Early morning sun shines through the quilted glass jar set at the edge of the table. A thin coating of ruby translucence glistens at the bottom and small arcs of light bend onto the toile tablecloth where two roosters peck at a bucket of grain. Next to the jar, a white plate and silver knife rest on a square of white linen folded in thirds. Steam from his black tea scrolls into oblivion. It all waits for him while he fusses over the toast at the counter.
This is the ritual.
For the past eight months, this is what Murat does.
It holds him together, though barely.
Schoolchildren laugh outside. They snake around trash cans and yellow fire hydrants and toss gritty remnants of snow on their way to school. Ignoring them is impossible. Murat resents their joy.
He resents that they still have mothers.
The toast browns as he thinks about last July, sitting in his mother’s humid kitchen with a glass of iced tea and her stove at full tilt, gurgling with sugar and red raspberries. Water boils from a large pot on the front burner with jars clattering at the bottom. Jimmy Dorsey plays on repeat from a cheap stereo in her living room. The wooden spoon in her mouth, then his. Her rubied hands sticky with love. Jars line the window sill, his plump fig of a mother filling them with a ladle. She never spilled a drop, not one. He stays long enough to make sure she remembers to turn off the burners this time, kisses her damp forehead before he leaves.
A darkened crust pops up from the slot. He burns his finger on the metal toaster.
He wishes he’d checked on her more often.
Before he sold her house, Murat wrapped himself in his mother’s toile tablecloth—the one folded in her hall closet and stored away for special occasions, the one that now covers his table—and cried on her kitchen floor, clutching the last jar he found in her pantry.
Murat drops the toast onto his plate. A few crumbs scatter to the side. He licks his finger to wipe them up and glances at the jar. He doesn’t know her recipe.
Another child giggles outside.
He stands up from his torn vinyl chair and stares at the jar cradled in his large hand. The swollen kitchen drawer squeals as he pulls it open. His clumsy fingers sort through the tangle of forks and knives and spoons until he finds it. Metal clinks against the glass as his knuckles wedge against the mouth of the jar. There is barely enough to fill the tiny belly of the jelly spoon.
The soft jewel of sweet-tart raspberry lingers in his mouth before he swallows. Pure and transcendent, just like that July afternoon. Unadulterated by the yeast of cheap bread. His tongue works a seed stuck in his molar as he tosses the dry toast to the pigeons cooing outside.
Jam expires after a year, maybe two. Murat will never know. The jar is empty now.
When a parent dies, the first year is the hardest, they say. This, he knows.
Kristen M. Ploetz is a writer and former land use attorney living in Massachusetts. Her work has been published (or is forthcoming) with Random Sample Review, Atlas & Alice, Hypertext Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Ellipsis Zine, Crack the Spine, (b)OINK, The Hopper, Gravel, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a collection of essays and short stories. You can find her on the web (www.kristenploetz.com) and Twitter (@KristenPloetz).