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“No Pectin Needed” by Gay Degani

No Pectin Needed

by Gay Degani

The price of gasoline has gone up 200% because of those damn Opec-kers, the Yom Kippur war is raging, bombings in London are rampant, and now Watergate! How can Joyce have faith in anything if she can’t even trust Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States?

She is a fretter, has always been a fretter, and now that the world is truly—this time, for real—falling apart, she isn’t quite sure what to do. She has—for the most part—already begun to disengage.

No more going out to lunch with the girls who work in the offices around her, which means no more four-finger hot dogs at the tiny hut down on Mission Street, no more Italian subs with extra vinegar from Itchy Foot, no more tostadas at Ernie’s.

At first the lunch buddies beg her to go, goad, tease, shame, and eventually ignore her. Nothing changes her mind. Linda—who has a station wagon—is a terrible driver so Joyce worries about her speeding through red lights, swerving over the yellow line into traffic, fiddling with her lipstick because she has a crush on the cook at Ernie’s and must look her best. Betty tells her she worries too much. The big Chevy wagon can survive any smash-up, but Joyce shakes her head, brings her lunch, and sits alone in the corner of the break room.

She doesn’t like what’s happening to her, the cattle-prod anxiety from skull to toes. Not just the jumpiness, but the loneliness as well. Mixing with others, waiting for them to announce the next bad thing to happen, makes her swallow over and over, makes her sweat. Now, if she hears an anxious voice, a scream from down the hall, a car backfiring, any loud noise whips her around in her chair, screeching, “What’s that?” 

Joyce is one of three women who record sales in big fat books for the buyer of women’s budget clothing at Bailey’s Department store. Each dress, each pantsuit, each polyester outfit, is ticked off on its own page by size and store. She ticks off the buyer too, who yells from her office, “Can’t you take a Seconal or something?” Finally, when one of Joyce’s piercing screams causes her boss to pee her pants, Joyce finds herself fired.

What does it matter anyway, thinks Joyce, with the world coming to an end? She’s safe, isn’t she, inside her apartment with her jigsaw puzzles, her Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Anthony Trollope so she cancels her newspaper, disconnects her telephone, tosses her radio into the trash, puts her TV on the street with a hand-written “FREE” sign. She leaves mail in the box so the mailman dumps the fliers, the magazines, the mounting bills on the cement in the breezeway.

Eventually, the apartment manager pounds on Joyce’s door. Joyce doesn’t answer. Just slips a check through a crack in the window for her rent.

Her brother, who lives in Boston, flies out when the apartment manager calls him about his sister’s distressing behavior.

He takes a cab straight from the airport to Joyce’s front door. He shouts, “Open up. It’s me, Joe.”

She doesn’t answer.

When they were kids, he called her a Nervous Nelly, used to say she’d be the death of herself if she didn’t calm down. Gave her a brother’s worth of shit.

Now he calls her a handwringer, a worrywart, a nail-biter. Cajoles her with memories of fireflies on hot summer nights, tag, hide-and-go seek. He wheedles and begs, then swears he’ll break down the door.

After 40 minutes minutes of unrelenting harassment—he is really angry—he stomps down to the manager’s apartment for a key. They climb the stairs together, the woman unlocks Joyce’s door, and they storm in, shouting Joyce’s name. They peer under the bed, into the closets, behind the curtains. Shudder at the mess in the kitchen. They check the windows, but all are locked. No back door. No Joyce anywhere.

It’s a mystery. He notifies the police. Files a report.

“Her car was in the carport,” he tells his wife when he arrives back home.

“She must’ve run away,” muses his wife, “but where would she go?”

“I don’t know. The apartment manager said she cut herself off from everyone. She couldn’t take any kind of disturbance. She quit her job. She was afraid to go to the grocery store.”

“How did she eat?” His wife sinks down onto the sofa, her brows beetled with concern.

“Had them delivered, I guess.” He considers a moment. “The oddest thing though, was that her apartment was immaculate.”

“That’s not odd. She was a germophobe.”

“But,” he says. “When we went into the kitchen, we discovered a blob of quivering jelly on one of the chairs.”

“Jelly? What kind of jelly?”

“Strawberry, I think. And there sure was a lot of it.”

Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books released her collection of stories, Rattle of Want, (November 2015). She has a suspense novel, What Came Before, published in 2014, and a short collection, Pomegranate, featuring eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be found.