From the author: Granny Noggin's kitchen is the best place in the world to be. You'd like to stay there forever...
JIMMY CONKLIN SAT at Granny Noggin’s kitchen table, right hand wrapped around a water-beaded glass of milk, left hand holding a CD-sized chocolate-chip cookie. More cookies covered a blue china plate on the red-and-white-checked tablecloth. Slivers of rainbow, whittled from the sunlight by a silver-and-crystal spider-web sun-catcher in the window above the sink, splashed every surface in the kitchen with splotches of brilliant colour.
“I love your kitchen, Granny Noggin,” Jimmy said.
Granny Noggin poured tea into a gold-rimmed pink china cup and brought it over the table. She sat down across from Jimmy. “I love it, too, Jimmy.”
“It’s my favourite place in the whole world!” Jimmy took a bite of cookie. “I could stay here forever,” he mumbled with his mouth full.
“When you’re here visiting me, it’s my favourite place, too,” Granny said. She sipped her tea.
Jimmy polished off the cookie in two more big bites. “I don’t have any grandmas of my own, you know,” he said as he picked up another one. “They both died when I was little. But they couldn’t have been as nice as you.”
Granny clucked her tongue. “Now, then, Jimmy, I knew your grandmothers. They were wonderful women.”
“I didn’t say they weren’t.” Jimmy took a drink of milk. “I just said I bet you’re nicer.”
Granny smiled. “Well, it’s very kind of you to say so, Jimmy.” The doorbell rang. “Excuse me.”
Jimmy nodded, wiping milk off his mouth with the back of his hand.
Granny got up and went into the hallway. Jimmy amused himself trying to find all the rainbows in the kitchen. The ones on the floor were easy, but the ones hiding on the walls were harder, because Granny had lots of other stuff on her walls. Most of one wall was covered with ribbons from the Creelmore Agricultural Fair. All blue ribbons, and all for things like “Best Traditional Chocolate Cake with Home-Made Icing” and “Best Low-Fat Carrot Muffin” and “Best Whole-Wheat Bread” and even “Best Beet Pickles.” Yuck, Jimmy thought.
One whole row of ribbons was for jams and preserves, all from the same year. “Swept the competition,” Jimmy murmured, and took a big bite of cookie.
He heard voices in the hallway, but didn’t pay much attention. “...it’s just that I’ve been very depressed lately, Granny, and I was wondering if maybe some of your Sunny-Day Jam...Hazel Jardin recommended it...”
“Of course, dear.” That was Granny’s voice. “I could use a birthday...”
“A birthday?” A long pause. “All right...”
I could use a birthday, too, Jimmy thought. I’ll be nine!
It seemed a very old age to him, although he knew that grown-ups were many times that old. His gaze slid across the wall to a picture of Granny Noggin. He didn’t know when it had been taken, but she hadn’t changed much: same round face and round figure, same apple cheeks, same white hair drawn up in a bun. She even had on the same kind of clothes he always saw her wearing: a dress in a bright flowery pattern and a frilly checked apron. The same pair of round spectacles perched on her button nose.
I wonder how old Granny Noggin is?
Granny bustled back in. “Mrs. Islington was just here, Jimmy,” she said. “She’d like some of my extra-special Sunny Day Jam. Would you like to help me find a jar?”
“You bet!” Jimmy said. He jumped up, but took a moment to take another big swig of milk before following Granny down the rickety wooden stairs that led from a door in the kitchen into the basement.
At the bottom of the stairs, the only natural light came from three small windows set at ground level, so grimed with dirt and cobwebs that they turned the sunniest day into apparent gloom. But that was okay; what Jimmy liked in the basement was the other light.
It poured like rich, thick paint down the walls and over the floor from the rows and rows of jam jars on the shelves that lined every wall of the basement, except for the corner where the furnace and water heater lurked like sulking dragons. The light came in every colour the slivers of rainbow in the kitchen could boast, and then some. Some jars shone with the deep blue-green of the ocean in a When Sharks Attack video. Others glowed as yellow-orange as a campfire, or as purple as the bug-zapper outside the Take-a-Lickin’ ice cream stand downtown.
Inside some jars something roiled and churned like tornado clouds, grey and threatening, spitting out occasional blue-white flashes. But the ones Granny went to, filling a whole shelf, gleamed pure white, like bottled sunshine. “Now, let’s see,” she murmured. “For Mrs. Islington, something from 1954, I think...I know I have one here somewhere...”
She rummaged about on the shelf, momentarily leaving Jimmy to fend for himself.
He trailed his fingers idly along the shelves, reading labels. “Beach Fun” had three distinct layers, one sunny, one sand-coloured, one blue and white. “Starry Night” was a deep, dark blue, scattered with glittering pinpricks of light. “Well-Met by Moonlight” glowed a faint silver, and “First Kiss” a delicate pink. And then there was another, called “Naughty but Nice,” which was almost black, but gave Jimmy a funny feeling in his insides when his finger trailed across it.
“1947...1973...” he heard Granny Noggin muttering to herself. “Heavens to Betsy, I know I have one. I must have mis-shelved it.”
Jimmy’s aimless wandering had taken him back to the furthest corner of the basement, the dark one behind the water heater. For the first time he noticed a cabinet back there, tucked almost out of sight. He opened it, revealing three shelves of rather ordinary-looking jars, each glowing a pale yellow. Jimmy like their looks at once. He picked one off the shelf and looked at its label.
“Jimmy Jam,” he read out loud.
He laughed with delight, and went running back to Granny Noggin, who was leaning over and reaching to the very back of a shelf of miscellaneous jars. “You named a jam after me!” he said, holding up the “Jimmy Jam” jar.
