouth still open.
I hesitated. O-only one way to find out.
Closing my eyes, I took a bite.
… Then several more.
I supposed her practice had paid off.
“Are these strawberries from the field out back?” I asked, munching one of the pieces of fruit.
“Yes,” said Alice. “I brought some in this morning for breakfast. Do you still want to go out and pick some for the pie?”
“Oh, yes!” I said, hopping down from the stool. I thanked her for breakfast, then ran upstairs and exchanged my nightgown for a pastel blue dress. On my way out of my room, I stopped and looked in the mirror.
I guess that’s fine… I thought.
I bounced back down the steps and saw Alice putting away the dishes.
“Are you ready to go to the field yet?” I asked, rocking back and forth on my toes.
“Let me get my hat,” she said. “The field is that way.” She pointed past the kitchen. I hummed to myself as I skipped to the door and out into the sunshine. I breathed in the clean air and smiled wide. I hopped in place. A little ways out was a large field, with rows of bushy green plants that were dotted with red berries. Surrounding the field were trees like the ones I had seen when I arrived at the villa.
I heard the door open behind me. Alice came out, two large woven baskets stacked on top of one another in her arms. She walked out in front of me and set the baskets down.
“Hmm… That should be all we need,” she said. A gust of wind picked up, and she closed her eyes, holding on tightly to her straw hat. “It’s rather windy out, isn’t it?” she said, looking round. “It will probably rain tomorrow. It’s a good day to pick these.”
We went out into the field and started gathering strawberries. It was late in the month, and they were just beginning to ripen. We searched the field for the early bloomers, picking for the freshest berries we could find. I passed by a few rows of greenish-looking ones.
“It’s okay,” I said quietly, crouching down and examining them. “You’ll be all red and pretty soon.” My mother always told me it was good to talk to plants. She said it made them happy, and that they’d grow faster if you did that. I didn’t know why some of the berries ripened faster than others… If they were all planted at the same time, shouldn’t they grow at the same pace? I moved on to the next patch and continued my search. My luck wasn’t very good. I stood up and looked round as another gust of wind came through. I saw Alice gathering some strawberries a few rows over.
Maybe I’ll have better luck if I try where she is, I thought. I walked over to where she was sitting.
“Have you found much?” asked Alice.
I showed her my basket. “Only a little,” I said. “I thought I’d help you instead.”
“I welcome the company,” she said. She resumed gathering strawberries from one of the bushes, checking each one over for damage. I sat and started to help her.
“When I was young, my grandfather and I would come out here sometimes to pick strawberries,” said Alice. “Other times, we would walk around and talk for a while. I would ask him about his life in Scotland, and about history. He always had an answer for whatever I asked.” She smiled. “I thought he knew everything.”
“Did he know any good stories?” I asked.
Alice nodded. “He told me lots of stories. He would tell me fairy-tales and things like that.”
“I like fairies,” I said.
“Do you?” asked Alice.
“I think they’re pretty,” I said.
“Have you ever seen one?” asked Alice.
“O-oh, I mean, I—I like to imagine they are…” I said, looking down at the strawberry I twirled with one hand.
“Oh…” said Alice. She looked a little disappointed.
I paused. “I’m hungry,” I said.
“We’ll get lunch after we finish here. It’s best that we do it now before it gets too hot out.”
❀ ❀ ❀
After a while, I began to grow tired. My basket was nearly full, and it was getting heavy. I saw Alice coming back from inside, where she had taken her basket.
“Do you need any help?” she called as she walked in my direction.
“N-no, I’ve got it!” I shouted back. I picked it up again and wobbled a bit. Why had I tried to fill it all the way before taking it back? I focused on the back door and narrowed my eyes, walking as steadily as I could. I picked up my pace as Alice came near. Just as I passed her, my foot caught on a rock and I tripped, the basket falling from my arms. I gasped as strawberries tumbled all over the ground.
“Oh dear, let me help you,” Alice said, extending her hand towards me. I pushed it away.
“I-I’m fine!” I said quickly, standing up and righting my basket, replacing the strawberries that had fallen out. “Really, I’ve got it,” I mumbled to myself. “I don’t need any help.” I lowered my head as I felt my cheeks become warm. I continued carrying the basket to the villa, a little more slowly this time. Once I was indoors, I put my basket alongside Alice’s in the kitchen and promptly fell onto the nearest sofa, draping one arm off to the side. I was breathing heavily, and I was very hot. I didn’t remember picking strawberries being so much work. Alice walked in, taking her hat off.
