Snapdragons

Prompt: Unexpected Guests (Repost)

sad dog

After coming home from a visit to the doctor, I approached my front door, key in hand, and noticed that my neighbour’s dog was peeing on my rhododendrons. He stopped, lowered his leg, and gazed at me mournfully. He was always escaping from my neighbour’s yard, and always came to pee on my plants when he did.

I entered the house. It felt cold, and I heard voices. Who else had the key to the house? Only my son, who now lived in Hamburg. I had talked to him on Skype early this morning. I heard a woman’s laugh, and it gave me the courage to move from the hall to the living room, where I encountered a man and a woman.

They were sitting close together on the couch, giggling and nudging each other, as they ate hazelnut cake. They were rather sloppy eaters, and crumbs made a path down the front of their clothes, and littered the carpet. They looked up at me and smiled silently, their mouths full.

“What is going on?” I asked. I didn’t raise my voice, despite the fact that I felt I needed an answer to the question immediately.

“We heard about the bake sale,” the man said at last.

“We heard about your cake,” said the woman simultaneously.

“The bake sale is on Tuesday. In the church basement,” I said.

“It’s delicious,” said the man. “By the way, I’m Trevor, and this is my wife, Nancy.”

I took a few steps and glanced into the kitchen, where I noticed two things: the deadbolt on the door to the garden, which was the only other entrance to the house, was still turned and locked; and the counter beside the stove was clear.

I returned to my guests and said, “How did you get in?”

“Oh,” said Trevor, and a shadow of a frown crossed his face. “The laundry room window. The thing is, when we broke the handle, we must have left a sharp edge.” He set the napkin which held the remains of the hazelnut cake on the coffee table. He stretched his left leg out and pointed to a snag in his pants. “I seem to have damaged my trousers.” He and his wife bent over the small tear with great concern. Nancy rubbed his upper arm consolingly.

“I baked four hazelnut cakes,” I said. “Don’t tell me you ate all of them.”

Nancy laughed again. “Oh heavens no. You just missed Ruth and Paul. They were most impressed.”

Trevor took his wallet out of his pants’ pocket and took out a silver toothpick, with which he delicately sought the remains of the hazelnuts stuck in his teeth.

“So you each ate a whole cake?”

“My goodness, of course we did not!” Trevor said, putting the toothpick in his pocket. “That would be piggish. The twins ate most of it.”

“The twins.”

“Yes, they would still be here, they so wanted to meet you, but Eric had to catch a plane. And you know the twins, where one goes the other follows. They are inseparable.”

“Literally,” said Nancy.

I felt a headache coming on. I went to the cupboard and took out a book. I put it in my bag. Then I went to the front door, opened it, and went outside. I closed the door behind me.

My car was parked at the curb. I went to it and started the engine. As I did so, the dog, who had been rooting around among the snapdragons, galloped like a horse to the car. I leaned over and opened the passenger door, and he jumped in.

We drove away.


  • Originally published December 15, 2015
  • Today’s prompt: Meddle
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Leep Has Depth

Prompt: Pattern

Hawaii scene round

“What in hell are you wearing, Leep?” asked Deborah, when she looked up from the mixing bowl. She was using a hand mixer to bake a Duncan Hines cake. Leep had a fleeting moment of intense desire to lick the chocolate batter off the beaters. Something was burning. It was the oven preheating, and making the kitchen fragrant with burnt pizza sauce.

Deborah’s mother, Beth (or Lizzie, as Leep called her, in his head) wasn’t in the vicinity to chide her daughter for being rude, as she usually did when Deb made a thoughtless comment about Leep. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to it. Pretty well everyone at the mill did the same. Deborah’s dead husband, Vincent, used to make all kinds of comments. To be honest, Leep was never quite sure if they were joking around or what. You have to develop a thick skin when you are kind of quiet, like Leep.

Still, Leep could feel the roots of his hair grow hot. His face was probably red.

“It was a gift,” said Leep, immediately feeling he had betrayed his new editor, Amanda Thirsty, who had gifted the shirt to him when it was too small for her brother. Instead of tacitly admitting there was something wrong with the shirt and blaming Amanda, Leep should have stepped up and defended it. Was it too late?

“It’s vintage—“

“It’s godawful. What the fuck,” said Deborah. She might have been talking about the weather. It wasn’t important. She was just pointing it out; she didn’t care.

She put the mixer on a cutting board, and poured the batter from the bowl into two prepared, round cake tins.

