The Lemon Cake
The Word: Bowl
The afternoon of the potluck at her cousin Debbie’s, Rachel assembled the ingredients for a spectacular dessert. How happy she’d been to see the e-mail from Debbie- S to Z, dessert. Nobody ever remembered a lasagne, a lamb tagine, but an Apricot Almond torte, each layer perfectly prepared? This would stay in the imaginations of the cousins forever. She pulled down her bowl and layer pans, her heavy Mixmaster beater–and out fell great aunt Mina’s bundt pan, startling the dog.
She picked it up, stroking its dull gray metal with the slight greasy finish, its ridges and dents. Aunt Mina’s lemon bundt cake was family legend. Yellow, moist and solid, covered with a hard white frosting you had to crack. That bright lemon flavor.
Aunt Mina had gone to her grave that recipe. That stubborn woman. In a family where people pushed recipes on you with the determination of mothers with ugly daughters or sons of questionable sexuality, Mina refused to budge. The aunts asked, “So, Mina, you gonna go to your grave with that recipe?” And Mina would just shrug and say, “So what if I do?”
Selfish, the aunts whispered among themselves. Who does she think she is? Rachel could still remember her apartment on Fountain Avenue, her pink scalp under the taffy hair, her glasses on a chain–black catseyes with little diamontes, and the cake in position on its yellow and blue cakestand. The boys had given her the cakestand too. She would use it for the Apricot torte, she decided. The cousins would love it.
The torte took hours, but at the end, it was a thing of beauty, the layers, the bits of apricot peeking out. Now all that she needed was a shower and a bit of downtime, a game of sudoku. She dozed off, and woke to her daughter, standing over her. “Mom? There’s a problem. With the cake.”
She raced downstairs. In the kitchen, on the glazed tile counter, lay the ruins of the Apricot Almond cake, torn apart like the victim of a shark attack. “Spock!” she yelled. “SPOCK! I’M GOING TO KILL YOU.”
“He’s just a dog,” Gretchen whispered, terrified, from the doorway.
Rachel breathed. It was only a cake, she reminded herself. Eggs and almonds… hand-pralined almonds… Breathe. Damn that dog, she never wanted a dog anyway, why had she ever let Gretchen bring him home? She glanced at the clock. Just enough time to go down to Ralph’s and pick up something. She had to get over wanting to admired. A cake was a cake.
But down at Ralphs, the cakes looked as forlorn and undesirable as sweaters in a thrift store clearance box. Stale, impossible. Desperate, Rachel returned to the flour and baking goods aisle, to find nothing but rows of cake mixes, Betty and Duncan and their friends. But a red package caught her eye. Lemon Supreme Cake. It included a recipe for lemon pound cake–you added lemon pudding mix, which conveniently sold on the same aisle. She bought two lemons for hard icing and returned home.
That night, at the party, the aunts marveled. The cousins raved. Aunt Mina’s lemon cake had been rediscovered, recreated. Rachel was dubbed a genius. “So what’s the recipe?” they all asked. “What was it?” And Rachel just smiled, as Aunt Mina had. “It’s a secret,” Rachel said. She wished she had kept the diamonte glasses too.
© Janet Fitch 2010 all rights reserved
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: CLIP