“Are you alright?” she asked, looking concerned.
“Y-yes. Yes. I’m fine!” I replied. “You don’t need to worry about me.”
“You look like you’ve just been out for a run,” she said, smiling.
“I don’t do this often!” I replied.
“Perhaps this may be of use,” said Sebastian, who had appeared seemingly out of thin air. He was holding a glass of iced water. I took it and gulped down half the glass within seconds. I shivered as I felt the cold rush through my body. I sat up, still breathing heavily.
“Thank you, Sebastian,” said Alice. “I’ll be in the kitchen. I’m going to make a list of the things we need to bake the pie later.”
“Oh, oh, let me help you!” I said, standing up and running after her.
“Could you get a pen and write these down for me, please?” she asked, turning to the cupboards and looking through them. She rattled off a list of ingredients. We would need to go into town, and since it was nearly lunchtime we decided we would eat before shopping. I was excited to get outside and see more of the market, since I hadn’t gotten to see much of it on my way here. Alice put away her hat and found a parasol, and we went on our way.
❀ ❀ ❀
The sun bore down as we entered town. My shoes clicked sharply as I skipped down the multi-coloured cobblestone path, humming to myself. Alice walked by my side, with light footsteps. We turned a corner and found an array of different shops and restaurants. People were milling about, some carrying groceries, others simply enjoying the weather.
“Well, then, what would you like to eat?” Alice asked.
I snapped back to reality. “What? Oh, um…”
“There’s a café down the block that has wonderful sandwiches and soups. I and a friend of mine go by there often.”
I frowned. “Do they have egg mayonnaise?”
Alice looked up in thought. “Hmm… They might.”
That was good enough for me. I put my fist in the air and smiled widely. “Let’s go!” I shouted.
As I said this, a tall, large woman came up to us. I pulled my fist down and stepped backwards, blushing.
“Oh, good afternoon Alice,” said the woman in a loud voice. “I haven’t seen you since school let out. How have you been?“
“O-oh, hello Mrs. Tatham,” she replied. “I-I’ve been alright.”
“And who’s this sweet little girl?” the woman asked, patting my head.
I stepped back and scowled. “Excuse me!” I shouted. “What do you—”
“This, is my cousin Mary,” Alice interrupted, laughing nervously. “She’s visiting for the summer.”
“She’s precious,” said the woman. I started to wish I had put my fist up in the air a little later.
“Keeping up with your studies, aren’t you?” she asked Alice with a smile.
“Yes, Mrs. Tatham,” Alice replied, nodding.
“Good,” she said. “We’re expecting great things from you, my dear. You’ll be the finest alum our school has ever seen!”
“I don’t know about that—” Alice began.
“Keep it up, and take care, will you? Remind me to come by and say hello to your mother.” With that, she walked off.
“That was my English teacher, Mrs. Tatham,” said Alice.
“I don’t like her,” I said.
“Don’t worry about her,” Alice replied. “She meant well. Aren’t you hungry? The café is this way.”
Reminded of my anticipation for lunch, I resumed skipping down the pavement. We passed by a fish market, a bookstore, and some other places I was too hungry to bother remembering. I stopped at a white building with large glass windows and doors.
“Is this it?” I asked, pointing to the textured oval-shaped metal sign above me.
“Yes,” said Alice as she caught up to me. She closed her parasol and we went inside.
A tall young man in a black and white uniform greeted us.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” he said. “My name is Johansen. How might I help you?”
“T-table for two, please,” said Alice.
“Absolutely,” the man replied. “This way, if you please.”
He showed us to our table. We were seated next to one of the windows. Its curtains were drawn back to let the light in. We looked at the menus. Listed were a large variety of sandwiches, salads, and soups. I didn’t mind any of that; instead, I scanned it for the one item on my mind. I found it quickly.
The man returned with two cups of tea. “Can I get you anything to eat?” he asked.
Alice looked up from her menu. “I-I’d like the—the sausage and kale soup, please.”
“You have exquisite taste,” he commented. He looked at me next. “And you?”
“I—” I glanced at Alice for a split second, then back at our waiter. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
“Wonderful,” he said. “I’ll be right back,” he said, smiling.
Once he left, I looked at Alice and started snickering.
“Mary!” said Alice in a hushed tone.
“What was that?” I asked.
“What do you mean? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She looked down at her menu.
“Yes, you do,” I said, grinning wider.
Silently, she sipped her tea.
“Do you have many friends at school?” I asked suddenly.