The short-sleeved shirt was covered in images of waterfalls, flying fish, hibiscus, and something that looked like fat, green worms. Even Leep wasn’t sure what they were. It was not the kind of thing he usually wore. Maybe he wanted to show Deborah and Lizzie that he had depth. He didn’t just wear plain t-shirts and jackets. This was colourful and vintage. Amanda’s brother liked vintage things, and antiques and stuff. But in this case, if Leep really thought about it, maybe it wasn’t really too small. Maybe her brother hated the pattern, too.

“Oh my god, Leep!” said Lizzie as she suddenly stumbled into the kitchen and dropped two grocery bags onto the counter. “Crazy shirt! I love it. Reminds me of when Deb’s father and I were stationed in Hawaii.” She wore denim capris and a cropped white shirt. Her hair was pulled back in a rough ponytail, strands of hair stuck to a sweaty forehead. She took Leep’s breath away.

“It’s hideous,” said Deborah, careful setting the cake pans onto the rack in the oven.

“Deborah, you insist on being rude to Leep,” Lizzie said, and Leep blushed again. “Oooh, chocolate batter!” She scooped up both the mixer beaters and gave one to Leep. “Put the milk and butter away, would you Deb?” And she led Leep out onto the back patio, where they sat in plastic strapped lawn chairs and licked the batter.

“Does this remind you of your mother’s kitchen when you were a kid?” Lizzie asked. “You know when she baked… and later there would be icing to lick.”

“Oh sure,” Leep lied. He had the memory, but it wasn’t real. His mother had never baked a cake, or given her son a beater coated in chocolate batter. It didn’t taste quite as good as he had imagined, but it felt pretty nice pretending it did.

Like No One’s Watching

Prompt: Construct

sand-castle-palm

“Time is just a construct,” said August, at the weekly Search Inside Myself meeting. Dr Whitley was pleased to have August in the group, since she often started off the conversation before the doctor had time to officially open the session, which was good because Dr Whitley was never quite prepared for what the inmates had to say.

“Bollocks,” said Bonnie, whose new romantic pen pal was from Manchester, England.

“Language,” said Miss Fisher kindly, as if Bonnie was one of her long-ago third grade students.

“Sorry Miss Fisher,” said Bonnie, “But it really is bullshit.”

Miss Fisher sighed.

“You don’t even know what it means,” August said to Bonnie.

“I know I’m doing twelve years worth of time here, and it’s no construction. It’s real.” Bonnie put the little balsa wood dowel that substituted for a cigarette, into her mouth. She scowled and inhaled deeply.

“But it means that you don’t have to look at it like it’s twelve years,” said August. “There’s no such thing as months and years. I mean, who invented them?”

“The judge,” said Agnes. “What do you think, Miss Fisher?”

All eyes turned to the rather thin, elderly woman whose uniform hung more loosely on her frame of late. She straightened up in the grey folding chair, and pushed her glasses up from the bridge of her nose.

“Time is real enough, I think,” said Miss Fisher. “It sometimes helps to dissect it into manageable pieces, like when you eat a layer cake. It is easier to eat a slice of cake than grab a hunk with your bare hands.”

“Mmm, cake,” said Tricia, who usually only contributed once per session, so this was the one thing.

All thoughts turned to cake, and there was a pause.

“So what?” said Agnes. “So what if time is a construct? What difference does it make? I’m out in a few months, Bonnie has a decade left. How does grabbing chunks of cake in her bare hands help her?”

Dr Whitley felt the conversation was straying and cleared her throat as if to speak. She was ignored.

August said, “Well, that’s how I would eat a cake if no one was looking.”

“A chocolate cake?” asked Bonnie, tapping imaginary ash into an imaginary ashtray.

“Definitely,” said August.

Agony Ant: Upside Down

Prompt: Cake

delicious cake

Dear Agony Ant,

I am what you would call a nice guy. I am pretty clean, grew up in a normal family, and am in college now studying to be an engineer, which is not easy and I have to apply myself and avoid all the parties, and I had girlfriends in high school.

What’s with women today? I get feminism, but hasn’t it gone too far? It is really hard finding a decent girl to date and all that, without them demanding this and that and a future, or just wanting sex for one night when I might have feelings for them. It just seems all upside down.

I had this girlfriend and she was beautiful and sexy, but she was always complaining about things like, not feeling safe walking home alone at night in the dark, or pissed off about the short skirt — cat call correlation, or being paranoid about someone slipping something in her drink (or one of her friends, or anyone really).

I get that it is different for women. But I want to say: Don’t walk alone late at night. It’s obvious. Don’t complain, just stop doing it. Walk with someone who can protect you, or walk in the day. Don’t wear the short skirts when you might be insulted— ok she should be able to wear what she wants, but let’s be realistic. It is not a perfect world. And maybe don’t drink so much at parties or in bars— that’s good advice for everyone, right?

