Saturday, March 27, 2010

Okay here’s some fiction – a very short story

Title: She Always Said

Feed the desem.

That's it. That's all it says.

In her familiar, scrawling hand like a voice from beyond the veil.

My inheritance. I have no idea.

Dad and Jimmy empty her house. I don't go. Boxes stand where the sofa should; pictures off the walls. It would be just like the wake – visiting an empty shell, saying goodbye.

Tonight Dad shakes my shoulder when he gets home. I found something you should keep. He holds it out to me. Blue pottery. Heavy in my hands.

The Rising Bowl.

It's midnight when I flip the switch in Marmie's kitchen. The owl faceplate stares at me with unblinking eyes. Welcome home. They barely started on the kitchen – a few boxes filled, the last push before they gave in to night and sleep and grief.

I open all the cupboards. Let them stand open. Cream of Wheat. The potato ricer. Corningware. Old friends, witnesses.

I pile necessities on the table. Flour and salt. Measuring things. The Raising Bowl.

You have to work she always said, pressing into the dough with her long fingers. Kneading brought color to her cheeks. She never needed makeup.

It's delicate she always said, covering the dough ball with a towel, tucking it in safe for the rise.

Now we play she always said, bringing out cards and marbles and paper dolls.

Don't ever punch she always said. No violence around here. Gentle it down. Her cool hand over mine, slowly sinking in.

Now watch she always said. The shaping was hers alone. I was too hasty, too rough, she said. Press into a circle. Fold so it smiles. Bring in the sides. Press flat, now roll up – a loaf.

I always greased the pan, butter in all the corners, licking my fingers.

Into the pan, final rise. She washed the dishes, handing them over to me to dry. The giant Rising Bowl. Mine now. A chip in the rim from when I almost dropped it once. Marmie's cheek against my tears.

Into the oven. She always flicked the light on and we'd watch. Inevitably, I'd skip away. Distracted.

Annie! It sprung! she'd always say. I'd race back into the kitchen, skating in my socks to peer through the oven glass.

Ohhh I'd always breathe. The high arc just turning golden. And the magic A slashed into the crust – she never forgot.

But I'm forgetting something.

All those years on the west coast. The sun will fry your brain she always said. When I visited at Christmas there was never time to bake bread.

Now I'm here in Marmie's kitchen, without her, up all night, wasting flour trying to resuscitate a dead recipe, grasping straws and sticky dough. It doesn't rise.

I open the fridge looking for a beer – habit, of course. I know Marmie hated the stuff.

The shelves aren't totally bare: a quarter gallon of milk post-date by now, strawberry jam, cottage cheese. She was on her way to the grocery store when it happened. Her car. A tree. Dead at the scene.

And there on the top shelf a clear glass mason jar. A carefully shrouded lump resting inside. A scotch-taped label: Desem.

I sit on the cold tile floor. Unscrew the cap. A sour, fermenting smell hits me in the face. Overpowering. But familiar. And still alive.


Daaay-zum she always said. It sounds different than it looks.

The starter.

The bread rises this time.