Apricot Marmalade by Jillian Parker
A westerly wind was whistling in the birch leaves, tugging at them playfully, dancing with them, spinning them round and round until they settled, one by one, onto the path. A lone pedestrian crunched along the walkway, watching the way the leaves stuck to his worn loafers. He shifted the large satchel, which hung over his shoulder, to the other side, and took the weight off his right leg for a moment. The light of the sunset seemed to meander lazily towards him, filtered as it was through the swaying branches.
The man shouldered the bag once more, and strode through an archway. The sign over it read: Izmailovsky Park. The metro station nearby buzzed with the activity of commuters and hawkers, who were packing up their wares for the evening. Barely glancing at them, he walked up the street, limping slightly, and then stopped at the entrance of an apartment building. He went down the cement stairs towards the basement, and inserted a key into a door.
He hung his large, broad-brimmed hat on a hook, and the hallway light then illumined the face of a man with rounded features, a nose which must have been broken in at least one fight, and gentle, gray eyes. He rubbed the back of his neck, and headed for the kitchen, where he filled a kettle and put it on the stove.
The kitchen was unusual for a Moscow apartment, in that it was not separated by a wall from the other rooms, but opened out into his sitting room. On the white plaster behind the kitchen counters, he had painted a series of dark-red rectangles, in a formation that approximated a brick wall. This introduced a note of color into an otherwise drab room.
He peeled wax from the rind of a cheese, set it on a board, and cut a few slices. Then he fetched the bread, and some carrot salad, which was left over from his supper the night before. The kettle sang, and he poured its contents into a small pot, already warm on the stove, straight onto the fragrant ceylon leaves.
He ate slowly, and then reached for a jar of apricot marmelade. The apricots were orange spheres, suspended in amber gel. He held the jar between his eyes and the kitchen lamp, musing at the sight, then he opened it and spooned one perfect apricot into a dish. With a silver spoon, he lifted it to his mouth and tasted its flesh. In the center of each apricot, he had placed, instead of the pit, a perfect walnut half, the nutty flavor of which complemented the sweet syrup. He took a sip of tea, and sighed in approval of his own craftsmanship.
The sitting room contained a large, re-upholstered antique couch, which nineteenth century artisans had constructed to approximate a lounge that might have served the ancient Romans. He lay back on the couch, and picked up a book, opening it to a story by Nikolai Leskov, The Alexandrite.
"Look, here it is, the prophetic Russian stone. O crafty Siberian. It was always green as hope and only toward evening was it suffused with blood..."
He read until the book closed itself onto the folded hands on his breast, and he slept. The window rattled in its casement, as it began to be bombarded by an Autumn rainstorm. Rows of droplets trickled down the glass; water, with its patience and wisdom, flows until it can no more, and is gathered back up to the heavens.