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kelly ann jacobson

New Fiction


by Kelly Ann Jacobson

      Sara is standing in the kitchen paging through her favorite cook book when the phone rings. The book was an early wedding present from her grandmother, Francine, who somehow knew she would not live to see Sara walk down the white-petaled aisle. The last time Sara saw Franny, her grandmother was cocooned in three crochet blankets, patiently waiting for death to bend down and kiss her cracked lips.
      The recipes are marked at points where Franny diverted from the recipe, and comments like “better with half the butter” fill the margins with red script. Certain spices are crossed out with angry X’s, while additions sit below the ingredients list in careful cursive. The paper is yellowed, and every once in a while she finds a splotch of batter pressed like a flower between two pages.
       “It’s Marge,” the woman on the other end says. “Are you safe?”
       “As safe as I can be.” Sara glances behind her to the closed bedroom door. “He’s sleeping.”
      “Let’s hope he stays that way, preferably forever.”
      “Sorry, I know he’s your husband—”
      “No, don’t say that word to me. I don’t want him dead, but I certainly don’t want him anywhere near me either.”
      “Well if you change your mind, call me and I’ll get Boris there in less than an hour.”
      Sara pictures Marge’s husband, a harmless Russian with shaggy black hair and a stomach like a sausage link, attempting to chase her husband with a meat cleaver. For the first time, she smiles.
      “I’ll keep the offer in mind. Thank you, Marge… I don’t know what I would have done without you. This house is… well, it’s the perfect getaway. I feel like a spy, creeping in and out of these unfamiliar rooms.”
      “It’s just lucky we were there when you called, and that Boris had bought enough food to feed a family of six for a month.”
      “I’m so sorry I ruined your vacation—”
      “Stay as long as you need to, dear. Don’t feel obligated to come back with him.”
      “I can’t even think that far ahead.”
      Even a minute seems like a lifetime, and if she stops to think of the immensity of those sixty seconds she will fall like a planet from orbit. They stretch like the shadows in a black box theater, and looking at their blackness makes her turn her head away. One at a time, slowly. She thinks back to Franny and her last steps before the illness took hold, shuffling her smooth-soled shoes against the linoleum.
      “What will you do?”
      Sara looks out onto the dark night, the moon shining between the branches of the Appalachian forest. They are the only sign of life for miles.
      “What can I do? Cook, keep myself busy, try to avoid him.” He will want to talk, she knows, and for both their sanities she must avoid it. Otherwise… she thinks of the tan pillow she never liked: the slow release like an Olympic discus, seemingly moved by the sheer energy of her anger like an explosion of volcanic ash. The hate lies inside her like a virus, looking through her eyes at the small one-bedroom world: waiting, dormant, for a time of weakness. It is a new feeling, and its presence frightens her more than anyone outside the walls. Sara clutches the cook book to her chest, trying to grasp at some sanity the talisman might contain.

