The flowered apron had been handed down along with the family recipe book for generations. Catherine flipped through the pages as one would a photo album. Instead of seeing the faces of the matriarchs that had come before, she could recreate in her mind special occasions with the smell of corn pudding, the flavors of homemade red sauce and the feel of hands kneading potica dough.
She pulled the apron over her head and tied the strings behind her. The preheating oven spread its warmth throughout the bright white kitchen. Catherine was partial to baking over cooking. To her, baking was love. Love in the form of a birthday cake for her child. There was nothing wrong with store bought or boxed cake, but she needed to feel a connection to her creation.
Catherine measured and poured and cracked the eggs, wiping her hands on great-grandma’s apron as she went. The best part was the chocolate ganache frosting. Such a simple recipe, chocolate and cream in equal measure stirred into a smooth, decadent delight.
While the cake baked and the frosting set, Catherine gathered twelve candles in her son’s favorite color, purple. She flipped through the photo album from his first birthday celebration. The cake she created that first year was perfect for the little boy he was then. Catherine had carved our part of the cake and crumbled it in a pile. She used a few of her son’s miniature construction toys on top mixed with construction cone candles.
The photos showed his chubby little hands digging in and smearing dark frosting all over his round face and tuft of baby-chick hair that was finally growing in. She could almost feel his sticky hands and smell his sugary breath. He was surrounded by family and gifts and balloons. Catherine’s favorite photo was the one with her and her husband helping blow out the candles on top, the three of them together.
With the cake cooled and frosted, Catherine placed the candles on top. She lit the twelve little points of light and quietly sang Happy Birthday to Jack. Catherine placed three pieces of cake on her grandmother’s Blue Willow plates. As she sat alone eating her piece, Catherine imagined what her son would be like at this age. She thought of the missed milestones and the achievements he would never experience. Days like today she especially missed her husband. Grieving not only both losses, but having no one to grieve and reminisce with was extraordinarily lonely.
When her piece of cake was gone Catherine scraped the rest into the garbage and placed the plates in the sink. She didn’t have the energy to clean them now. She removed her apron and replaced the recipe book back on the shelf. Catherine carried the photo album back to her bedside table where it resided. She kissed the photo on her nightstand and dropped into bed. Tomorrow would come whether or not she wanted it to.