I am making a Crunchy Top Lemon Cake from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, in a cardigan from Value Village that cost thirteen dollars and pulls on the back of my neck like the sense of guilt leftover from buying it. There is a nicer cardigan in the closet that only cost five.
It is a Monday in January, and winter has just started.
Janice and Sawyer called me into their bedroom last night to ‘touch base’, a niece’s performance review. Zoe, their daughter, compared it to a lice-check, or getting passport photos taken. They told me that I am not a disappointment, after all, which is a relief. I have spent the past year and a half imagining that, when they raise their voices or purse their lips, they are asking themselves how anyone could be such an idiot, and how much they wish I wasn’t there. Because I know that I’m not a piece of cake, and that, over time, it got too hard, and I just stopped wanting to be. If I was supposed to be stupid and lazy and callous, then, fine. Improvement was exhausting. By that time I had learned to brush my hair and teeth daily, how to wash dishes, and manners (more or less). I decided that, as long as I didn’t unlearn those things, a backslide was permissible.
I am making the cake knowing that nobody else is going to eat it. Zoe has a stomach the size of a walnut, Al eats nothing he can’t put sriracha on, Mei is trying to lose weight, Janice is gluten-free, and Sawyer hates sweet things. Tonight, perhaps, someone will help me eat it, because the church women’s group is meeting at ours; if they don’t, I will find someone at work tomorrow who likes cake and dump it on their desk, wrapped in tin-foil. Baking is not about the end product, after all. It’s about making something beautiful and good out of a cacophony of ingredients, which cannot contain themselves and are each disgusting when swallowed alone and raw, but you can put them together in a certain way that yields anything from the shamefully rich to the so-light-there’s-barely-a-flavour-at-all, and leaves your hands smelling of flour, lemon, and vanilla.
Grace March is a young writer from the Canadian prairies. This is her first publication.