      Sara met Jacob at St. John’s Lutheran Church’s weekly bible night over a plate of store-bought cookies and lukewarm cups of coffee. She noticed his bible first: cracked cover, creased pages, and splotches of highlighter ink along the edge. The bible led to an old blue sweater, shaggy brown hair, and a pair of intelligent eyes behind wide-rimmed glasses. Sara checked his ring finger — a thin, pale finger with no silver band to be seen — and then introduced herself.
      “I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. I’m Sara, the pastor’s cousin.” Not only was her cousin the pastor, but her grandfather had been the pastor before him and her great-grandfather built the church from the ground up.
      “Jacob,” he said, extending the lovely hand towards hers. “I’m a friend of your cousin and current seminarian.”
      “How wonderful. I went to India last year to become a missionary, but unfortunately it didn’t go as planned.”
      They took their plates to one of the plump red sofas, and for the next half hour Sara regaled Jacob with stories of men peeing in public, two weeks of intense intestinal discomfort, and her duty of carrying dead chickens from house to house.
      “For a small town Pennsylvania girl, it was overwhelming. So now I teach elementary school, which is almost as bad.” She liked making him laugh — a loud, pleasant sound that filled the room like a familiar hymn.
      When the custodian, an elderly man who Sara fondly referred to as Grandpa Joe because he had a been a friend of her late grandfather’s, came to shut the lights off and lock up, the two startled like birds.
      “Don’t let me interrupt your bible studies,” Grandpa Joe jested as he took out a rag from his pocket and began wiping the narthex table. He was dressed in his standard gray overalls and blue button-up shirt, a strange combination of gardener and business man, and on his head was the same faded baseball cap he wore every day. A few wisps of white hair stuck out of the elastic band in the back like pig tails, and they bounced as he reached across the wide wood table. Sara stood and smoothed her thick wool skirt, feeling as abashed as a teenager caught in a late-night embrace.
      “We were just going, Joe.”
      “Certainly no need to skedaddle on my account, Sarabear.”
      She blushed at his use of her childhood nickname.
      “I’ll be cleaning up a while longer — it seems the church people can’t keep their crumbs on the table.” Joe moved like a crab, rocking from leg to leg as he circled his messy prey. Could this be the same man who used to pick her up in his arms and swing her like an amusement park chain swing?
      She picked up her bible and notebook, but before she could say goodnight Jacob took the stack from her and added it to his own. Technically Sara had a boyfriend, a guy from college who she had been seeing for a year, but though he was kind and her mother liked him both women knew that eventually Sara would have to find a fellow Christian to walk in the footsteps of Jesus with her.
      “Let me walk you to your car,” Jacob insisted as he held her books ransom.
      “I actually live down the street,” Sara said, then added for Joe's benefit: “with my mother and father.”
      “Even better, then I’ll walk you home instead. If you want me to, that is.”
      Joe had suspiciously stopped wiping, but the sound of his breath was like the moan and creak of a faulty radiator.
      “That would be nice, thank you.”
      The wiping started up again, and Jacob helped Sara into her white wool coat. She thanked God she was dressed in a skirt and sweater instead of slacks, and her snow boots were high heeled and accentuated the length of her legs. Her mother had tucked a little white cap into her purse on her way out the door, almost as though she guessed there would be just such an occasion to look her best, and Sara slipped the crocheted hat on as they left the great hall.
      When they arrived at her house, her mother opened the door as soon as the first foot hit the stairs.
      “Sara, I was beginning to–” She caught sight of Jacob and automatically looked down to see what she was wearing. When her yellow house dress met her approval, she began again. “Hello, I’m Mrs. Braff. You must be…?”
      “Jacob,” Sara answered for him, “the new seminarian studying at St. John’s.”
      “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Braff,” Jacob said, leaving Sara on the stairs to shake her mother’s hand. “I’m sorry she’s late, we got caught up in a religious discussion that went later than I realized.”
      Sara chaffed at the words, as though she were a child under strict watch, but then again it was rare that a man could charm her mother with such effectiveness. And charmed she was: Faith Braff had been smiling incessantly since Jacob opened his mouth, and whenever he looked away she raised her eyebrow at Sara in a he is just wonderful! expression. The next time he comes over, Sara thought, my mother will be decked out in full hostess regalia. She might even break out Franny’s white gloves.
      “Of course, I understand,” Faith told Jacob. “Come in, come in, it’s absolutely frigid out there!”
      “I wouldn’t want to impose…”
      “Not at all! I’ll make you a warm drink, perhaps even an Irish coffee?”
      Could this be the same woman who told Sara that drinking was unbecoming of a young Christian woman? And now she was the very picture of temptation itself.
      “You’ve found my weakness,” Jacob said, bowing his head like he was confessing his sins. “I guess I can come in for one drink.”
      Walking through the front door felt like slipping into a hot bath, and Sara immediately stripped off her heavy coat and scarf. She left her sweater on, another one of her mother’s rules, though it was sweltering under the tight knit.
      Inside the sitting room, her father sat by the fire reading a newspaper. His tiny silver reading glasses reflected the glow, as did his shiny, bald head. When he stood to shake Jacob’s hand it took him an extra minute to push himself up from the suck of his favorite armchair, like a baby from its womb, and this view of the few horseshoe hairs around his head made them all flash silver in the light.
      She left the two men to discuss the church — though her father was the town governor, he was raised with a preacher father, cousin, and three uncles — and found her mother in the kitchen, moving like a cyclone between the fridge, cabinet, and coffee maker.
      “If I had only known…” Faith muttered, reaching for a tin of homemade chocolate cookies she just happened to keep for this exact situation. With deft fingers, she plucked each cookie and used it to form an intricate pattern of semicircles on her favorite blue china. Then she sliced twelve slices of dense soda bread (Sara’s favorite of her mother’s treats) despite there being only four people present.
      “Don’t eat more than one slice,” she scolded her daughter before Sara could even reach out a hand. “It will go right to your hips during the night. Then Faith took another sliver from the loaf and ate it with her fingers, going so far as to lick them when she finished.
      Sara busied herself with making the coffees so she wouldn’t talk back to her mother, a mistake she made more and more often after graduating from college and moving home. First she took the chill off the coffee glasses with a bit of hot water, enjoying the cozy heat of the tap on her cold hands. Then she poured the Winter Spice coffee, a blend her mother made herself and kept in an old Folgers coffee can, into the warm receptacles, and the scent of cloves, cinnamon, and white peppercorns filled the kitchen like smoke. Was it safe to assume Jacob liked sugar in his coffee, or would he want it black like her mother and scorn anything else? As retribution for his earlier comment and her mother’s attitude, Sara dumped a teaspoon of extra granules in each cup along with the whiskey. Then she topped the glasses with caps of whipped cream, little elves lined up in a row on the silver tray, and carried them out to the living room.
      Neither Jacob nor her mother noticed the sugar, however, as they were too busy agreeing on every religious issue or political topic her father introduced. Sara sat quietly, listening to their unanimous chatter, and wondered how she would break this news to her boyfriend, Frank. What could she say? I’m sorry, you are just not Christian enough? I’m sorry, but my parents are in love with another man? She and Frank were pretty serious, but she had told him from the beginning not to get too attached to her. And now she sat across the room from the man of her dreams, a good-looking future pastor who her parents adored.
      Sara decided, amidst the backdrop of amicable conversation, to let his earlier comments slide and to ignore the rebellious voice that told her that anyone her mother liked was a mistake. She had prayed the night before for a husband, a Christian man who could share a future of kind acts and religious inspiration, and this man was the obvious answer to her prayers. God sent him, and she certainly could not argue with his plan.

