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Apricot Jam~A Short Story
And a call for writing prompts!
For this week’s post, I’m shaking things up a bit. I’m going to share a piece of my fiction with you! And if you are up to flexing your own creative muscles, I’d like to ask for your input on another fictional endeavor. But first some background.
Last year at about this time, I realized that fiction classes for my degree program were at my doorstep. I had concluded the majority of my gen-ed classes and was beginning my core classes. The problem was, except as a child, I had never written fiction, and the thought terrified me. I didn’t enter the program wanting to be a fiction writer, but I also didn’t want to start my first fiction class completely unpracticed. Since I am a person who does better with a goal to attain, I started scouring the internet for writing contests. Mind you, I had no delusions that I would win anything, I just needed that goal to work toward.
I came upon The Oxford Flash Fiction Prize, a biannual international contest, and even though it’s a big contest, and I barely knew the definition of Flash Fiction (which is a micro-story usually between 500 to 1000 words), I decided to give it a shot.
The result was Apricot Jam, which is loosely based on my maternal grandmother whom I was very close to as both a child and an adult. My family had been harvesting apricots from our trees a few weeks prior, and I had made some amazing freezer jam with them. My grandma and apricot jam collided into a story. I entered the story into the contest, and while I did not get short or long-listed, they informed me that my story was in the top third of all entries. I was quite pleased with that result as a first go at fiction!
The contest resurfaced in my mind this past week, and I decided to pop back onto their site to check the summer deadline. It’s August 31, which doesn’t give me a lot of time, but I’m going to enter again anyway. As I’ve now decided to pursue fiction seriously, the more practice the better.
This is where you come in. Often, writing contests give you a prompt. There is an optional prompt for this contest, but it isn’t speaking to me so far. I’d love to hear suggestions from my readers! I’ve pulled a few sample prompts from Reedsy, which is a writing site that hosts weekly contests:
“Begin your story with a librarian searching for something.”
“Write a story involving a friendship with an adorable animal.”
“End your character with two characters reconciling.”
Prompts can really be anything and everything!
Here’s my proposal: I will choose my favorite prompt from those offered (which I will share here if the contributor is comfortable with it), write my story, enter the contest, and share the story after the results are in. If by some miracle I get short or long-listed, I will purchase and send a copy of the printed anthology to the contributor of the prompt. No need to share in the Comments on Substack if that isn’t your cup of tea (but it’s certainly welcomed if you are so inclined). You can email me your prompt suggestions at email@example.com if that is more comfortable for you.
And now without further ado…Apricot Jam.
I gather buckets of apricots today while tottering on Grandma’s wooden ladder. As I harvest, I remember Grandma as a younger woman, perched at the top of this rickety heirloom. In overalls and a floppy sun hat, she deftly plucks her crop.
“They should give a little, Lottie. If they’re hard, leave ‘em another day or so.”
I picture her strong tanned hands, sun-spotted and beginning to age, reaching from the tree to me, as I roost on my own little stool. Hands gnarled and papery now.
A few buckets of apricots off the branches, heaven knows how many off the ground. They fall among the garden bed vines, isolated and scattered from their roots, like Grandma’s memories. Visiting Grandma is like picking apricots. I try to pick memories and preserve them before they end up lost among the tendrils of her confused mind. I harvest from Grandma’s recollections, storing them for my future grandchildren.
“Grandma, tell me about when you first met Grandpa.” It’s her favorite tale.
“Lottie, your grandpa looked just like a cowboy. I always wanted to marry a cowboy,” she says with solemnity. “Well, he was the grandson of a rancher, and he was handsome. I was young enough to believe that would suffice. We rode all the rides at the fair twice and the second time through he held my hand. Five months later we were married.”
“And 10 months after that you had mom,” I tease.
“He just had to look at me and I was pregnant. Not that I’m complaining. I slept with a hairbrush under my pillow all the years we were married, Lottie,” she says winking, as if a hairbrush is the secret impetus to pregnancy.
She isn’t always as lucid as this. Some days she struggles to wrestle her thoughts into a coherent narrative. Like the rambling apricots. Her face brightens when she sees me, but she isn’t sure where I fit. She gives messages to pass on to Mom.
“Tell Rose she needs to give me a ride home today. I don’t understand what’s taking her so long.” I watch her as she gropes with mismatched memories, looking lost and frightened.
I bought my house six months after Grandma moved to assisted living. The house was tiny, but the yard had mature fruit trees. Apricot, apple, and cherry, just like hers. I made an offer before I left the driveway, and my first harvest was apples.
“You have to shred the apples, Lottie. Don’t dice ‘em,” she’d say. “That’s the way John’s mom did it, and her mom before her. He sent me there to learn how to make a proper apple pie. It miffed me until I had a bite.” Shredded apples are the great inheritance of the family.
Now my counters brim with sun-kissed yellow-orange fruit. It’s time for freezer jam, except it’s my first go alone and I miss my teacher. Thoughts of Grandma’s cozy kitchen, gingham curtains flapping in the warm breeze drift in as I slice plump flesh and throw pits into her Pyrex bowl. Mom brought all her kitchenware to me in cardboard boxes when her house sold. It’s all vintage now. Like Grandma.
I chop apricots, measure sugar and lemon juice, and put the pot on to simmer. Charlie Parker streams in the background. Grandma played Hank Williams, but even nostalgia can’t take me that far. After ladling jam into mason jars, I decide to visit Grandma while they cool.
As I enter the center, the odor assaults me. I’m saddened that elderly people emanate this pungent smell. Like their slow decay is seeping out of their pores. It seems unjust, like another jab at their dignity. Grandma isn’t in the main sitting area, and I make my way back to her room. She’s sleeping, so I quietly creep in and pull a chair close to her bed. She’s slowing down, napping in the middle of the day more often than not. I watch her breathe. Even her breathing looks old. As I sit watching her, I wonder how many jars Grandma canned in her day. Did she know that making apricot jam with her would mean so much to me?
I look at her knobbly hands clutching her thin green blanket. She’s so frail. Goodbye is coming soon. I think about my fruit trees and mason jars back at home and wonder if apricot jam will taste bitter or sweet when she’s gone.