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The Icing on the Cake

by Sandra Dosdall about a year ago in Short Story
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Ironically it was the Only Sweet Thing About Him

Ironically, it was the only sweet thing about him.

Morning came earlier for me than I would have liked. It happened often, but I adapted. I rose, pulled on a pair of dungarees and a blouse, brushed my teeth and hair and promised myself today was going to be a fantastic day. I just knew it would. Every day had the same beginning and the same prospects. Equal opportunity for goodwill, equal chances for blessings to fall from the sky and smack me in the face.

I stood at the counter, watching the way I did every morning. I could see him there, off in the distance, his denim seemingly loose on his hips. The sunlight hit him in such a way that he looked ethereal. At least to me. And that's all that mattered, now or ever.

I took the ingredients that I needed from the pantry and set them on the counter. The mixing bowl sat in the sink, clean from yesterday's efforts. I bake every day. Not because I have nothing else to do or because anyone expects it of me. I enjoy it. Plain and simple. Before I met Howard, my life had been such a way that I didn't have time to hear myself think, let alone bake a pie or a loaf of bread. I like the feel of the dough in my hands. It soothes me.

I ran the list through my head so as not to forget anything. When one gets to be my age, you need lists for everything. So, I make lists for the groceries, lists for the pharmacy, lists for the hardware store, and lists of what to do with the lists. I'm not old, Howard's not old, we're just more mature than we were when we got the farm. I've noticed that he moves slightly more delicately than he did ten years ago, but that hip replacement he got isn't as suitable for farming as the natural one was.

  • four cups of flour
  • a cup of sugar
  • one-half cup of cocoa
  • four teaspoons baking soda

A hummingbird at the feeder next to my window distracts me. Quickly, I see it's a male. He floats, poking at the sugary water supply, his bright colours giving him away. His movements seem effortless.

"I see you. I see you there. Wearing that bright red and orange. Aren't you a handsome devil? But, of course, if you want to blend in, you should wear something less engaging. Silly bird."

I watch him. Considering the number of times his wings fluttered each second. His flapping distracts me again. I drift to thoughts of my family, my mother. Our last conversation had been difficult. She had hurt me badly, but I suppose that was the intent. It stings like it was yesterday.

"If you do this, Ruth, if you chase after that man and move to the other side of the country, that will be the end of you for me. Do you understand? You will no longer be my daughter, the choice is yours, Ruth, but if you make that decision, it will be the wrong one."

She didn't understand.

My Mother. She didn't. She hadn't known a love like I found with Howard. And we had been here on the farm now for over forty years. More than forty years have passed, but she kept her word. She didn't speak to me again.

I chose Howard. I chose Howard, and we made a life together.

  • four cups of flour
  • a cup of sugar
  • one-half cup of cocoa
  • four teaspoons baking soda
  • two cups of mayonnaise
  • two eggs
  • two teaspoons of vanilla
  • two cups of water
  • two tablespoons of instant coffee

Howard bought the farm. I thought it was crazy in the beginning. How would I ever survive in the middle of nowhere? There was nothing, no running water, no electricity, no heat. We didn't even have a refrigerator to store food for the baby. I was nursing her at first, but it was mighty hard. We slept at night in a bunker. A small shack that housed two small cots and an armchair. That was it, really, just shelter from the wind. And it wasn't much of that.

Gosh, when I first arrived, I was even washing diapers in the stream and hanging them amongst the trees to dry. My knuckles bled from all the washing. I had to learn washboard tricks all by myself. For cleaning her diapers. Eventually, they healed, my knuckles; and the scabs fell off. Leaving only small scars that I would later tell my grandchildren had been caused by a hungry bear that I fought off one night in the woods.

I was a big city girl. I couldn't help it; it was all I knew. I had a love for fashion, and entertainment, big industry. I worked hard and accumulated fancy shoes and hats. I liked my skirts in linen and my blouses in silk with double button cuffs. When I travelled west to find Howard, I carried my records and golf clubs with me like a buffoon. Hickory shafts those clubs had. Mementos, I had told Howard. He never asked a question or said a word.

I whisked together the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl, measured the liquids and then folded them in. Then, without over mixing the concoction, I dabbed my middle finger in the batter and placed it on my tongue. It was perfection and tasted delicious.

