I give thanks for a series of short videos on Facebook of a park not far from here I have been longing to visit. Not suffering unduly after yesterday's walking I'm wondering if I might get there soon but yesterday was downhill and on the flat, whereas this would be down and up and down at least...if not and up again after! There are a lot of seats though...and it's all looking so lush with new growth. Maybe next week when Jan is here? I give thanks for being able even to think of it as a possibility...
I give thanks for being able to take it physically easy this morning, catching up with internet chores before getting stuck into more cleaning and tidying up this afternoon. It's been weeks since anyone has been at my place but me, and as I tend to leave my specs off indoors it's been interesting putting them on and seeing all the cobwebs and dirt with fresh (focused) eyes.
I give thanks for finding this story which is often in my mind, but not anywhere on my computer. I came across a USB drive sorting through boxes at the weekend however and after plugging it in I found it! Ooh, and I give thanks Rachel is on her way...I'm in need of some therapy!
Peace of Cake
Callista was not a physically appealing child. With eyelashes too stubby for effective fluttering and mousy hair too lank for winsome tossing, she valiantly mimicked but failed to master the prepubescent wiles of her peers. Her juvenile torso, the approximate shape of a dogfish egg case, was in no way enhanced by the frilly, flowery clothing she wore and her thick ankles and wrists were only brought to unfortunate attention by the strappy sandals and jangling bangles that struggled to surround them.
Her mother, similarly ill-favoured, chose her daughter’s name and wardrobe in the vain hope of cheating the fate of her genes and producing a pretty cygnet rather than the kind of ugly duckling girl that she herself had been. She had won her husband in an era when good looks were less of a necessity in finding a partner. While her classmates waltzed their way to romance in clouds of scent and organza she had joined her own mother at the Women’s Institute produce stall. Pinafore clad, she waited behind her prize-winning pies and preserves in as confident anticipation of attracting a suitor as a more alluring girl might do with a tempting cleavage before her.
No oil painting himself, Callista’s father was nonetheless a kindly, practical man. It was he who selected her middle name (the plainer, more honest, Jane) and, in almost as unrealistic hope as his wife’s, attempted to steer the female members of his household towards the tracksuit racks when forced to accompany them shopping. He wanted his daughter to appreciate and accentuate the qualities she did possess - her warm heart and cool hands with pastry - instead of laying herself open to ridicule by falling in with her mother’s predilection for dressing her in the confections of the day.
Mercifully, in adolescence Callista began exhibit some of her father’s common sense. She took to wearing shapeless garments of indeterminate hue and soon learnt to forego the current mating rituals and their unflattering venues. Pubs and clubs were not settings that did her justice. Alcohol made her already red nose shine, lycra gave her the appearance of a duvet stuffed into a bin bag. She seemed happy to spend her evenings and weekends at home honing her culinary skills, her pocket money on cookery books and extra utensils and ingredients to supplement her mother’s traditionally stocked kitchen cupboards. She bought a crème brulée torch and fancy shaped cookie cutters, stem ginger in syrup, cinnamon sticks and star anise.
With a sweet tooth and no slender figure to maintain she indulged a growing passion for the preparation, and especially the consumption, of cakes and biscuits, puddings and desserts. Though happy to eat their share of these delicious treats, her parents wondered how their daughter’s solitary hobby would help her achieve the kind of fulfilling companionship that had sustained them over the years. When Callista left school never having even been asked on a date they put their heads together. Her mother began to trawl her address book and contact long out of touch relatives, inviting distant male cousins of suitable age and sexual orientation to stay. Her father persuaded the odd unattached apprentice, willing and eager to please their foreman, to come round for Sunday tea.
Callista plied these hapless chaps with buttered bara brith and many layered Black Forest gateau, with crisp macaroons and snowy peaks of strawberry studded pavlova…except for the one who proved to be diabetic. But, perhaps as overwhelmed by the quantity of food as the quantity of Callista herself, if the visitors’ eyes strayed with longing from their plates it was to the slow moving hands of the clock on the wall and not the young woman beside them. She remained an unclaimed treasure.
Regeneration in the centre of town saw the demise of the indoor market. The wooden table across which Callista’s parents’ eyes first met was no more and they racked their brains for some other way of courting courtship for their daughter. They reasoned that an older man, a boss perhaps, might see beyond her less than lovely exterior and recognise what contentment she could bring to their inner regions.
She was enrolled on an office skills course at a nearby college where she found to her surprise that her fingers so nimble with an icing nozzle fumbled with space bar and mouse. Unhindered by a social life however, she diligently devoted herself to her studies and when the year was out added the qualification to several unsuccessful job applications. Once again her father did what he could to assist, making enquiries among his business contacts until Callista was taken on by a double glazing firm. The manager was a harassed looking woman in her forties with no discernable Sapphic tendencies - so no chance of romance there - but her parents were relieved that their daughter had now emerged into an arena where she might find the one who would cherish her.
Callista answered the phone and sent out invoices, tasks that required no particular physical attributes. Good natured and generous, she got on well with the rest of the staff but always turned down any invitations to join their rowdy office nights out, the birthday celebrations, the leaving dos, the infamous Christmas party. Instead she baked festive food appropriate to the occasion, providing iced Victoria sponges complete with the relevant number of candles, simnel cake decorated with marzipan eggs, sugar dusted pies brimming with brandy laden mincemeat.
