Some people swore that the house was haunted, but the Mohadeens had moved in anyway. He was a doctor and she stayed home.
Janey stopped by the first Monday after they moved in. The pie she brought was apple, golden and hot.
“Please, join me,” Yazmina said, and invited Janey in to share a slice.
“Beautiful,” Janey observed, as she peered in through the open front door at the new furniture and fresh paint.
“We’ll sit here, on the porch. It’s such a nice day.”
Yazmina brought out dishes and glasses of milk, and they sipped in the late-morning silence. The hostess watched her neighbor bite into the pastry carefully, as if not wanting to break the crafted crust. Crumbs from her own yet untasted slice fell onto her black abaya and sat there like dandruff.
“Do you get hot, wearing that?”
“No. It’s light material.”
Yazmina considered her neighbor. Buxom, shoulder length brown hair that hadn’t been styled in a long time, khakis, an ironed t-shirt.
“I have a trick.”
“Sometimes I go out with nothing underneath it but a bra and panties.”
Janey’s sharp, loud laugh penetrated the garden stillness and bounced off the house across the street.
“Yes,” Yazmina smiled. “There’s no harm in it.”
“No. Not now, but sometimes, yes.”
Yazmina placed her dessert dish on the table between them. A car rolled by, and like most neighborhood vehicles, it sped up a little just as it passed the house. Janey was almost finished with her pie.
“Won’t you try some?”
“Of course,” said Yazmina, and broke off a bite with her fork. It tasted sweet and moist in her mouth.
“I know you’re all afraid of this house.”
Janey looked over at the woman of the house leaning, relaxed, against the back of her lawn chair.
“Well — I wouldn’t say afraid. Just overly respectful, I guess.”
“It seems silly.”
Yazmina knew Janey was wondering if they were having the same conversation, thinking about the same thing. Another car passed, and Yazmina recognized the man who lived two doors down. His stare lingered even after his NY plate was only a speck on the far end of the street.
Janey was ready to leave. She offered to help clear up but Yazmina waved her hands no, insisting. When Janey reached the last porch step, she turned, one foot on the dirt, and as though stilling her nerves, she asked,
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
Yazmina looked at Janey.
“I mean, in your religion. Spirits of the dead… come back to earth?”
Yazmina’s hijab was tight around her face. She looked out into the garden.
“It’s just the Stevensons’ boy. He killed himself here, in this house, you know. Shot himself right in the head.”
Janey’s foot left the step and she stood on even ground.
“Army,” she said. “Around here, nothing was ever the same again after that.”
Of Sri Lankan and Australian parentage, born in Saudi Arabia, and deeply moved by food, Ranica Arrowsmith currently writes in New Jersey.