The Cake

She turned the envelope over in her hands. She had waited so long for this letter, but now she wasn’t sure if she could bring herself to open it.

There wasn’t much of a letter but to Katie’s delight the recipe was stapled to it — creased, slightly greasy, but written out in a clear, eloquent script.

Katie called in sick to work. One by one, she assembled the ingredients. Jars and envelopes, baggies and tins soon covered her tiny apartment’s kitchen counter and flowed onto the adjacent washing machine and dryer, as well as the kitchen table. She hung straining bags of rosehips from the ceiling and stuffed curing apricot medallions into the refrigerator.

Her roommate came home.

“What the…?” asked Jeff. Katie thrust her open palm in the direction of the recipe, hanging on the wall in a document frame Katie had been saving for the occasion.

He put down his bookbag and joined her at the counter, crushing pistachios with a thimble.

By three p.m. they were flecked with juniper berry oil. Dandelion pollen clung to their hair in a golden aura.

“Preheat the oven to 347.8° F, read Katie, who was now going by her cake-name of Whiskard. The setting sun set the kitchen aglow. Ceremoniously, Jeff — Butterwocky — turned the knob on the oven, the tension in his wrist seeming to know exactly where to stop. The moment before the flame whooshed the oven to life was akin to the pause before the lighting of the Olympic torch. The offering of a lifetime’s relentless preparation.

The cake’s raw, shimmering surface stared blankly at its creators in its teacup-sized pan. As the last ingredient, a single tear slipped from Katie’s cheek as she slid it into the spotless oven. She’d purchased it the day she’d received notice that her recipe request had been received, and had not allowed anyone to use it until now.

For twenty-three minutes they sat in front of the oven, not wanting to disturb their creation by flipping on a light or opening a window, though the tiny apartment seemed to be bursting with aromas — not the least of which were the hard-earned sweat of Whiskard and Butterwocky.

A new smell joined the mix. It was the smell of every caked ever baked and none of them. The scent did not announce itself, it merely entered through the skin and attached itself to neurons, awakening thoughts neither baker ever considered.

Whiskard stared up, marveling at the splattered ceiling of the disastrous kitchen, which they normally kept pristine.

Butterwocky joined the flour-dust on the floor, which contained grains of salt from every corner of the globe.

At minute 18, he could no longer contain the question.

“Will it taste as good as you remember, Katie?” She was inhaling deeply, eyes closed, hands outstretched to the heat of the oven. He was not sure if she’d even heard him.

“No,” she said, after a minute had passed. “But now we can use our kitchen again.”

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