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A Kneaded Memorial

For the second time today, Alyssa found herself seated on a kitchen stool, the cold creamy tile under her elbows, her hands clutching a worn and tear-stained recipe card. Since her sister’s death, she had wandered in the kitchen often, thinking about her. Alyssa closed her sea-green eyes, and fantasized that she was standing next to her, making bread, as they had done together so many times in the past. She imagined Vera holding the wooden spoon she always used, clutching the handle with her strong grip, trained from years of varsity sports. Perhaps opposites do attract, she mused, as she remembered the look of contentment on Vera’s sunny, flour-speckled face, and the light brown hair tucked into an unkempt ponytail.
Alyssa was bothered by the fact that she didn’t remember which ingredient Vera had put in first. Alyssa had always wandered into the kitchen late, the smell of fresh dough pulling her in like a magnet. By the time she had come in, there was already yeast and warm water in the bowl. Vera would always lecture her about the temperature of the water. “Make the yeast happy,” Vera would say, “it’s asleep right now, but it wakes up in the warm water. Something stirs in it, deep inside its tiny shell, as though it knows it has a job to do. If the water is too cold, it won’t wake up, and if it’s too hot, it will wake up too fast, and die.” Alyssa closed her eyes, and tried to imagine being a piece of lonely, complacent yeast, never woken up. It would be worse still, to be awakened and promptly overheated, killed in the line of duty.

Alyssa was aroused from her daydream with a start when she realized that she was gripping the worn wooden spoon, and peering into a glass bowl filled with yeast and warm water. Perhaps this was what she had needed to do all along to help express the sorrow that permeated her heart. She pulled back her own long, raven hair, and continued with the recipe.

The next ingredient to be added was sugar. Although the recipe called for a tablespoon, Vera had always added in a pinch extra. She said that the yeast would feed on the sugar to make it expand, and then the yeast would shortly be killed in the oven’s sweltering heat. The extra sugar was, in her mind, a sort of compensation for the yeast’s imminent demise.

Then the copious amounts of flour and the meager measure of salt were added. Alyssa mixed in half the flour, then the salt, and then the remaining flour. The purpose of this was to keep the salt from being too close to the yeast, so as not to hinder its rising. This had reminded Vera of the people that surrounded her in life. She said that friends and acquaintances helped to keep away grouches. She always had some sort of useful advice.

As she blended the ingredients together, Alyssa happened to glance up at a picture of Vera and some of her friends. The picture had been taken at boot camp, before Vera had donned her officer’s uniform and gone overseas. As usual, an overflowing smile filled her face, despite the blistering heat, her clumsy uniform pants, and the rigorous training. Alyssa recalled the letters that had graced their mailbox once a month, now stacked neatly by the collection of pictures on the table.

Alyssa took the dough out of the bowl with care, and scraped the remnants from the sides of the bowls. She scattered some extra flour over the dough as she kneaded it. It reminded her of the American flag that had covered the casket at the funeral, illustrating Vera’s bravery to those in attendance. As she folded the dough over and over, she pictured life on a ship, and the waves’ incessant pitching. Although Vera had always been cheerful about her assignment, Alyssa could not stand the notion of sea bound confinement, or the uncertainty of life as an officer.

After the dough had risen, several hours later, Alyssa divided the dough into two even halves. She deftly spread cornmeal over the clay baking sheet, and situated the two loaves on top of it. She lightly spread them with cool water, and slit the tops of the crust. She carefully set it in the oven, and the yeast began to wither under its scorching caress.

The baking was a matter of time, just like the chapped crack in Alyssa’s heart, rubbed raw in remembrance. The smell of dying yeast filled her nose, along with the memories of her beloved, now-dead sister. She allowed the bittersweet scent to linger, before exhaling with a certain finality, allowing peace to refill her lungs.




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silverwolf63 said...
Feb. 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm:
very well written and excellent comparison!
 
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