“You a pumpkin pie fan?” the old man on the porch shouted at Judy. He was creaking back and forth in an old rocking chair, looking every bit like the beginning of a horror movie that her brother made her watch last month. The man in the movie kept pieces of children in his basement refrigerator.
“Excuse me?” Judy asked, looking around, hoping he was talking to someone else. The sidewalk was void of life.
“Pumpkin pie is God’s food, you know? Warms the soul!”
“It’s, um… I don’t know about that.” Judy looked around again. Sometimes, she hoped she could just latch onto some passing person’s underbelly like one of those little fish and get carried away from the dangers of awkward social encounters. No such luck today.
“Come on, girl! You either like it or you don’t! I have some cooling inside.” The man stood up on creaky legs. He lurched toward the rail to get his balance and catch his breath.
“No, really. I should get going.”
“Nonsense! Who says ‘no’ to pie?” He tottered through his front door, swinging it open. It almost shut on its own, hanging there, creaking back and forth in the wind.
This was Judy’s chance to escape. She could just run to her house down the street and avoid this way home next week. There was still time, even if she was wearing heels. She’d never talked to this old man before, so who’s to say she would ever need to again? Still, good manners kept her locked in place, if a little fidgety. She shifted to one foot, then the other, as if she had to go the bathroom. Maybe that’s what she should have told him. Maybe that’s what she will tell him.
Judy jumped a little as the door hinges squeaked abruptly. Before she could open her mouth with a good excuse, the old man began rambling again. “You know, they say Van Gogh thought yella was God’s color. Now, I don’t know much about that art crap, but pumpkin pie is definitely something out of God’s cookbook.” He walked to the bottom step but no further. Judy tiptoed toward the shivering pie plate, taking hold of it like she would a live rat. “Now tell me how that is! I been makin’ them pies for 30 years an’ I sell ’em right outta my home.”
“Oh, really?” she said, flaking off the first bite. “I’ve never heard anything about pie sales. Do you do this every year?”
“Every day! Never sell anything, though. Just sit here waiting and nobody buys anything.”
“You don’t have any signs up or anything. Do you put ads in the paper?”
“Don’t need to! Pie sells itself. People just smell pie and come running.”
“But you just said…”
“Nonsense!” The exclamation startled Judy. The old man smacked at his gums for a while, a blank look in his eyes. Judy began to feel awkward just standing there. She dug into her pie again.
Judy wondered observed the brown glob on her fork. Perhaps it was made of little bits of children. Still, it smelled pleasant enough. And it looked like pumpkin pie should. Judy didn’t want to make a bad impression with a neighbor, so she took a timid bite.
“Pretty damn good, eh? I make it with rat testes.”
Judy gagged the pie out onto the man’s lawn. He let out a wheeze that could have been a laugh. “I’m just messin’ wit’ ya! You shoulda seen yoor face! Ha!” He wheezed again. He might have asthma. Or he was really old and his lungs were giving out. Judy hoped it was the latter explanation.
“That wasn’t funny!”
“Cheer up, girly! If you weren’t you, it’d be hilarious! Isn’t that good pie? Try another bite.”
Judy thought of shoving the pie in the man’s face and smiled. She sunk her teeth into the next bite, this time able to pause and chew it. It was delicious. The pie was hearty like a custard pie, but light and airy enough to melt on her tongue. The cinnamon and nutmeg flavors swirled together like the bottom of a cup of hot cocoa. The ginger left a small bite that left her wanting another soothing mouthful. Judy bit her lip so as not to look like she was enjoying it.
“I think I’d actually deal with your shenanigans for another pie one day, Mr…” She held on to that last word. “I never got your name.”
“Well, Curtis. Your pie is exquisite, but I really need to get home now.”
“You remind me of Shirley Temple when she and I were going steady. The only way I could snag a girl like that was through my pumpkin pie.”
“You dated Shirley Temple?”
“Dated? Ha! Yeah, you could say that. She was newly divorced and I was around.”
“You were Shirley Temple’s rebound guy?” Judy wanted to wipe that image from her mind, especially since she could only think of Shirley Temple as a little girl and Curtis as, well, Curtis.
“Yeah, but then she started going steady with that Black fella. That was his name: Black. Charlie Black.” his eyes were washed away in some old memory.
“Well, I’m sure he doesn’t make a pumpkin pie like you do.”
“Yeah. Yer damn for sure, woman!” He wheezed again, started coughing and rocking back in his chair.
“Are you all right?”
“Maaah!” He dismissed it with a hand.
Judy thought about getting home again to feed her cats and watch Law and Order: SVU. She set the plate back up on the rail. “Well, I should get going. Thank you for the pie and it was lovely to meet you, Curtis.”
He hacked up a wad of phlegm and spit it into a nearby bowl.
“Well, then,” Judy said, not certain what else to say. She took one last look back at the man before going. He was rocking in his chair, creaking like an old abandoned swing set, looking glossy eyed as if inside a dream.