When Mary and Douglas moved back to Bloomington, they came under a cloud. Their neighbours, who’d known them years before when they’d had a vacation cottage by the lake, wondered what had happened in the last seven years. Mary’s round little face had lost the cheeky smile they remembered, and Douglas had acquired a stoop that a mere seven years could not, alone, explain.
Mary and Douglas moved into a rented frame house on the edge of town. They rented it furnished, and when Susan Jones called in to welcome them, she couldn’t see any personal items around the house. She asked Mary when their furniture would be arriving, but Mary was vague about it. Everyone remembered then arriving in town with just one large suitcase each, and three months later, that seemed to be all they had.
Still, though Douglas preferred to spend his time around the house, riding the ride-on mower up and down the slope out back, Mary made an attempt to get involved with things in Bloomington. When there was a concert by the local chamber choir or a reading by an author at Lillian’s Bookstore, Mary would be there, putting on her smile again for the occasion. Though Julie-Anne McPherson thought that smile looked a bit strained. Mary would bring Douglas along to the town events, if she could get him off the mower and into a jacket. The two of them would stand around at interval, or while the book-signing went on, holding mugs of coffee or plastic cups of water, making an effort to chat about local happenings. Whether the library opening hours should be extended, what everyone thought of the new café, how the weather would turn soon. Fall was coming.
Susan Jones and Julie-Anne McPherson recruited Mary to help out with the local church Fall Festival. At this time of the year the apples were ripe and were being gathered from the trees and stacked in wooden crates, Some went into cold storage, destined for sale in the city, but some made it into local apple pies and apple sauce, great with pork and crackling. At the Bloomington First Episcopal Church Fall Festival the local ladies usually raised a lot of money by making and selling the famous fried apples of Bloomington. Tourists drove for miles to sample this treat.
Mary stood over the deep fryer in the church hall, wearing a red apron. Her dyed dark hair stood out around her middle-aged face in a fluffy halo. She dipped apple rings in batter and plopped them into the deep fat, watching as they immediately sizzled and popped to the surface, the batter stiffening into a golden crust. Then she lifted them out with a wire scoop and tossed them into the sugar tray. The next woman along the bench tossed the fried apples in sugar and passed them, hot, to the saleswoman.
Mary watched the sizzling apple rings in an absent-minded trance, her smile taking a rest. Susan Jones whispered to Julie-Anne McPherson: “I hear they lost all their money.”