She invites me into her kitchen, wood
shavings and pulp curl at her feet. She chisels the last
detail with a flourish, smiles boldly,
teeth the color of willow. There in her hands: a pattern
etched into the cherry wood of forest and stream,
a cottage in the distance. She sets down
the adze, takes up a bowl. A crack of eggs,
globs of molasses, a crown of flour. Her fingers
press and squeeze the paste-like dough into every nook,
no excess seeping out, over the sides.
This she learned as a child from the witch:
the art of decorating, the ceremony of presentation.
She does not allow me to help, not even to level
off the flour or lick a spoon. Useless, I fiddle
with a potholder, its kitschy design to look like a boy’s
trouser pocket. Ashes and stale bread overwhelm my palette
as I slip on the singed fabric, a tight fit. Tucked inside,
a lost candy, plump and pink, that I pop into my mouth,
absent-mindedly, a child once more delighted
by sweets. In the corner, a boy’s cap hangs
on a peg near the larder.
The egg timer cackles as she opens the oven door,
removes the gingerbread, cools it on a thin wire rack.
She turns, eyes burnt, hands scalded. “Come closer,”
she motions to me, voice eggshell brittle. I swallow and gaze
at the steaming pastry, leafless trees,
lifeless house and in the window: a small boy,
his hands outstretched toward the molasses pane,
the open fire waiting behind him.
Shelly Jones (she/they) is a Professor of English at SUNY Delhi, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has previously appeared in Podcastle, New Myths, The Future Fire, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @shellyjansen.
Artwork: Anders Zorn, Bread baking, 1889