by June Webber
Annie’s dream was interrupted by the sound of explosives and a furry bundle jumping on her bed miaowing. Was it a gas main or a gun fight, she wondered? She dimly recalled her mother carrying her to the air raid shelter during the Blitz. Timidly she drew back the curtain and peered out. Streaks of fire illuminated the sky bursting into stars, signalling the start of 2020. Annie’s annoyance turned to resolution. This year she would win the Nell Gwynn Cup for marmalade at the summer fête. She had been runner-up to Marjorie Fortescue-Smythe for the previous four years, and now it was her turn! She never understood why the judge preferred Marjorie’s anaemic offering to her rich golden preserve. Annie would have suspected sexual favours, but no man would be tempted by Marjorie’s austere looks, so it must be poor judgement. This year, however, Annie had a new secret recipe and there was a new judge. She drifted back to sleep, dreaming of holding aloft the shining silver cup to the applause of all the villagers. It would be engraved with her name and sit proudly on her sideboard, and her photograph would appear in the local paper.
As soon as they appeared in the shops, Annie searched for the ripest, juiciest oranges capturing the hot sun of Seville. She had never been further south than Bournemouth, but had seen pictures in magazines of Seville Cathedral, Flamenco dancers and orange trees. She sought out plump lemons and preserving sugar and wheeled it all back home in her shopping trolley. After a refreshing cup of tea, she got out the preserving pan inherited from her mother, which Annie’s brother called the witch’s cauldron. She set to work squeezing the juice and slicing the peel into thin slivers. Soon the liquid was bubbling away thickening to a rich amber colour, the citrus aroma permeating the kitchen. She lined up the warm, sterilised jars and carefully filled each, sealing with rounds of cellophane and rubber bands. The jars were labelled and lined up on the larder shelf awaiting judgement.
Annie suspected that Marjorie added some secret ingredient to her marmalade to impress the judge, perhaps sherry. That came from Spain, didn’t it? She watched for Marjorie to wheel out her recycling bin and draw the curtains. Cautiously Annie crossed the road, lifted the bin lid, and on top of the milk bottles, yoghurt pots and copies of The Times, was an empty can of Ma Made, not even rinsed out. Triumphantly she seized the evidence and scurried back home to telephone the chairman of the fête committee, Councillor Higginson, interrupting his favourite television programme.
‘Good evening Councillor I wish to make a complaint. I have evidence that Marjorie Fortescue-Smythe has cheated by using Ma Made instead of making her marmalade herself. I think she should be disqualified!’
The chairman checked the competition rules. ‘It doesn’t say anything here about how the marmalade is prepared. It just says a jar of marmalade.’
‘Well, I’ve spent hours cutting up fresh oranges, and all she’s had to do is open a tin.’ Annie slammed down the phone.
The day of the fête approached. Annie tasted one of the jars and the marmalade was delicious, her best yet. She decided to take a jar to her cousin at the far side of the village, who was very partial to marmalade and had not been out since the start of lockdown. On her way, she glanced at the village noticeboard and could scarcely believe her eyes.
Due to corona virus, we have regrettably had to cancel this year’s summer fête. Apologies to all our residents. Last year’s winners may retain their cups for another year.
Annie picked up her precious jar of marmalade and angrily hurled it at the noticeboard.
About the author
June Webber lives in Dorset and is a member of three online writing groups. She writes short stories, poetry, and flash fiction. She has had one story on CafeLit and contributed a chapter to ‘Bus Pass Britain Rides Again.’