      After their inevitable marriage, the years flew by. For their three year anniversary, Sara decided to surprise Jacob during one of his days in the office. She arrived at the church’s administrative wing with a tray of warm brownies, one of which she gave to the big-haired secretary who made the church bulletins and answered the phones, and a new watch wrapped in beautiful red paper left over from last Christmas.
      “You’re a saint!” Marlene said, the word saint muffled by her chewing gum. “It’s been so busy around here that I haven’t eaten a thing.”
      “Is Jacob free?” Sara asked, balancing the brownies on her hip as she spoke. “I know he counsels a lot on Tuesdays.”
      “Mrs. Beattie was his only appointment, but she’s probably long gone by now.”
      “Mr. Beatty didn’t come?” Sara regretted the eagerness in her voice; gossiping about congregants was not the Christian thing to do, but curiosity got the better of her. Mr. and Mrs. Beatty had been active members since 1999, that is until they hit a rough patch in their marriage and stopped attending anything but Jacob’s counseling sessions.
      “It doesn’t look good. I haven’t seen Mr. Beatty in a long time.”
      Sara walked through the dim hallway to Jacob’s office, and like always she stopped to trace her finger on the words “Pastor Jacob Franks” before knocking on the door. No answer, no sound coming from inside, and the door was locked. She shuffled in her pocket for her set of church keys, found the one to Jacob’s door, and turned.
      As the door swung open she saw what was a familiar head of hair and pasty white skin, and her first thought was: he’s changing into his robes. Then she saw the thrusting motions, the perfect white legs on either side of him, and the curled blond hair showing over the back of his head like a wig. Neither Mrs. Beatty nor Jacob heard her come in, and when she left with a small click of the lock, neither of them heard her leave.
      “He wasn’t there?” Charlene asked when she saw the brownies still in Sara’s hands.
      “No, he must have headed home. Here, you keep them. I have plenty more cooking in the kitchen.”
      “Thanks, Sara. Oh, and I forgot to tell you, Mr. Beatty called looking for Sadie and I told him that you were the only other person here right now. He asked to be put on hold until you came back out so that he could talk to you. Persistent man, that Mr. Beatty — no wonder Sadie’s leaving him.”
      “I’ll take it in the copy room,” Sara said, rushing into the back room and closing the door. The line rang almost immediately.
      “Do you know?” asked a slurred voice on the other end.
      “I just found out.”
      “She’s there right now, isn’t she?” It wasn’t really a question, and Sara wondered if Mr. Beatty was sitting outside in the parking lot as they spoke.
      “I’m coming over, and by the time I get there I want you gone.”
      “What are you going to do?”
      “What I should have done when this first started. I’m going to kill him.”
      The line went dead, and Sara tried to put the phone back on the receiver and missed. Finally, after a few deep breaths, she called the police.
      “And what does your husband do for a living?” the gruff voice on the other end asked her.
      “He’s a pastor.”
      “I see… Well, Mrs. Franks, we’ll be there soon. If you know of a safe place to hide out until the suspect is apprehended, that may be the best thing to do.”
      Even her hands were traitors, shaking so badly that it took three tries to get the door open. She rushed past Charlene, the woman’s voice just white noise, and down the hall to Jacob’s office. This time she hit the door with her fists, and a half naked Jacob opened it to find his wife hyperventilating in the halls.
      “You can tell Mrs. Beatty to stop hiding,” Sara said, and the other woman came out of the robe closet. “First of all, Mrs. Beatty’s husband is coming here to kill you, so you and I are going to Marge’s tonight. Sadie, do you have a safe place to go where your husband won’t find you?”
      Sadie nodded, too embarrassed to say a word. As she should have been, after stealing the husband of the woman who baked the Beatty’s meals during the birth of their first child, the same son who Sara then taught in Sunday school and even babysat a few times when his parents forgot to pick him up.
      “Great, then we need to leave now. Oh, and Jacob, the second thing: I want a divorce, you lying, scheming son of a bitch. And I’m not scared to say that in front of the Lord, because he should know.”

