Fiction

Kitchen Mystic by Paulette Licitra

The Deconstruction by Karen Cantrell

Patisserie de Pakistan by Gregors Johnson

Meals of a Lifetime by Rebecca Keller

Ode to Risotto by Donald Newlove

Fully Committed by Doug Sovern

Biscuits and Gravy by William Blomstedt

Keeping It Tidy by Alan Linton

If I Knew You Were Coming by Alisha Lumea

On Your Only Day Off by Nicole Edwards

Bagpipes and Pan Fried Smelts by Ted Radakovic

Joseph Conrad’s Dark Linguini by Giovanni Berchtold

Missing Something by Jean-Luc Bouchard

We Love You, Mayonnaise! by Alona Martinez

Japanese Food by Esther Cohen

Raw Köfte by Hardy Griffin

Proust's Soup by Giovanni Berchtold

A Sacred Virgin by Paulette Licitra

on a friday evening by Keith Leidner

Ropa Vieja by Raul Palma

Deidre's Last Meal by Esther Cohen

Wired by Alan Linton

Chestnut by Katherine Gleason

The Moon is an Outdoor Sandwich by Patty Houston

Garlicky Greens by Lois Marie Harrod

First the Shell, Musical; Then the Custard, Irrevocable by Sarah Begley

Meals of Choice by Dorian Fox

A Low Table by Christian Aguiar

The Sylvian Fissure by Rosalie Loewen

Two Versions of Eating Potatoes by David Spiering

Conch Salad by Michele Ruby

Hopper by Michael Onofrey

Caution: Coffee is Hot by Gary Scott

The Fairy Part by Alberto Giuseppe

Foie Gras by Judith Edelman

Rosemary and Olive Oil by Gail Gauthier

Mario's Shoes by Natalie Parker-Lawrence

Cake by Marianne Villanueva

Retreat: October on Copper Mountain by M.E. Parker

The Sandwich Diaries by Angus Woodward

But There Was No Star Anise by Andrew Martell

Fruit Route by Susan King

Cake

by Marianne Villanueva

November 2012    

She was stepping in the front door of her own house. She recognized the red door, the brass knocker, the small square of glass through which she peered when someone rang the doorbell. She was appalled to note there were cobwebs hanging just above the door, and a brown mite clinging for dear life to a loose tendril of web. She decided to let it be, carefully lowering her head as she passed through the threshold. Strange that only a little while ago, she'd been lying flat on her back on a street not two corners away. Paramedics had been pounding on her chest. She wanted to scream, Stop! Stop! When she raised her head a little, she could see her car. Smoke was coming from the engine, plainly visible now beneath the tented hood. Hovering nearby was the stricken face of an elderly man. It took a few moments to realize that this was the driver of the other car, a low-slung Buick. The man kept shaking his head and muttering, Dear God, Dear God—

Dear, she wanted to call out. Mahal!

But what was she thinking? This was not her husband! She gave herself a shake. And she found herself home.

Miraculous, that she'd been able to walk. It was a hot day-- in fact, sweltering. The sun pounded down on her head, her blouse was soaked. Her husband was sitting in the same position she had left him, reading his paper on the couch. She slipped past him (thankful that her quiet tread did not attract his notice) and headed for her son's room. She nudged open the door with her bare foot.

It bothered her that she couldn’t remember what had happened to her shoes. But she shrugged off the annoyance as she looked at her fifteen-year-old son, stretched out on the bed, reading his Duelist magazine. Fifteen years ago, she and her husband had combined their two names, Delia and Boy, and the fruit had been this child, who looked nothing like either of them, who cursed (secretly, but she knew) angrily about school and homework, who scrawled “Fuck!” on the covers of his notebooks and dreamt about running away or about being adopted by some other family. She’d read an essay he’d written for English class. She saw the grade, a C, and knew he had crumpled it up and meant to throw it away. Instead, he’d absentmindedly brought it home. She’d found it under the bed one day when she was vacuuming. In his essay, her son talked of being misunderstood, of his parents not being happy. Some of that was true. But there was always an element of drama in everything her son did.

I'll make him a surprise, she thought, heading for the kitchen. She opened the kitchen cabinets, searching for what she needed. It's been so long since I made this. He’ll surely love it.

It was mid-October. This knowledge took her by surprise. Sunlight glittered through the window.

Her hands began to range busily over the counter. She tried to remember why she had left the house that morning — some trivial errand. Perhaps she’d been heading to Safeway; she’d noticed just now, from looking into the fridge, that they’d run out of eggs. Yes, that was probably it. But something had stopped her from actually reaching her destination. Some force. Had she been about to return to the house when the accident happened?

She frowned, and looked down at her hands. She noticed for the first time that the nails were cracked and chipped. A brownish matter clung to the cuticles. In fact, her hands looked a fright. She wrapped them up in the dishtowel, suddenly anxious. Her arms, too, she saw now, were covered with long scratches, as if she’d had a tempestuous encounter with Snowball, their cat.