Dating was cool in high school. Girls were cool. Now they complain about stuff that they could fix with very little effort. I want fun and casual, don’t girls anymore?

I’m not going to cat call someone on the street (though I did just once, when a bit drunk with some friends, sorry about that), or drug a chick’s drink, or rape someone. So why do I get the grief?

What do women want? Or, how can I work around the unreasonable demands of some girls?

—Sensitive Normal Guy


Dear Marie,

I am sympathetic to your plight. The world has changed, consciousness has changed, women have the vote, and all kind of other confusing stuff. It is easier if things don’t change.

Try learning what the word “empathy” means. Put yourself in your ex-girlfriend’s shoes. Don’t you want to feel safe no matter where you are or what you wear? So does she.

You want relationships to be clear, without too much ambiguity? So does she. You don’t always get to dictate what a relationship is, whether it it sexual, casual, both, serious, or committed. It is now considered normal and sensitive to also consider what your girlfriend or boyfriend wants from a relationship.

Upside down is good, if rightside up is fucked up.

Peace and love,
agony ant


Dear Agony Ant,

Why did you call me “Marie”?

—Sensitive Normal Guy


Dear SNG,

I called you Marie because you seemed so oblivious to the real life experiences of people other than yourself.

“Let them eat cake” was the apocryphal comment attributed to Marie Antoinette, about the poor who complained about having no bread.

She had no idea what they faced. And you, Sensitive Normal Guy, have no idea what young women face.

Stop telling them to eat cake.

Peace and love,
agony ant

The White Ribbon

Prompt: Ghost

hazelnuts noisette
Carmen Toulouse-Alspice’s hazelnut cake did not take first place at the bake-off, nor even second place, but that was not the strangest part.

She knew the secret ingredient, she used fresh hazelnuts from the tree in Paul and Ruth’s backyard, the batter was fluffy and light, and the cake perfectly risen and golden tawny in colour. The usual Hazelnut Cake won the contest again, and it was allegedly a blind tasting so Carmen couldn’t cry foul. And the second best cake came from some country woman who squealed like an orgasmic pig when her name was announced. Cheryl-Ann something.

No, the thing was, when she had the two cakes side by side on her kitchen counter, having bought one of The Hazelnut Cakes from the small booth on the boulevard, and tasted both of them, one after the other, she heard her beloved Uncle Matt and Auntie Thomasina knocking shyly at her back door.

She knew it was them before she saw them through the glass panes.

She asked if they would like some cake and coffee, and they happily agreed, and sat at the kitchen table while Carmen sliced from her own cake, and poured hot coffee from the electric percolator on the counter.

Auntie Thomasina and Uncle Matt chatted about their dogs, and the possibility of a thunderstorm, and about the potholes on the road leading to their home, which had lain abandoned for over twenty years.

Uncle Matt still had that exceptionally persistent cowlick in his hair, now grey, at the back of his head, only kept in place by some kind of hair shellac that Auntie Thomasina picked up at the pharmacy. He’s too old to worry about cowlicks, she laughed. In response, Uncle Matt took out a small blue velvet box and opened it to reveal an engagement ring, one small diamond in a setting of white gold. Would you do me the honour? he asked Thomasina.

They told Carmen who murdered them. It was their neighbour, Clement, who had been in a dispute with them over an easement. He was a nasty sort, they told Carmen. Was he still alive?

Carmen said she would definitely find out, and refilled their coffee cups.

This cake is delicious, said Uncle Matt. Is there ginger in it?

Perhaps you could bake our wedding cake?  said Auntie Thomasina.

Her cake had only taken the white ribbon, but Carmen Toulouse Allspice said: “I would be delighted.” They didn’t hear her. They were gone.

Carmen Toulouse-Allspice II

Prompt: The Stat Connection
Go to your Stats page and check your top 3-5 posts. Why do you think they’ve been successful? Find the connection between them, and write about it.

piraha1

Not only did I get a new trial, but my lawyer and best friend, Carmen, got me out on bail— yes, on the very day of my execution.

As I walked from my death row cell into the sunlight, I paused to feel the free air warm my cheek. “Carmen,” I said. “Thank you. I owe you one.”

“And you will repay me,” she said.

I was in the same grey, mid-length, sleeveless, collarless dress, much like that worn by the women of the Brazilian Pirahã tribe, that the prison had gifted me. Carmen led me to my home, where I put on a fresh white linen gown, and joined the guests she had gathered in the kitchen.