“What? Oh… I have a few.” She sat up a little straighter. “Actually, my friend, Elli, will be coming by later this week. I think you two would get along nicely.”
“Oh? What’s she like?”
“She’s a little eccentric, but we’re very close. She’s trustworthy. I think that’s her best quality.”
“How did you meet?” I asked.
Alice rested her chin on her hand. “We met in class a few years ago. One time, she didn’t revise at all until the day before an exam, so… She came to me for help. I had already prepared, so I let her use my notes. She passed the exam, and… We’ve been friends since then.”
“She sounds fun,” I said, putting my elbows on the table and resting my head in my hands.
Alice laughed. “She is.” She paused. “What about you?”
“Hmm?” I asked, raising my head.
“Do you have many friends at school?”
“Oh, quite a lot,” I said, reaching for my tea.
“What are they like?” she asked.
“They’re nice,” I replied. “We study together sometimes.”
“That’s all?” Alice asked, smiling.
“Well… I don’t really have a best friend or anything,” I said.
“It’s good to find someone you can open up to about anything,” said Alice. “People are open books, always writing their own stories. Those who want to make you a part of theirs are very special. You should get to know those people. You’ll miss out on many wonderful things if you don’t.”
The man returned with our food.
“Here are your orders,” he said, placing them in front of us. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“No—no, um, thank you,” said Alice.
I put my head down, restraining a giggle. I held my breath, but it was no use. I snorted and began laughing loudly.
“Mary, stop, p-people will stare!” Alice whispered, looking round. I forced myself to regain my composure. We started to eat.
I poked at my soup. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t as appetising as I had hoped. I took a spoonful and recoiled at the taste. I looked at Alice, who was eating quietly. I couldn’t just order something else now… I tried another bite, wincing.
“Do you not like it?” asked Alice. “I can get you something el—”
“No, no, I don’t mind!” I said.
“Oh… If you say so,” said Alice.
We finished our meal. Alice paid for the food, and curtseyed to our server as she left the building. I couldn’t resist myself, and as soon as Alice’s back was turned, I pointed to her, winking at our server and giving him a thumbs-up before joining her outside.
“Do you still have the list?” asked Alice, opening her parasol.
“Got it!” I said, holding it up high.
“Wonderful! The market is across the street from here.”
As we neared the market, a stout, bald man approached us, holding out flyers. “We sell the finest kitchens in town!” he said loud gruff voice, smiling widely. “We have sales on everything! Even the kitchen sink!”
Alice looked too stunned to say anything. I was not.
“We’re a bit occupied right now,” I said, trying my best to remain civil. The man continued smiling, his enthusiasm as unconvincing as his claims.
“If you ever need one, you know where to find me!” he shouted.
I said nothing, taking Alice by the arm and pulling her the rest of the way to our destination. I muttered under my breath, and put it out of my mind.
We went inside and found the items we needed. Alice paid for the ingredients, and as we left the market, the salesman from before approached us again, holding out more flyers. I took one of the them.
“This is useless!” I said, tossing it aside. “Do I look like someone who needs a kitchen?” The salesman’s smile faded. I continued.
“What would someone like me do with a kitchen anyway? How does one even sell an entire kitchen? What, do you just load the entire thing, counters and all, onto a carriage, and cart it to some poor person’s house? What is a person supposed to do then? ‘Hello, here’s your brand-new kitchen, stocked with the most useless items money can buy! We’ll just leave it on your porch and let you collect it!’ You clearly don’t—”
Alice covered my mouth and pulled me back, forcing a smile. “Thank you very much for your offer, sir, but we must be leaving. Have a lovely day.” She curtseyed and walked off, dragging me along.
“What was that about?” I asked, frowning.
“He’s just doing his job!” said Alice in a hushed tone. “Look at him.”
I did so. He was back to his work, speaking eagerly and passing out flyers to anyone who was unfortunate enough to walk within hearing distance. Most people ignored him.
“Imagine if you were in his position,” she continued. “No greetings, no smiles, all day long. It’s remarkable that he can keep it up after all that. I don’t think he wants to be doing this, but it’s the only thing he has.”
I crossed my arms. “He should just send out an ad in the paper like everyone else.”
Alice sighed. “Come along, we must get started on that pie now that we have everything we need,” she said. She adjusted her grip on the ingredients we bought, holding them up a little higher.
“Oh! Yes, yes, the pie!” I said, bouncing in place. Alice stifled a giggle. I stopped jumping and cleared my throat. I straightened my posture and smoothened out my dress, and we hurried back for the villa.