Red Velvet Sunday

Every Wednesday, I write a post based on Today’s Word at Wordsmith.org. You can find past essays or flash fiction pieces under the Wednesday’s Word topic on the sidebar.

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This week on Wordsmith.org, each word of the day is paired with a pictorial representation. Yesterday’s image for Old Man of the Sea (yes, five words combine to make one word of the day) made me laugh, especially after I read the definition:

Old Man of the Sea. noun. A tiresome burden, especially a person, difficult to free oneself from.

I give you my inner editor who, when I stare at my WIP on my laptop screen, demands “more character development and less exposition!”

Too bad these posts aren’t filed under Tuesday’s word.

On to Wednesday.

You might want to do some speech warm-ups before you try to pronounce this word; it’s a mouthful:

Pygmalionism. noun. 1. the state of being in love with an object of one’s own making. 2. The condition of loving an inanimate object such as a statue or an image.

What immediately came to mind for me, after reading that definition, were three words: red velvet cake. A home made red velvet cake – with its magical red chocolate middle hidden under creamy white icing – says, You are special.

A red velvet cake is so extraordinary that one bite will take you out of the moment and into a dream.

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Red Velvet Sunday

When Bethany awoke, the sun had already positioned itself behind the top branches of the tree outside her window. Rays of light shot through leaves that glistened and reflected and pierced her sleepy eyes. She looked at the clock. Eleven thirty. As she sat up in bed, she heard a thud, like something hit the wall of her parent’s room next door. She held her breath. The rumble of her father’s voice made her heart race.

She turned to her window, and a cardinal popped into view. He sat on a branch, cocked his head, and called out a song to her.

On her way to the bathroom, she passed her parent’s door.

Her mother yelled. “Why even bother to come home!”
Her father shouted back. “I pay for this house. I’ll come home when I damn well please!”

Bethany closed the bathroom door and put her hands on the sink. She looked up at her reflection. Her index finger followed the brown shadow that still remained under her right eye – a consequence of her last attempt to break up her parent’s fight.

“Stupid,” she told her reflection. Stupid to get into the middle when their voices raged. But, she couldn’t stand her mother’s screams that day.

She brushed her teeth, went back out into the hall, and raised her right hand to her ear as another barrage of words exploded behind their closed door.

He set her straight. “It’s none of your damn business where I go!”
She threatened. “I won’t lay down for you anymore!”

As their voices crescendoed, Bethany disappeared into the kitchen. She closed the swinging door and turned on her father’s transistor radio. Across the AM waves, a man sang about branches in a tree and reaching for freedom.

‘Cause there’s a place in the sun
Where there’s hope for ev’ryone

She opened the kitchen cabinet and pulled out the flour, sugar, cocoa, and a bottle of Mrs. McCormick red food coloring. While other girls her age spent their babysitting money on cds and t-shirts, Bethany spent hers on concealer and bottles of food coloring. One four ounce bottle was the exact amount she needed for a two-layer red velvet cake.

She measured and poured and mixed the white and brown ingredients then drenched them with milk, eggs, and oil. She poured the red coloring in slow circles over the batter. As she stirred, the batter was transformed into a thick red elixir. She greased and floured two round pans with methodical care and then divided the batter between them.

For a moment, the red batter frightened her. As she carried the pans from the counter to the oven, they looked like two pans full of blood. She closed the oven door and flipped on the light. She studied the cake until another thud from the room down the hall forced her eyes to blink hard. She turned off the radio, poured herself a cup of juice, and went outside to sit on the front steps.

While the birds sang sweet songs to each other, she closed her eyes and imagined the cake rising and taking shape.

It will be perfect, she thought.

She made this cake so many times that her body knew, instinctively, when to return inside, to the oven. While the cake cooled, she mixed the icing ingredients into a thick and creamy, sweet salve that would hide the red mystery beneath.

Her mother’s voice had softened now and turned into muffled sobs. Her father’s voice sounded off one more time in his firm apology and excuse, with only a hint of shame.

Though the cake wasn’t completely cooled, she knew it was time.

With a knife and a light touch, she smoothed the icing over the red velvet and hummed the tune of the song she heard before. The corner of her mouth rose into a slight curve. She picked up the cake and walked down the hall. Outside her parent’s door, she waited until both voices fell silent.

She moved the cake to her side and leaned right into the door. “Mom?”

After a moment, her mother opened the door a crack. Bethany saw one red eye and blood at the corner of her lip. Finally, her mother focused on Bethany’s eyes.

“I made cake.” Bethany held it up. “Red Velvet. Your favorite.”

“It’s perfect,” her mother whispered. “Why don’t you cut me a slice and wait for me in the kitchen.”

Bethany put two big slices onto plates and set them at the table. She sat down and felt a lump of emotion rise to her throat. Her fork cut into the corner of her piece. She brought it to her mouth.

The first bite, she thought, always goes down so sweet.

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5 responses to “Red Velvet Sunday

  1. That’s amazing. Especially the end.

    For me, this line was the heart of the story: For a moment, the red batter frightened her. As she carried the pans from the counter to the oven, they looked like two pans full of blood.

  2. What a heartbreaking character. I have a character like this in Brevity and one of the new novels I started was about another child like this, but I decided I needed a break from that for a while. Excellent story, Christi.

    I’m just amazed at all these flash pieces you and Cathryn write NOT for publication. You’re output must be amazing.

  3. Thanks, Cathryn and Linda.

    And as far as output, I wish I did have more. Some weeks this Wednesday post is my output. But, even though they aren’t published pieces, I love writing them.

  4. I think that baking is a really cool reaction to what’s going on in her life. Well done.

    P.S. I suffer pygmalionism in the face of red velvet cake as well (no idea if I used that correctly!)

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