This Year's Preserves

by Matthew Gorman

“Give me some of that Royal Jelly, Billy!” Big Tub exclaimed as he splattered two spoonfuls of country-made EXTRA Crunchy Peanut Butter onto the two face-down slices of white bread sitting on top of the wooden counter. Billy handed Big Tub the jar of his momma’s canned grape preserves to spread on the face-up sides of the sliced bread. Big Tub’s momma was always canning her stuff from the gardens beyond the backyard fence. Grapes. Berries. Corn. Green beans. Carrots. But what Big Tub loved the most of his momma’s canning was the grapes. No peanut butter and jelly sandwich made as much sense as it did when it had the grape on it, none of that strawberry business the people from up town were about.

Billy was from down the road and came over at the scent of fermented preserves on their ways up from down in the cellar. “Big Tub, I’ll do as you wish, long as that second sandwich is for me not you,” Billy half-stated and half-asked as he began to twist the cottoned lid off the top. The thought of that first sniff of a freshly opened jar of preserves gave him a sense of the jitters that shut his eye and made him think of last Fall, when he handed the jar to Big Tub to have the first sniff, since it was his place of home and all.

“Wait, Billy, wait!”

“What is it, Big Tub?” Billy said both submissively and somewhat shyly.

“Uhm, can you go down in the cellar, and uh, get some more peanut butter for the jelly?”

“But, we already got enough in that clear jar right there in ya hand to make enough for them two sandwiches, and more too. What we need more peanut butter for?” Billy held the canned grape preserves tighter in his grasp to his chest and half-covered the bottom with his second hand. Big Tub picked up the only knife on the counter, his white-tailed doe hunting knife and began spreading the peanut butter on each slice one long, drawn out stroke at a time while glancing back and forth between the knife, bread, Billy, and the Jelly.

“Well, Billy. It’s because we might need more for tomorrow if we want to make some more or something. Just cautionary, Billy, just cautionary.”

“Yeah, sure thing, Big Tub, as you wish.” Billy went down in the cellar and looked for the extra jar of extra crunchy peanut butter. At the end of the cracked wooden staircase, leading down in the cellar, the brown light began flickering and flickering until it finally gave and flicked out. “Big Tub! Big Tub! The light all went out down here. Can you flip a board or something? Big Tub!” He continued to shout as he searched for that jar of peanut butter; with no luck in sight, he popped out his box of matches and lit one by one until the jar was found. Billy made his way back to the even more cracked and even more wooden staircase leading up from down in the cellar. He got to the top two steps and extended his free non-jar hand to shove the door open but it wouldn’t budge. “Big Tub! Big Tub! The door’s jammed again! Can I get a pull from you? Big Tub!” No response came and Billy began rapping on the frame of the door.

“Yes, Billy boy, I’m coming. One tic, Billy, just wait one tic!” On the other side, Big Tub was piling both ends of the spreaded breads together in between his knife. He made his two sandwiches and sniffed, inhaled the scent of the canned grape preserves and went over to the door, where Billy was waiting. Crumbs fell in front of the door and rolled underneath where Billy saw them in the fading light of his last match.

“Big Tub! Are you eating them sandwiches? Big Tub, stop!” Billy saw more crumbs falling beneath him as the light went out. Disparity overcame Billy’s ears and he heard the final swallow after Big Tub took his last bite. Billy was leaning up against the locked cellar door listening to Big Tub turning around to head away. As he turned, Big Tub dropped the canned preserves onto the wooden floor where it shattered and began spreading itself running along the grooves of the wood. Some fell beneath the floorboards to the foundation of the house, and some crept under the door. Billy could smell his first sniff of the canned grape preserves and thought it smelt a little mustier than last year.