      The last time she was in her house before fleeing to Marge’s, Jacob stood across the living room, head down and eyes on anything but her, after she told him they needed to leave NOW. The word floated in the air, N O W, in bold red like an exit sign. Her fingers grazed the thick canvas of their sofa pillow, its weave like the deep blue linen of her bridesmaids’ dresses, and she pulled it to her chest for the closest thing to a hug she could get.
      There was no need for him to touch her, and yet when he saw her tears and the pillow he stepped back into the room.
      “Don’t cry, Sarabear,” he said, which made her cry harder. If only she could go back to that day at the church and turn her back, spill her coffee, or remember that she already had a boyfriend who loved her, none of this would have happened.
      “I still want you,” he crooned, stepping slowly towards her like a tiger, “I still love you.” If he had stopped talking then, maybe she could have stayed with him or at least pretended for a while. But then he continued: “I don’t want to pick between you. I’m sure we can work something out, the three of us, like civilized adults. You’re my wife, after all.”
      Share her husband, like a doll on a playground? If Sadie wanted him, this unfaithful hypocrite of a man, she could have him.
      Then Sara raised the pillow like the Eucharist, blessed it, and threw it with all of her might. It wasn’t much, as her friends would say later, she should have thrown the good china or a meat cleaver. But for Sara, who had never hit another human being in her life, this pillow was her redemption. It flew from her hands like Noah’s dove, soared on the wings of her anger, and hit Jacob smack in the face with a satisfying whump.
      After it fell like a dead body, Sara looked Jacob straight in his dazed eyes and said: “I’m not your wife anymore.”