Granny straightened so suddenly she banged her head on one of the copper pipes that hung from the ceiling. She rubbed the bumped place with her hand. “You mustn’t play with that!”
“But it’s got my name on it!” Jimmy said, disappointed.
“That doesn’t mean you can play with it.” She held out her hand. “Give it to me, please.” She sounded more stern than Jimmy had ever heard her before.
He stuck out his lower lip, but he handed over the jar. Quick as a flash, Granny tucked it out of sight in her apron. “Now,” she said, “see if you can get that jar at the very back of the shelf for me. I’m not as limber as I used to be...”
Jimmy pulled out the jar she wanted, labeled “Sunny Day Jam, July 20, 1954,” after which she bustled him back up the stairs. “Now how about Monopoly?” she said.
They played Monopoly, then Scrabble, then Sorry (even though Jimmy thought he was getting a little old for Sorry). One of the things Jimmy loved about Granny Noggin was that she always had time to play games with him. Late in the afternoon he said, “I’d better be going. Mom’ll be wondering where I am.” He frowned. “I can’t remember when she told me to be home,” he admitted.
“It’s all right,” Granny said. “I called to tell her you were staying for supper. They’re going out tonight anyway, so there’s no hurry.”
“Great!” Jimmy said, and then it was card games and more Sorry until it was dark outside and he was yawning. “Aren’t Mom and Dad home yet?”
Granny smiled sympathetically. “Why don’t you lie down on the couch? You can nap there until they come for you.”
“I’m not sleepy,” Jimmy said automatically, but within twenty minutes he found he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer,And and willingly stretched out on Granny’s overstuffed, red-and-yellow floral-print couch.
“I’m sure your parents will be here any minute,” Granny said to him, sitting on the arm of his couch and stroking his forehead.
Jimmy nodded, and yawned hugely. His eyes closed, opened, closed again and stayed closed; within minutes he was breathing heavily.
Granny Noggin went into the kitchen and climbed on a chair to open the door of a cabinet high above the stove, still well out of Jimmy’s reach, though barely—he was getting very tall.
She took down a polished rod of pale wood and a clean Mason jar, and took both into the living room. For a moment she looked fondly and a little sadly at the young man stretched out on her couch. She wouldn’t be able to keep him much longer; one of these days he was bound to notice he wasn’t nine years old any more, and once that happened he’d be no good to her.
She raised the wand and passed it over Jimmy’s head a few times, her lips moving silently, then put the point of the jar into the mason jar. Instantly, the bottom inch or so of the jar filled with jam, jam that glowed a clear pale yellow—the same colour as the inside of her kitchen on a sunny morning. She reached her finger to the bottom of the jar, swirled it around in the jam a moment, then lifted it to her mouth and sucked.
She could almost feel her plumpness getting plumper, her eyes twinkling, her cheeks reddening, her grey hair fluffing and shining like fine silver. She smiled, and knew her teeth were straighter and whiter than a moment before.
It would indeed be a pity when Jimmy had to go. She loved Jimmy Jam. But she was sure she would love Madeline Marmalade or Peter Preserves or whatever took its place just as much.
She took the jar of Jimmy Jam down to the hidden shelf behind the water heater, and put it with all the rest. Tucked even further out of sight were three or four unlabeled jars containing an unappetizing brown mess, the memories of everyone who had known Jimmy before he had ridden his bicycle past her door one morning four years ago, and answered her call to come inside for cookies. She'd never eat or sell that jam, of course, but it kept the secular authorities from her door, searching for a missing child. Jimmy had not disappeared; he had simply been forgotten, and now when people caught a glimpse of him at her house, they thought he was a grandson come for a visit. She never introduced him, and the people who visited her, like Mrs. Islington, knew better than to ask questions.
After all, her prices were really very reasonable. Mrs. Islington would give up one day’s worth of birthday memories for a new memory of a perfect sunny day, distilled from the sunny-day memories of half a dozen donors, to help her through her current depression; Mr. Franken, who had no happy birthday memories, would receive a jar of Happy Birthday Jam, distilled from the birthday memories of Mrs. Islington and others. No one was harmed, everyone was happy.
But everyone knew Granny could set her prices much, much higher if she wanted to. Sam Soroka had broken into her house and tried to steal a jar of Naughty but Nice. Sam Soroka was currently in the Tatagwa Mental Health Facility re-learning the finer points of dressing himself.
Granny smiled at the thought.
She went back up the stairs to the kitchen, and then took another look at Jimmy’s long, lanky form, stretched out on her couch. She sighed. Puberty was such a nuisance. Jimmy might last another six weeks, if she was lucky. But there was no use putting it off ’til the last minute; she’d better begin planning now for the transition.
At least next spring should be a good year in the garden, she consoled herself. Reward for all that digging...
Jimmy Conklin sat at Granny Noggins’s kitchen table, an untouched glass of milk by his right hand, an untouched plate of cookies on the table in front of him. He frowned at his left arm. Where had all that black hair come from? He rubbed his upper lip. It felt fuzzy. What's going on?
The sun-catcher over the kitchen sink spiked his eye with a rainbow flash, and he blinked irritably. “I hate this kitchen,” he muttered, then felt guilty as he heard the front door open and close—Granny coming back from an errand. He looked around to greet her—and froze with his mouth open.
“I love your kitchen, Granny Noggin,” said the little girl in blue jeans and a frilly yellow top who was holding Granny’s hand.
“I love it, too.” Granny smiled down at the girl, then looked at Jimmy, her smile fading. “This is Alyssa,” she said. “She’s come to visit me for a while...just like you.”
Twenty-two tales of fantasy, science fiction, and horror from Aurora Award-winning author Edward Willett.
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