BY SALLY SIMON
Copyright is held by the author.
THE CUCKOO bursts from the clock announcing 10:00. Adam jumps sending the epee out of his hand. It bounces off the wall, lands on the counter, and slides across the top of the stove nearly hitting the cooling racks where four, round, angel food cakes are cooling.
“That’s it, young man,” Emma’s voice wavers uncharacteristically, “Enough for today.”
Adam’s shoulders droop. His arms go limp. He retrieves the sword and leans the mask on his hip the way his father used to do. A tear falls down his cheek.
Emma loves glancing across the large wooden table through the dark metal mesh of the fencing mask to catch a glimpse of Adam’s intent face. She loves that he prizes both mask and sword, clinging to them as if they could bring his father back. She doesn’t love that her young autistic son is playing with a pointy weapon in the same kitchen she’s preparing the most important cake of her life.
Emma stops cutting strawberries and walks to her son’s side. She gently lifts his chin, wiping away the tear. She takes a deep breath.
“It’s OK, sweetie. It’s just that mommy has to finish this cake. It’s very important.”
Adam stares at her, speechless. He hasn’t spoken since the accident despite her every attempt.
“Please take your things to your room. Then you can go into the shop and help yourself to cookies.”
Adam’s face lights up as he grabs his equipment to race up the stairs.
Emma wishes he could truly understand the gravity of their situation, that this cake would make or break the bakery, that failure means leaving the only home they’ve known and moving in with his grandma.
She returns to the task of cutting strawberries and makes good time. She looks at the clock. 10:30. An hour to make the icing, assemble, frost, and decorate the cake; thirty minutes to deliver it to town hall for the contest..
She takes the cream out of the refrigerator secretly thanking Adam for finding something to do. She adds the rest of the ingredients for the frosting, and is about to turn on the mixer. She pauses.
Did she just hear the bell from the bakery door? No, she couldn’t have; the shop is closed for the day.
She stops. Listens. Ding-a-ling.
She hurries into the shop thinking she must have left the door unlocked. As she turns the corner, she sees Adam standing in the threshold opening and closing the door.
“Adam, please stop. The bakery is closed today. Come inside.”
Adam closes the door. He stands there staring. She glances at the full cookie jar. Adam never turns down her cookies. She feels his forehead to see if he’s sick. No temperature.
“Sweetie, but how about you play with your Gameboy and listen to those cool sounds?”
Adam smiles a wide smile, jumps on the stool behind the counter, and picks out two chocolate cookies. Emma is relieved.
“Thanks, baby. Mommy will make this up to you tomorrow. I promise.”
Emma returns to the kitchen and finishes the frosting.11:00. She needs to move faster.
She takes her best porcelain plate from the cupboard and brings the cakes to the table. Base layer down.
“Adam,” she yells, “close the door and go back to your game.”
Emma frosts the first layer, adds the second, and covers it as well.
“Adam, cut it out.”
“Thank you, Adam.”
Emma refocuses. She needs to tune the world out for just thirty minutes more. Thirty minutes is all she needs to save her bakery, herself, and her son. She’s confident her strawberry angel food cake will win first prize, making things right again for the first time in a year, since before Jonathan, her husband, died. People will be knocking down her door for their weddings and parties and she’ll be able to pay the mortgage.
The third layer is finished. Emma places the fourth and final layer of the cake.
Ding-a-ling. Does she hear voices?
With a heavy sigh Emma wipes her hands on her apron and moves to the door.
Emma rushes into the shop.
The door is ajar.
Hiding. He has to be hiding. She runs to the counter, looks behind it. He isn’t there.
Emma freezes. How could she have left him alone so long?
She hears a sound from upstairs. “Adam!” she screams.
At the top of the stairs the cat scurries out of her bedroom.
She searches Adam’s room. His sword and mask are leaning on the wall where they belong, but no Adam.
She searches her bedroom and the bathroom. No Adam.
Sheets of rain begin to pound on the roof. Has it been raining? Emma hasn’t noticed.
Emma knows Adam would never leave the bakery without her. He’s afraid of the cars in the street and the rain. But she’d heard voices.
“Adam!” Emma rushes down the stairs.
“Hey, Em, it’s me,” a familiar voice replies. Emma’s best friend Jill is standing at the bottom of the stairs. “I knew you’d be finishing the cake, so I wanted to come by and see if you needed any help.”
Emma is momentarily unable to speak.
“You OK?” Jill has a concerned look on her face.
“Adam!” she blurts out in relief.
Emma starts for the shop, but Jillian takes her arm. Stops her, and softly says, “Sweetie, Adam’s been dead for a year.”