Friday, October 23

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Jam Tomorrow

There’s something satisfying about making a nice jam, especially when you have grown and gathered all the fruit yourself. Sometimes, that’s not possible, of course, not in this day and age. Gardens are so much smaller now, hardly big enough for a decent-sized shrub, never mind a fruit-bearing tree. But there are ways around obstacles like this, ways of making the best of things; little compromises and wrinkles that you learn over time. I like to get my strawberries, for instance, from the ‘Pick Your Own’ down the road, and Mrs D. from next door but one is happy to exchange her excess blackberries for a pot or two of home- made jam ‘without all the mess.’ Best of all, though, is the blackberries that grow hereabouts; the hedgerows are fairly overloaded with them - and I usually chop up a couple of nice Bramleys, shop-bought if needs be. There’s very little pectin in blackberries and jam won’t thicken without it. You can buy pectin but I prefer not to do so. I’m partial to some blackberry and apple, especially on a home-made scone.

A friend of mine – well, more of an acquaintance, really – once looked down her nose and said you could just as easy buy it from the supermarket and it wasn’t worth the fuss.

‘Fuss,’ I said to her, ‘but that’s the fun of it.’

Well, it is, isn’t it? First, you’ve got to locate your jars and then you’ve got to wash and dry them. There’s a lot of pleasure to be had just from seeing them ready to use, all lined up and sparkling in the sun. Then you’ve got to pick over your fruit and make sure it’s clean. With soft fruit like blackcurrants and gooseberries, I like to leave it to soak. Then, I’ll rinse and dry my stainless steel pan – it gets that dusty in that bottom cupboard – and I lay out my ladle, my thermometer and, of course, my wooden spoon. Myself, I like a proper wooden spoon, though opinions do differ. I know they stain but, to my way of thinking, a wooden spoon is essential.

I said as much to Dr Rahoud last time I was there. I had taken him two two-pound jars of the damson and apple. – Well, I had so much, you see, more than Clive and I could ever hope to eat – and I’d already given to the Hospice stall at our annual Harvest Fayre.

‘Mrs Frost,’ he said, ‘I have no doubt but that you are right. On such a matter, you are, and must remain, the undisputed authority.’

Now wasn’t that nice of him? Such lovely manners. His skin in the colour of milky coffee and he’s got these beautiful eyes; really thick lashes, much thicker than I’ve seen on any girl. Sometimes, when he’s taking to me, I lose track of what he’s saying because all I can think of is these chocolate eyes. Anyway, when I gave him this jam, he came over quite emotional; kept on repeating, over and over, that he didn’t know what to say.

Eventually, though, he pulled himself together and we got down to business.

‘How have you been feeling since we met last time?’ He generally starts off like that. I think he thinks it eases me into it. ‘How is Mr Frost? Busy in the garden, I expect.’

He will insist on dragging Clive into it. It’s the one thing that irritates me about our little chats. I don’t go there to talk about Clive. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with him. Clive is never in the house when they come. They come to see me.

‘Mr Frost has been out a lot. I’ve hardly had reason to speak to him.’ I snapped a bit so that he would know not to mention Clive again. I had my handbag on my knee so I rummaged around pretending to look for a tissue. Dr Rahoud soon got the hint. He’s very sharp like that. He asked about the headaches and whether they were better or worse. I told him they were about the same and that maybe I needed new glasses.

‘No,’ he said, ‘no, no. I don’t think that will make a great difference.’

Then he smiled a kind of dreamy and everything went back to normal. He had something to write down and we both began to relax.

I’ve been seeing Dr Rahoud for several months. It’s worked out better than I thought. Of course, I was quite suspicious at first. I expected him to be like the rest of them, full of questions but over-friendly and always faintly sneering. Everything they said made you more and more certain they were trying to catch you out. It’s true he did ask a lot of questions; but when someone’s polite and interested, well, you don’t mind that, do you? Soon, I was looking forward to seeing him; it made me feel – understood. Nowadays I tend to make it an outing of it; afterwards, I pop into town after and pick up a few odds and ends. There’s a very smart little cafe I’ve found that serves wonderful cake. I shouldn’t be eating cake, I know, but it’s my little indulgence. Clive won’t go in there at all; he says it’s over-priced.

Anyway, where was I? That’s right, Dr Rahoud. When he’d finished writing, he flicked back through his notes and gave a little nod.

‘Tell me, Mrs Frost, have you had a – visit since your last appointment? If you have, perhaps you’d like to tell me all about it.’

Well, as it happened, I had had a visit, just three days before. But I didn’t like the way he hesitated; it put my back right up. For that split second, he sounded like them, as though he was talking to a schoolgirl.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I haven’t seen them lately. The last time was more than a month ago. I told you all about it. I told you last time.’

He flicked back in his notes again and I waited while he read them. There were two little lines between his eyebrows that showed that he was thinking hard.

‘Ah, yes,’ he said. He picked up his pen and twiddled it between his thumb and forefinger. ‘I remember, Mrs Frost, that, on this occasion, you experienced considerable distress. I have a note here’ – and he read aloud as though he was impatient to finish – ‘You were rendered powerless by some form of hypnosis and, very much against your will, you were subjected to a whole series of investigative procedures. And it was after that that the Tall Grey Doctor carried out the mind-scan? He leaned down over you and stared into your eyes? Have I got that right?’

It was at this point that I began to feel a bit upset. It wasn’t that the notes were wrong but he was making what I told him sound silly. I tried to pull my thoughts into the shape of sentences but the words just slipped away.

I said: ‘He made me feel things in my body that I didn’t want to feel.’

Dr Rahoud realised that something was wrong. He put down his pen and put his fingertips together to make a kind of steeple. Then he looked at me with his huge, caramel eyes. There was a long pause before he smiled and his tone was almost tender. ‘Mrs Frost,’ he said, ‘how would you describe your relationship with your husband?’

Do you know that expression ‘a red mist came down’? Well, I used not to understand quite what it meant. I understand now, though, because it came down then. I had in my head no other thought but to kill him. I wanted to thrust my hand into his chest and drag out his startled heart. I didn’t, though; somehow, I managed to struggle to my feet. Then I actually walked to the door where I turned and looked at him. His eyes weren’t so beautiful, after all; in fact, he looked quite ordinary.

‘I’ve told you,’ I hissed at him, ‘they come to see me. Clive has nothing to do with it. And, Dr Rahoud, make no mistake, there’ll be no more damson jam.’

© Abi Wyatt