First, we built the house; Howard took to the construction himself, asking me to help only when he couldn't manage alone. Then, when the barn had gone up, we had friends and neighbours come to help. I was happier then. I had something to look at from the window in the kitchen. Howard said he planned it that way. I could watch him while I busied myself doing the things that I enjoyed.

The cakes went into the oven, and I took to doing the dishes. I could see Howard was tending to the horses still. I knew he would be at least an hour before he came back up to the house. The bed needed to be made, our bathroom cleaned and polished. I had chores each day that I tended to like clockwork. The organization of the house was where my military skills were best utilized. Cooking and baking was a passion I stumbled upon, but the orchestration of routine maintenance and the plotting and execution of daily tasks was an aptitude that I trained for and never forgot. World War Two left scars and provided me competencies in areas that I otherwise might be lacking.

I never spoke of my actions in the war. Not to Howard, not to anyone. It was forbidden. My role had been classified by our government. Sworn to secrecy. My mind locked up like a safe; the only certainty I have that it actually happened is a couple of scars from wounds caused by the enemy. I was reckless, I suppose. My parents had thought me completely senseless when I enlisted.

"Ruth! Bloody Hell, that's a man's job. Women don't belong where there are guns and fighting. It's unheard of. You should be bloody getting married and having babies; that's what you should be doing. Women don't go to war. Have you lost your mind, girl? Ruth!" My father boomed.

My father wasn't much of a visionary. He saw black and white, with no grey in between, and he didn't discuss things he knew nothing about. If he couldn't win an argument, he didn't believe in starting it. Unless it was with me. In which case, he just raised his voice louder and louder to deafen me into submission.

The bed only took a moment to make. Howard sleeps like a corpse. Never moves an inch. I think it's because he's dead tired when his head hits the pillow each night. His body just pulls him into a slumber and keeps him there while it recovers.

My timer rings. I rescue the cakes from the oven, set them on the window sill to cool and make the icing I know Howard loves. Ironically it's the same icing that my mother would have made for my father. He, too, had a sweet tooth. That was undoubtedly the only sweet thing about him, however. I thank my lucky stars each day that Howard is nothing like him. So instead, I chose a man to marry that I adored. And that I am still in love with. It's remarkable, really. To find someone, a single person, in a world full of millions, that is seemingly a perfect match.

I put a pot of coffee on and whipped some fresh cream. Another perk of living on a farm. Howard had brought in the milk before I even got out of bed this morning. Our cow had been a consistent producer. She was old like we were, but she still made a good glass of milk.

My mother knew nothing of the liberties I had grown to cherish. The freshness of the farm goods. The produce and herbs that Howard grew himself, the fresh eggs and dairy each day.

I slide open the window and reach forward on my tippy toes.

"Howard, Hunny, come up to the house. I have the coffee ready."

I see my husband raise his hand and nod. He sets down his bucket that likely contains feed for the chickens and starts walking toward the house. His trousers look too big.

My mother didn't understand me. She never did. She didn't even try. She saw only one point of view, her own. Finally, she lowered her gavel, and that was the end.

It didn't matter much in conclusion. I did exactly what I wanted. Which is always what I've done. I enlisted in the military, and then later, I chased Howard across the country, and I married him. And now I stand at the window in the house my husband built and watch him all day.

I slice into the cake and serve each of us a piece. I am liberal with whipping cream because we both love it. I pour two cups of coffee, Howard has his black, and I put cream in mine. I place everything carefully on the kitchen table just as he comes through the backdoor. I listen as he washes his hands at the back sink.

"Good Morning Sunshine."

"Morning, Howard." I attempt a sultry voice, I can't be sure, but I think I pulled it off. He bends forward from his considerable height and kisses me.

"I had toast earlier. I was up before dawn. I was starving. This looks lovely, Ruth."

I smile at him. He takes the first bite of his slice of chocolate cake, and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks. And I eat cake for breakfast.

Short Story

About the author

Sandra Dosdall

Taught by some of the greatest literary minds of this century, Sandra's delivery method is reminiscent of her mentors and yet uniquely her own page-turning style. Her novels are suspenseful, unpredictable, & thought-provokingly colorful.

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