November 30, 2010
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Gloria rinsed her fingertips and dabbed them on her apron to dry. Birthday cake, she focused. Candles. Well, no, she didn’t have birthday candles. Only a partially-used box of Hanukkah candles, which might do, and a bag of white utility candles, for emergencies, which might not. She peered into the makeshift double boiler, where blocks of chocolate were melting in a slow swirl of butter. Actually, maybe she did have birthday candles, she thought, remembering and pulling down a small box marked Candles from the cupboard above the refrigerator. There was her mother’s copper candle snuffer, the long-handled chrome snuffer she had bought when she had given up looking for her mother’s, a cellophane bag of tapers in various colors, and a small box with 12 remaining birthday candles. She could work with 12, she thought, imagining the conflagration that might be her own birthday cake, her face heating with embarrassment at the knowledge she’d never be able to blow them out, with the lifelong fear of spitting on everyone, of blowing her bad breath across the room. Twelve would be fine for Marlie.
She measured out the flour, baking powder, salt, and glanced at the four sunny, glistening eggs in the blue bowl. She could hear her mother calling Taffy! and the cocker spaniel clicking across the kitchen floor to lick up an egg. It was a bit of a joke with them and once or twice her mother had even staged an accidental egg drop just to watch Taffy’s little stub of tail twitch with happiness as she lapped up the mess. For years, long after Taffy’s mysterious disappearance from the front stoop, they would say Where’s Taffy? any time a bit of food fell on the floor…
November 24, 2010
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What she did was only what millions have done: gather scant provisions, bundle the children in layers of warmth, and set out across the frost-crisp winter landscape toward the unknown. Did she lock the door behind her? Did other villagers appear alongside the cart, the white steam of their breath concealing tears? Did they bring baskets stuffed with pastries and sausages and set them at her side so the aroma of home would linger through those first hard miles? Did they pull from their pockets letters and photographs scrawled with memories and assurances, pressing them into her hands, pleading that she carry them, talismans of hope? Did they give her a coin to slip into her shoe or a scarf with a bit of gold stitched into the hem? Did they urge upon her one more blanket—for the little ones!—one more woolen coat? When the old horse had taken the first difficult steps, squaring the weight of the cart behind her, did they stand together, shoulders touching, watching her draw away down the familiar track? Did they wave again and again at the children, smiling and calling, until the cart had rounded the curve in the road and disappeared? . . .
November 20, 2010
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Babydoll sky, fragile pinks, white lace edging, palest blue, soon absorbed into the cottony gray. Snow lingering in the clearcut slash above the neighbor’s roof, a few shaggy heaps and slushy bogs along the road. In the window I see through the window, through the scrim of reflected tree branches, the suggestion of dawn gathers along the ridge. A gull, wings barely moving, carves a furrow across the gray sky and then through the slightly coloring reflection. Another swoops in, is suddenly blown sideways directly toward me, then, with a flap, rights himself and flies on. More gulls, crows, intent on their journey north or south or dipping wing into huge circling loops, down, around, up, and then onward.