      Now the house is quiet, filled with Jacob’s things like a shrine — or more accurately, a tomb. When they left Marge’s house he gave her an address — printed in pencil on a jagged rip of lined paper from the corner of one of Boris’s notebooks — where she could send his things, and she recognized it as his mother’s. Will Sadie live there too, under the kitchen floorboards in the dank unfinished basement, above which Jacob’s mother works for hours to produce a dinner for three? Or will they hide out in a motel like bandits, drinking stale wine and bread in a continuous toast to their passion?
      Sara drops the bags at the door and steps into the living room, where she finds the pillow still there: a memorial for her first action as a single woman. She sits down with her legs crossed and brings the pillow to her chest, like comforting a child, and stares about the room for something of hers. Jacob’s books line the shelves, his degrees and family photos consume the wall space, and even the rug is one of his mom’s old hand-me-downs. The town house stinks of him — his church’s communion closet musk, their Irish soap, old paper — and though she used to find those smells aphrodisiacal, now they choke her like a toxic haze.
      She rushes to the French windows and throws them open, even though it’s under thirty degrees and raining. Then she attacks the silence, taking each rare book from the shelf and throwing it to the ground like the drop of a dead bird mid-flight. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. A whole shelf wiped out in one swish of her hand; airborne, the wisdom of the written word is nothing but dead weight. The Bible reaches the shooting squad eventually, with its worn out red cover, but this one she puts back like a too-small fish.
      Spread-eagled pages litter the floor, so dense she has to wade to the bedroom. On the way she stumbles on one and to her surprise the book caves in under the pressure. Of course, she thinks as she bends to pick up the hollow box, Jacob would hide things in the one place she’d never look. Not in any of the biblical texts or study guides, but in a box disguised as Madame Bovary on the “classics” shelf Sara never borrowed from. Opening the flap reveals what she already knows: the contents are love letters, old fashioned notes passed before and after service, strung with twine as a keepsake like an old soldier’s correspondence with his wife. She doesn’t have to open them to know what they say.

      The next time Sara sets foot in a church is for her college roommate’s wedding. Her divorce has been finalized for a year, but still she can’t enter a narthex without a spasm running up her spine. They caught Mr. Beatty red-handed and soon after Jacob and Sadie moved into Jacob’s mother’s basement in Ohio, but Sara imagines she sees them everywhere she goes.
      “Bride or groom?” the groomsman asks her as he takes her arm.
      She was once the bride, her long white train trailing behind her, little pearls shining in the lace like pebbles in sand. Now she wears a conservative sweater set that her mother gave her last Christmas, trying to blend in with the crowd in case anyone from school heard. He seats her near the back practically behind a large flower vase, perhaps picking up on her anxiety, and she is glad she can disappear.
      Once she settles in, she starts to page through the hymnal in front of her. The music is what she misses most, the choir practice and the way their voices twisted like rope up through the rafters to God, and for a second she thinks that maybe it is time to go back. Maybe this wedding is a sign.
      “Excuse me,” a man says behind her, and then she feels a hand on her shoulder. She tenses, and as she turns she dreads the pity she will see in a former schoolmate’s face. Instead the man is smiling, and something about the adorable upturned lips and the frizzy brown hair seems so familiar to her. No wedding ring, no woman by his side, but something about him… could it be?

Kelly Ann Jacobson is currently pursuing her MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, and she is the Poetry Editor for Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine. Kelly has had poems published in Wooden Teeth magazine and Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, a short story published in The Exhibitionist Magazine, and a four part blog on Her work can be found at

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