She did want to bake this cake, she decided. She would finish it, here and now. She had a tendency to leave her projects half-done, she was always going on to the next thing, always in a hurry. In the long past of her marriage, her husband had had many disappointments; her son, too. She worked hard on the cake, until the batter was ready to pour into the cake pan. The exertion, the sheer concentration required to follow all the steps without leaving the kitchen, had worn her down. Outside it was a beautiful day. How she longed to go outside now and be in the warm sun. Silly to have spent so much time indoors, in the kitchen. But the cake, it delighted her to see, was actually done. And she hadn’t remembered putting it in the oven. She hadn’t remembered, either, setting the timer or waiting for anything. It seemed as though she’d merely blinked, and the cake had popped out of the oven, perfect and puffy. A masterpiece.

She blinked happily.

If only, she thought, she could say what she had meant to say that morning. Why had no one told her? Love was not simply a feeling, not something as simple as joy or happiness. The complexity, the enormity of it had dawned on her slowly. And, like an invisible thread, it had pulled her forward, forward through the chaos of the wreck. It had guided her here, back to her home. Where she now felt safe, cocooned from the street and the chaotic sound of men shouting, the smell of gasoline on hot asphalt, and of metal burning.

Pleased with her discovery, she smiled. She patted her hair with unsteady fingers. I'll take a shower later, she thought. Wash all this muck off. Her eyes were drawn once again to her fingers. She realized with a start that some of her fingernails seemed to have been sheared off. Some tremendous force had come, had produced in her a wreckage of blackened fingers. She stared down, fear like a little coil in her belly, unwinding.

  

The phone was ringing. Someone was pounding on the door. It always happened this way: their house, so silent most of the time, would suddenly crack open to receive the outside world. Many things would happen at once. It was never one thing at a time. "Jesus Christ!" her husband exclaimed, throwing down his paper.

She was still in the kitchen, holding a spatula in her floury hand. The baking things had made a mess of the countertops. Snowball appeared and with a graceful jump landed on the countertop. She tried to push the cat off but the cat ignored her, its pink tongue greedily licking the remnants of batter that had dripped over the sides of the mixing bowl.

“Snowball! Bad!” she said, and swung at the cat with all her might. The cat merely waved its head and hissed. It did not stop licking the counter.

Peering through the kitchen door, she saw a policeman standing in the living room. He was huge; her husband looked suddenly small and timid beside him. The policeman had red hair. His head seemed to graze the ceiling. There were black smudges on his cheeks and hands, which reminded her of the ones she had noticed on herself. How curious. Puzzled, she watched.

  

In a flash, she knew. Even before the big man had opened his mouth. She knew. She felt suddenly dizzy and swayed. She put a hand out to clutch the counter, to save herself from falling, but it was too late. She could feel herself sinking slowly to the floor. The spatula dropped from her hand and made a soundless landing on the linoleum.

There was movement behind her--Deyhboy was running out of his room.

"Dad? What's wrong?" her son was saying. She wanted to catch him in her arms but he was already past her and halfway to the door where her husband stood, talking with the policeman. The policeman, it seemed, was going away. To a place that he indicated with a gesture, a place behind the distant trees. She thought she smelled smoke.

The policeman was still speaking. His voice was low and gravelly. As he left, he patted her husband’s arm. She couldn't make out his words, but she knew from the tone of his voice that the news he was delivering was bad. And now she began to feel curiously insubstantial. It was as if threads of her being were coming slowly unwound and floating away on the dry air. Wait, she wanted to say. Wait, please wait.

A whiteness started seeping into the edges of her vision. Her hands stretched out, imploring, but imploring -- what? Her thoughts were in a muddle now: here she was watching the mourners at her grandmother’s funeral. But her grandmother had died when she was three years old. Someone, she didn’t know who, was holding her hand. An instant later, she was 25, in a blue hospital gown, staring at a child who cried lustily in her cupped arms. “If only—“ she thought.

“If only what?” said an unfamiliar voice. She raised her head.

  

Later, much later, when Deyhboy had stopped crying and felt the first pangs of hunger, he wandered into the kitchen. There were the things his mother had put out, as though she’d been preparing to make a cake. She had put everything in readiness: the flour, the baking powder, the spatula, the mixer, even the crystal cake pedestal that he’d only seen her use twice in his life: once, when he’d graduated from middle school and she’d ordered a strawberry shortcake from Draeger’s. The second time, on his father’s fortieth birthday, when his mother had surprised everyone by following a recipe from a cookbook and producing a chocolate cake of surpassing moistness and richness.

Deyhboy had never forgotten that cake, even today, years later. His mother had kept promising she would make another one for him.

When Deyhboy lifted a hand to wipe his eyes, he felt a light dusting of flour and powdered sugar on his damp cheeks.



  Marianne Villanueva is the author of three published short story collections, one of which was a finalist for the Philippines' National Book Award. Her stories have appeared in The Threepenny Review, ZYZZYVA, The Asian American Literary Review, Wigleaf, Phoebe, Prism International, and Used Furniture Review, among others. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Photo used under Creative Commons.