Home' Focus : 2014 College Yearbook Contents 86
MEMORY IS A FUNNY THING
Eva Mietz really doesn’t mind cooking. People complain about it, don’t they,
but she just can’t see any space for the feeling of it being a chore. It doesn’t
seem possible to dislike the way the handwritten words on an old recipe tell you
exactly what to do, like a whisper from the grandmother you never knew.
Eva has cooked ever since she was a child, and that can attach fond
memories to the whole smell of the thing. The feeling of eggshells under her
fingers, the cold metal of the mixing spoon; it all feels like home, like being a
child not being able to see over the kitchen bench without standing on a chair.
Yes, Eva thinks to herself with a gentle smile, that’s exactly how this feels. She’s
slower now, perhaps, less quick to spill flour down her front and drop eggs, but
it smells the same. If she closes her eyes slightly, pushing her shaky, wrinkled
fingers into the flour bag, she can almost imagine her mother by her side, the
warmth of her apron rough against a tiny cheek flushed with the excitement of
scones to come. Today’s recipe is a favourite. She can remember its every twist
and turn, her mother’s voice reading the ingredient list in her mind, the sound
of it echoing in some long empty kitchen of the past. She even remembers her
mother’s copy of the recipe, the paper stained and yellowed with time. Her
mother always had to retrieve her reading glasses from over by the sink before
she could distinguish the words. She had to do it the same way each time, perch
the glasses’ frame on her proud nose and peer down at the ingredients before
she began. Eva’s always been one for the process too, enjoying the habit and the
ritual of the thing. Time can just slip away if there aren’t things to focus on, to
take time over. She’s quite proud of that philosophy, and its application in her life
is widespread. Mothers are always right.
Eva can’t move as quickly as she used to, skipping around the kitchen behind
her mother, watching steadily as she turned the oven on. Today’s gait is full of the
heaviness of age, fingers shaking around the dials on the oven door. Back then
she was told that the gas oven was hot, it could bite her, and it wasn’t until she
was nearly fifteen that she felt brave enough to turn it on herself. Even now that
residual fear makes her cautious. Old habits die hard.
Sift three cups of self-raising flour
Eva has always loved the powdery feeling of flour on her skin. She can feel
the way it clings to clothes and hair with sweet-smelling persistence. It smells like
making something worthwhile.
Her school-friends used to come over to her house on Thursdays, spirited
and flushed with the heat of the kitchen, and they’d cook pastries together,
giggling in the sunlight and blowing icing sugar off raised palms. The particles of
sugar and flour made the air swim and dance with mischief.
Rub butter into flour to make little crumbs
Eva moves to the next part of the recipe, the echoes of her own teenage
laughter still ringing in her ears. Memory is a funny thing.
Pour milk into mixture and knead into a smooth dough
The stream of milk into the mixture, its opaque ribbon of white, bright,
vitality reminds her of her daughter. The way the tiny thing would stand up on
a chair next to her with a bright red ribbon in her hair, asking, toothily, whether
the chocolate milk she’d had at school was made when the cow ate chocolate
for a week or two. ‘Could I feed a cow your lovely scones and have scone-milk,
mummy?’ Kneading too, she’d love to sink her tiny fingers into the soft swell
of the dough, giggling when her hands disappeared into it. Shrieking that her
‘hands had fallen off’ enthusiastically enough that her mother was worried for a
Eva has to watch herself, even now; she knows that worry makes people
crazy. Her daughter was so spirited; always dashing headlong into questionable,
terrifying unknowns; a hard girl to mother, all things considered.
Cut out rounds of dough and place on prepared tray for baking
She cuts the shapes out of the mass of dough with heavy breath. There’s
something coming up next that’s scary, but she just can’t remember why. It’s a
shadow in the corner of the room; Eva’s eyesight’s not what it used to be. There’s
a knock at the door as she places the cut outs on the tray neatly one centimetre
apart. She breathes in the smell of warm dough, trying to recapture the kitchen’s
magic. But now there’s a shadow.
Dust with plain flour and cook until golden brown
Her heart beats oddly in her chest. Eva doesn’t like any of this. Who would
be at the door? Is that why she’s baking these scones? She looks up slowly
from the tray, confused. The curtains are moving in the breeze and sending
shapes skidding across her white wall. That must have been what was worrying
her. Monsters in every unexplained movement; Eva always had an overactive
imagination ever since she was a young girl. Her daughter was like that too, oh
She turns back to the oven with a surer hand, but the gust of hot air that
suddenly comes from its belly frightens her, and she flushes red with fear, shame,
and something like sadness. The oven is the kind of hot that is violent, the kind
of heat that comes with arguments and hate. It reminds her of something,
something that is crawling out of sight darkly by the couch in her sitting room.
Another knock sounds at the door.
It must be my daughter; Eva thinks more steadily, of course it would be. I’ve
baked her scones for afternoon tea because she always loved cooking them with
me. Eva closes the oven door with a snap, the kitchen finally settling into the
calm of cool air. She feels better.
Her voice rings into the rooms of her house, as if to dispel her fear. But the
knock is patient; it waits for her. Eva Mietz bustles through the hall of her house
to the door. Its frills are familiar to her, comforting, and the photos lining the walls
hold the faces of her and her family in immortality. Memory is a funny thing.
She swings the door inwards, smiling in anticipation. It’s lovely of her
daughter to come and see her. The girl must know how lonely it gets.
But it’s not her daughter waiting for her when the timber doorway floods the
hall with light. It’s a shortish man that Eva is almost entirely certain she has never
seen before. She’s frightened. Where’s her daughter? Why couldn’t she come?
The man smiles kindly, in awful patience and calm, a bag at his side.
“Mrs Meitz. How are you travelling today? Are you ready for our weekly
TCE short story runner-up: Hannah Wolfhagen
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