118 Topping and Tailing

The pint boxes were spilling over, so full that the lids barely stayed on. Betty had rethought church, and instead taken a weekend trip south, where the produce came in earlier. She made a quick, noon-hour delivery to Ivy on Monday, expressing her hope that these gooseberries would bring back only good memories of Ivy’s own garden. After all, with the plucking from their thorny bushes already done for her, Ivy would escape those inevitable scratches on her hands and arms.Chapter 118 Topping and Tailing

Relieved to have already put in her penthouse hours, Ivy set aside the rest of the day to deal with the little treasures. It was important to rinse and sort first. Small ripe ones for the freezer, for the winter making of muffins. The plumpest, grape-like look-alikes were perfect for eating fresh out of hand, or with a green salad, though their somewhat mushy texture was not to everyone’s taste.

It generally wasn’t worth it to bother about the youngest, hard green or the oldest, wizened ones; nothing much going on with these. In her previous gardening life, the discarded ones went to the compost pile – no such communal pile in a condo. And although they might do for making a flavored vinegar, she’d experimented and found that disappointingly tart; raspberry was so much nicer.

Gooseberries sometimes grew in clusters and often in pairs. The tiny green, stripy ones were translucent; you could almost see right through them. There were always a few large green ones that had apparently forgotten to grow up properly, avoided the normal stages to pinky maturation. With the riper ones, size didn’t matter, flavor did; some of the ripest ones were on the smaller end of the scale.

All the berries required topping and tailing before use. It was a repetitious job but it was only once a year. She would dread doing it everyday. It took considerable time to get through a pint and she often changed her position, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting. With her fingers occupied, she took the opportunity for long contemplation of some larger issue, or anything she liked, really.

The topping and tailing technique was all in the wrist, R.T. had concluded as he’d watched her, annually amazed at the patience applied to each tiny, or not so tiny, berry. She’d winked, and observed that if you wanted the pleasure then you had to do the work. To get the most out of each berry, what you had to do was this. The tailing took place at the blossom end of the berry where the woody and thicker tail appeared suspended from the bottom. At the tip of the bottom was a little, harder knob and the trick was to probe for and extract it, carefully exposing, without releasing them, the glistening contents held inside by the taut enclosing skin. Some exploded the minute she touched them, popping like the seed pods of an impatience flower, bursting in the grasp of warm fingers. Then she had to interrupt the rhythm of the thing, to wipe the goo from her hands and her paring knife.

To deal with the topping at the other end, one had to roll the ball of fruit, holding firmly, delicately, precisely, once again being careful not to allow the squishy, pale, and seedy jelly insides to escape through the opening just created, while putting slight pressure on the tail and nicking off the slender green stem. The purpler, softer ones were easier to grasp and turn over. Some required more special handling. It often needed coaxing and quite a hard pull to release the top and with the larger and riper ones, if you pulled too hard all the fruit came out at once.

If you did all this just right, the reward was one still full berry. Then, on to the next one. After topping and tailing, the berries quickly lost their firm, round shape, so it was best to get on with the recipe and use them up right away. Today, she would make plum and gooseberry curd. She liked the monotony of the slow stirring, watching the curd thicken, like the plot of a murder mystery.

A bedroom, office or den doesn't always have to have a window but by definition a bedroom must have a closet and at least some indirect access to natural light.access

A bedroom, office or den doesn’t always have to have a window but by definition a bedroom must have a closet and at least some indirect access to natural light.

Kitty had some receipts to turn in to Moth. Herbie’s car was there but no others. It was pouring; she parked as close as she could and sprinted inside. Though it was dark in the house for the time of day, no lights were turned on. Even she found this oppressive. She stood in the tiny foyer, her eyes adjusting to the obscurity. She heard a muffled sound coming from the direction of the office. Somebody must be there, with any luck Moth; she could be quickly reimbursed for her expenses, before Minnie Minus got her calculating hands on them.

The office door opened in from the hallway, and from the office through the opening of a door left ajar, just a corner of Moth’s bedroom was visible, the end of the bed, a window, a chair. As far as she’d ever seen, Moth lived like a monk, confined to his cell, moving between bedroom and office in twelve hour shifts. His visit to her room must have seemed like a fantasy cruise, and unimaginably far from the ordinary routine. Oddly then, he wasn’t apparently in the office. She was about to call out his name when she heard a groan.

She sensed someone moving in the bedroom, and waited for Moth to come out. Herb’s backside hoved into her full monty-esque view, framed in the doorway, his buttocks and thighs exposed and his trousers rippled in folds at his feet as his knees inched crab-like, across the side of the bed. He was wearing his signature gold t-shirt with the ‘Plenty for All’ logo proclaimed in purple on the back, wielding a belt and bringing the business end of it down hard on a naked Moth, who squirmed along the top of the mattress to keep up, chasing the leading genitals, following in his father’s sideways steps. She could not see their faces. It was like an auto-response with her now. She whipped out her phone and grabbed a flash-less picture, retreating into the hallway, praying to the photo-editing gods for clarity. The moaning continued, louder now.

She went back in to get a better look. Their backs still to the door, they had migrated to the end of the bed, with Moth face down, spreadeagled, his legs skewed apart like the tines of a deranged serving fork around his father’s heaving bottom. With each downstroke of the belt, Herb hissed, “Bad, bad, bad” while Moth whimpered, “Sorry, Father, I’m so sorry.” Then he stretched and stood over Moth three times, raised his arms up, as if in exaggerated prayer. Herb threw aside the belt, pinioned Moth, leaning into him, his hands to mattress on either side of his son, and began pushing, oblivious to the other intruder, as their call and response litany pervaded the space. She set her receipts on the desk and withdrew, before Herb did.

She was heading up the stairs to her room to check the quality of her pictures – if these didn’t turn out, she surmised there would be other photo opportunities at regular intervals – when Woody came in the front door, jacket soaked.

“Still raining out there, Woody?” she teased.

“Funny. You’ll have to move your car, you know. Dad’s a stickler with assigned positions.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“Are you here alone?”

“No, I’ve just come from the office. They’re quite busy in there.” Woody stared and reddened.

“You saw them, didn’t you?”

“Briefly. What’s up with that, Woody?”