“Here it is,” Carmen said. “The Hazelnut Cake.”

Nancy, Trevor, Ruth, Paul, and the twins were gathered around the old pine table, staring at a cake, or what was left of it. There was a small wedge of a deep golden cake, on a blue china plate, with a small fork beside it. On the counter was another cake, identical in appearance, and Carmen carefully sliced a small piece and placed it on a white china plate, with another fork.

“I need to know,” Carmen said. “The bake-off is tomorrow, and while my cake is very nice, it is not the same as The Hazelnut Cake, and I can’t pinpoint what the difference in flavour is. If I don’t discover it by tomorrow, Cheryl-Ann and her strawberry rhubarb pie will win again. I can’t let that happen.”

“I need a drink,” I said. “Grapefruit juice with sparkling water.”

Carmen nodded at the twins, who jumped up and went to the refrigerator.

When the drink arrived, I breathed deeply its scent but didn’t drink it, as it would render me unconscious. I set it on the table beside me, and gazed at the two plates before me.

“It’s not as fresh as mine,” Carmen said of the smaller slice on the blue plate. “So take that into account when you taste it.”

They looked almost identical. Rich and tawny in colour, with a simple butter icing, light and creamy. I took a small bite of The Hazelnut Cake. So delicate was the flavour that it tickled and enticed my senses as I let it melt in my mouth. Then I took a bite of Carmen’s hazelnut cake. It was moist, and almost as entrancing as the original.

“Something is missing,” I said.

Ruth and Nancy had been talking about snapdragons, but their conversation ceased.

“What is it?” asked Carmen.

I slowly brought a forkful of the original cake to my lips. I savoured, and swallowed. “Ginger.” I said.

Ginger is the underground rhizome of the ginger plant with a firm, striated texture. It has a warm, spicy flavour, especially when fresh. The flesh of the ginger rhizome can be yellow, white or red in colour, depending upon the variety. It is covered with a brownish skin that may either be thick or thin, depending upon whether the plant was harvested when it was mature or young.

The twins clapped their hands excitedly at this revelation, until Paul lightly smacked one of them across the back of the head, at which point they both burst into tears. Ruth made them a pot of tea, which cheered them up; and Carmen, grinning and shaking her head, muttering “ginger!”, sliced her inferior cake into portions, and passed them around happily.

“Did you really murder all those people?” Nancy asked me. Hazelnut cake crumbs danced down the front of her blouse.

While I answered, Carmen Toulouse-Allspice, my best friend and lawyer, covered her ears and sang, “La la la.”

“Oh,” said Nancy. And she said not another word to me, for the rest of her life.

Why I am not a Professional Baker

Prompt: Pour Some Sugar on Me
What is your favorite sweet thing to eat? Bread pudding? Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies? A smooth and creamy piece of cheesecake? Tell us all about the anticipation and delight of eating your favorite dessert.

Danger Cake-I


7 Reasons Why I am not a Professional Baker

 

  1. I can’t get the bread machine to work. How difficult can it be? I researched bread machines and got a good one. It came with a cookbook full of very detailed recipes and instructions, which I follow carefully. I bought all new flour and grains, baking soda and powder, and yeast. Yet, the bread always comes out looking like puffy brains.
  2. When I was a teenager, I made my father a birthday cake from scratch. Feeling ambitious, and with time on my hands, I mixed up a carrot cake and popped it in the oven, in two round cake pans. When it came time to cut the cake and dish it out, the cake spatula wasn’t quite getting through cleanly. Neither, then, did a knife. I had to use a serrated bread knife, sawing like it was a log, to get through this cake, which was unexpectedly firm.
  3. In home economics class we made blueberry muffins. My home ec teacher told me that based on the success of my muffins, I would never get a husband.
  4. Another birthday cake, for a friend. Having learned my lesson about from-scratch cakes, I bought a Duncan Hines confetti cake mix in a box. I followed the instructions and put it into a cake pan. It rose nicely and smelled sweet and delicious. When it was cool I inverted it onto a rack. The centre fell in on itself, leaving a giant cavern. So I made extra butter icing, filled the cake pothole until it looked like a normal, successful birthday cake. It was not a normal, successful birthday cake.
  5. On kibbutz in Israel, my sister and I were the only two female volunteers that did not go into the kitchen after working hours and bake cookies for the male volunteers. Because of this, we had a reputation of being unfeminine.
  6. Baking is a precise science, and like mathematics. I am not good at math. The law of What Can Go Wrong, Will Go Wrong applies to me trying to carefully measure flour and sugar.
  7. There are bakeries, and bakers who can bake. The world of cakes and pastries does not need me.