The single salesmen received particular attention when their birthdays came around with recipes chosen to show she recognised what was special about them. There was lemon drizzle for acerbic Sam, coffee for dusky complexioned Hassan, pecan pie for Jed who hailed from across the Atlantic, and even a fruit cake for Toby whose heart was immune to feminine charms but who still had a stomach to please. Yet, though the recipients thanked her profusely, not one began to recognise the special things about her.
Thus uneventfully the seasons went by. Her boss took a long sabbatical to raise a pre-menopausal baby and Toby moved into her role and office. Sam left under a shadow to join a rival firm. It seemed to Callista’s parents that despite their best efforts their daughter would remain a spinster all her life, caring for them until their deaths before quietly going to her own. In fact it was during a discussion of this that her father, uncharacteristically careless, took his eyes off the road and hands off the wheel for a moment to express his concern to his wife and slammed at some considerable speed into the side of a turning lorry. They were both killed instantly.
She inherited the house of course, the mortgage cleared a few years previously. There were two insurance policies that paid out handsomely and a comfortable little nest egg of savings. Callista had never spent a whole wage packet throughout her working life. Her bank balance had been very healthy before the accident; now she became a little richer day by day.
Her colleagues were sympathetic about her loss and made suggestions as to how she could spend her unaccompanied time, her accumulating money. Take in a lodger, they said, take a holiday, join a dating agency. But none of these ideas appealed. They were the only people left in Callista’s world yet remained unable to help her define her dreams, her plans, her hopes of happiness. When the prettiest girl in the office got married she declined to attend but proudly made the wedding cake when requested. This poignantly romantic creation of fondant flowers and spun sugar lace was admired by all at the reception in a way that Callista was beginning to wonder if she herself would ever be.
A few months later the work syndicate’s numbers came up on the lottery and while the others blew their shares on clothes and cruises, on cost price conservatories and cars they’d been coveting, Callista worked out she could live on her winnings for the next few years, and handed in her notice.
She had the ancient gas cooker ripped out and replaced with a duel fuel, double oven Aga. It radiated a constant cosy glow and was always ready to cook, in much the same way as its owner. Now no one could notice or comment on what she ate, Callista gradually eliminated everything from her diet but the cakes and cookies and puddings she made. Nothing else was necessary for nourishment she decided. There was protein enough in the eggs and nuts and seeds she used, the dollops of cream or mascarpone cheese. Dried and fresh fruits would provide vitamins and minerals, and even a vegetable or two cropped up here and there, in pumpkin pie and marrow jam. And, of course, there was fat and sugar and carbohydrate aplenty.
She bought a computer and keyboard with extra large keys for her extra large fingertips and discovered the discretion of internet shopping. She found sites where she could order all her baking things, her toiletries and household needs, her hard to find plus size garments. It was soon after that she stopped going out. There seemed to be no point as so many things could be sent directly to her. Before long the only people she spoke to were delivery drivers and the occasional customer service advisor with a telephone query or order.
She exercised a little every day, bending down to fill or unload the dishwasher, chopping and kneading, creaming and folding, slow solid steps between range and kitchen table. When the narrow stairs became too much of a squeeze she made the old scullery into a wet room allowing ample space for ablutionary manoeuvre and invested in a sturdy double sofa bed that she left made up in the living room to nap whenever she chose. Though her realm was shrinking Callista grew, and grew contented too. The only thing missing from her life was someone with whom to share all its sweetness. But good things are waiting for those who wait. Callista still believed her hero would come for her, inevitably, eventually. And eventually, sure enough, he did. Or rather they did because funnily enough long-awaited heroes sometimes, like the buses of urban myth, come along in threes.
The first was a paramedic summoned on the advice of the Samaritans after a desperately breathless call when she thought she might be dying and had no one else to tell. She had collapsed on the bed by the time he arrived, the struggle to don a satin kimono in which to greet him proving too much of a challenge. Resourceful as his calling required, he found his way round to the unlocked kitchen door. Tenderly, respectfully, he coaxed the inadequate folds of the slippery garment over the mountainous folds of her flesh and helped her to her feet. No one had touched Callista’s skin for a very long time and her heartbeats skipped in a far more pleasant manner than they had done a few hours before.
Her second rescuer was the builder contracted by Social Services to dismantle part of the wall, for Callista, now larger even than the Aga, could leave no other way. She knew he was not the one she yearned for when he gobbled up her cherry topped Bakewells as indifferently as if they’d come from a packet, but she remembered him with fondness to the end of her days as the one who released her from her self satisfying confinement.
The third and most significant man to enter Callista’s life was a red haired reporter from the local newspaper who arrived at her hospital bedside the following morning hoping for a scoop on this human interest tale. Easing his ample buttocks onto an inadequate plastic chair he took out his notebook and began to ask gently probing questions. Callista was not really listening though.
‘Would you like a piece of cake?’ she whispered. For somehow she had managed to secrete amongst her voluminous nightclothes a Tupperware box containing remnants of her previous diet to supplement the Spartan nutritional regime now imposed on her.
‘Mmmm, carrot cake - my favourite!’ he exclaimed, suitably furtively, but smiling in moist mouthed anticipation at the butter cream coated slices.
Rotating the portion between his sausage shaped fingers, he gazed as if tasting it with his eyes before he took a surprisingly dainty bite. Callista watched him chew and swallow, the flick of his tongue to capture a crumb that strayed onto the first of his chins. She savoured his sigh of satisfaction, mirroring it unconsciously with a blissful one of her own. All the ingredients were gathered together, the blending could begin. The emptiness of Callista’s soul was filling with peace at last.