Lauren Scharhag is an award-winning writer of fiction and poetry. She is the author of Under Julia, The Ice Dragon, The Winter Prince, West Side Girl & Other Poems, and the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. She lives on Florida’s Emerald Coast. To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com
For many years, my mother baked cakes as a side business.
It brought in very little money, but it united her love of baking
With her love of working with her hands.
Our house smelled perpetually of vanilla and sugar,
The kitchen sink overflowing with flowers to be crystallized,
Like scrubbed young women waiting to be transformed into brides.
She made sheet cakes and groom’s cakes, shower cakes, petit fours,
And once, a lady’s social club requested an assortment of delicacies
To be served at high tea.
Given a picture and a recipe, my mother could make anything.
Customers would sit in the living room, sipping coffee
As they discussed flavors and the number of guests.
My mother even gave demonstrations on the proper way
To cut and serve. As with everything else,
There’s an art to it: one by two inches, economical and democratic.
Our countertops were littered with the tools of her trade:
Pans, tiers for stacking, lifters, little green baskets of berries,
Toothpicks and popsicle sticks for propping and holding things in place,
Pots of paint in case she needed to touch up a face,
To turn a plastic blond into a brunette, or vice versa,
Icing bags and tips, and of course, there was always cake.
There was always an assortment of frostings, bricks of cream cheese,
Fairy mounds of powdered sugar, Play-Doh-like fondant.
The cobbler’s children have no shoes,
But the baker’s children can no longer abide buttercream.
For my birthday, she always asked me what I wanted,
And I always said, a plain Bundt cake,
Which I never got. It was always layers and scalloped frosting,
A message written in a flourish, Happy Sweet 16,or
Sure do love you. I didn’t realize
She always saved her best work for us,
I didn’t think about the joy she gave people,
Underscoring the sweetness of their occasions.
But when she made my wedding cake, she knew
I didn’t like almond, so it was a strawberry-swirl dream
Beneath its beautifully molded trappings, and of course,
I botched cutting it, the piece I fed to my husband uneven,
At least four inches. To this day, I can barely stand cake.
Now her things sit in a storage box in the basement,
All those shining white and stainless-steel implements
Gathering layers of dust for ten years.
Arthritis. Carpal tunnel.
If this were a movie, I’d be the sympathetic best friend,
pudgy pushing towards matronly, but unfailingly cheerful,
endearingly clumsy, utterly unfashionable.
Whenever the Hot Main Character goes through a crisis,
she’ll be able to call me or just drop by, no matter the hour,
and I’ll be there, waiting for her with tubs of ice cream, chick flicks,
and the appropriate wisdom: Follow your dreams.
He’s not good enough for you, or, Yes, he’s flawed,
but you two were MADE for each other. Go get him!
And I would not be allowed a love interest,
at least, not at first. My tummy and thighs exist
only to make the hot girl look hotter, the way that Ethel
had to be ten years older than Lucy;
I would be the sensible, bespectacled Velma to her leggy Daphne,
both Selma and Patty to her Marge Simpson.
But in the end, when I am a bridesmaid at her wedding,
I’ll finally be allowed, as an afterthought, to meet someone.
He’ll be as chubby as me, bearish, maybe a beard,
definitely jolly. Our eyes will meet over the buffet table.
I’ll probably even still be holding a chicken wing in my fist.
We’ll smile bashfully and hopefully.
My face will be smeared with teriyaki sauce.