Pomegranates - The Conclusion
A serialized short fiction
During the month of April, I have been serializing my fictional short story, “Pomegranates.” New parts were posted every Sunday morning this month. Below are links to the previous three parts, if you have not read them yet:
Otherwise, please enjoy Part 4, and the final conclusion, of “Pomegranates.”
Pomegranates - Part 4 and Conclusion
By: Shari Lopatin
Pomegranates, © Shari Lopatin, 2019. All rights reserved.
I’d decided to climb into bed early that night and was already snugglin’ under the covers when I heard the sirens. I lived on a quiet street in a quiet town, so the sirens caused enough concern that I crawled outta bed and into my slippers.
The air was freezin’ that night, and we were expectin’ the first snow. I switched on my bedroom light when I realized the sirens got louder and closer. Rubbin’ my arms to stay warm, I sauntered toward the front window and looked outside. About four police cars had parked in front of Helen’s house.
“What the hell?” I asked aloud, and a vile feeling rose from deep in my stomach. Somethin’ was wrong.
I spun around and jogged back to my bedroom, reached into the closet, and grabbed a robe. I wrapped it around my waist before runnin’ outside. The air was damp, and I could smell the snow comin’. But that didn’t matter. My eyes fixated on the crime tape surroundin’ Helen’s house.
“What’s goin’ on out here?” I called, hopin’ one of the officers would answer.
“Ma’am, we need you to step back please.”
“That’s my friend in there. Is she okay?”
Another officer approached when I said this, a tall man with copper skin and slanted eyes. When he spoke, he revealed a thick, Spanish accent.
“You say you’re her friend?” the officer asked.
“What’s your name?”
“Jessie Jay Jones.”
His eyes wilted when I said this, and he turned back to his partner. “This is her,” he said.
By now, I was crazy confused and startin’ to grow angry. Why wouldn’t anyone tell me what happened? I was desperate to know if Helen was alright.
“Miss Jones, we have some difficult news,” the officer said. “Your neighbor, Helen, took her life tonight.”
My heart stopped beatin’ the moment I heard those words. At first, I thought my mind played a cruel trick, but when I asked him to repeat himself, I knew I’d heard correctly.
“How – how is that possible?” I asked.
“She left a note,” the officer continued. “And she named you.”
“She named … me?”
The officer bit his lip. I could tell this was hard for him. “Yes ma’am. She asked if you could take care of Baby Ruth for her. She said no girl should spend too much time alone.”
I lost my balance then, and all I could think about was the heartbroken look I imagined in Baby Ruth’s eyes, and I collapsed to the ground hysterical.
“How could she do this?” I asked, cryin’ into my hands. “Why? Why?”
A woman rushed to my side, and she smelled of peppermint and vanilla. I didn’t see her face, or know her name, but I felt her embrace tryin’ to comfort me. I couldn’t understand what had happened, why Helen would feel so badly that she’d leave Baby Ruth alone. She loved Baby Ruth with everythin’ she had.
They later told me she’d downed a bottle of sleepin’ pills and probably didn’t feel a thing. She left behind two grown children and some grandkids who lived on a ranch in Texas. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this. I’m from Texas, too.
I took Baby Ruth home with me that night, and she howled into the darkness. I’d never heard a cat howl in despair, and it’s the most tragic sound I never want to hear again. I tried to encourage her to eat the food Helen left behind, but Baby Ruth wouldn’t touch it.
I started to panic that she’d die too, but after another day, she finally nibbled. Within a week, she jumped into bed with me and we mourned together.
I stared out my front window as Helen’s family arrived to clear out her house. They piled mounds of crafts into plastic crates, which they transferred into SUVs. I felt compelled to reach out and meet them, but then I grew scared and stayed inside. They probably wouldn’t think much of me anyhow.
I didn’t do nothin’ for Christmas, besides spendin’ it quietly with Baby Ruth on my lap. I thought long and hard about Helen’s last message: no girl should spend too much time alone.
Helen always had people comin’ and goin’ at her house, but maybe it wasn’t enough. I found myself wakin’ each mornin’ and starin’ at her empty place, until one day, I saw myself lyin’ dead in there, and it terrified me.
After the For Sale sign went up, I decided to check on Helen’s pomegranate tree one day. I let myself into her backyard and realized how vacant it felt. The tree still had ripe fruit hangin’ from its branches, so I pulled them off to keep them from rottin’.
“I never did bake you that banana bread,” I said to the pomegranates as I twirled them in my palms. “I’m so sorry, Helen.”
When I pulled the last of the fruit from her tree, I heard a female voice call from the front of the house askin’ who was behind the gate. I didn’t answer, but crept toward the front, unsure who waited on the other side. When I turned the corner, I recognized the woman from the days after Helen died, when she’d wept from the driveway. She was Helen’s daughter.
“Who are you?” she asked, and I was about to run away and retreat into my duplex, but then I remembered Helen’s warning. Swallowin’ my nerves, I forced myself to stop and look the woman in the eyes.
“I was a friend of your momma’s,” I said, and the woman’s expression softened immediately.
“No kiddin’?” she said. “How’d you know her?”
“I live across the street.” I motioned to the patio home with Baby Ruth starin’ out the window.
“Is that my momma’s cat?” the woman asked.
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “She asked me to care for her. I hope you don’t mind.”
The woman nodded, but I could tell she was conflicted, so I did somethin’ I’d never done before. “You wanna come inside for some tea?” I asked. “Maybe you can tell me more about your momma.”
At my offer, the woman grinned, and I realized it was the same welcomin’ smile that Helen always had. “I’d love that,” she said. “My name’s Jeanine.”
I stepped forward and shook her hand. “I’m Jessie Jay Jones.”
“Now ain’t that the most darlin’ name I heard in a decade.”
Her compliment made me feel warm inside. “Thank you,” I said. “Would you like a pomegranate?”
As I handed Jeanine the fruit, I felt fear leave my mind for the first time in my life. Helen’s daughter took the pomegranate from my hand, and we walked across the street together as the snow started driftin’ from above.
A Note from the Author
I dedicate this short story to my neighbor, may she rest in peace. I hope “Pomegranates” brings more awareness to the issues of suicide, trauma and associated mental health problems, and the immense importance of pure, deep kindness to one another—the sort that isn’t superficial, but accepts without judgement and gives genuinely.
I decided to publish my story for free for two reasons: 1) sometimes, writing and storytelling should be free for everyone to enjoy; and 2) maybe it will get you thinking about the stigma around mental health, especially after two years of COVID.
If you feel compelled to stay in touch after reading “Pomegranates,” I encourage you to sign up for my Rogue Writer newsletter here on Substack, if you haven’t already. I may publish more serialized fiction in the future:
Thank you for reading my work. I hope it touched something deep inside of you and made a connection, as only human storytelling can do.