Frolic

I wanted to run a fork through the thick layer of frosting that encased the cake our mother had baked that morning.

She’d gotten out of bed two hours earlier than usual, hours before dawn, and gotten the cake into the oven while my brothers and I breakfast at the kitchen table. My brother Paul had tapped me under the table, gently kicking his foot against my shin a few times, almost absent-mindedly, and I’d looked over my bowl of cereal at him, wondering if he were going to stop before a bruise appeared. Our brother Simon had eaten his toast while standing up next to the table, too antsy to sit down even early in the morning. He’d shuffled from side to side as he munched along, and we’d avoided each other’s eyes in order to dodge the responsibility of asking Mom about the cake.

The rich chocolate aroma of our kitchen stayed with me all day, even as I ran and frolicked through the woods at recess as we played Kings and Creatures, and when Simon and Paul and I got home that afternoon we stood in a line along the kitchen counter, staring at the cake, not even jostling one another.

Our mother came into the kitchen to see what the quiet was all about. She clucked her tongue. “Wait till Grammom arrives,” she sighed, and shooed us out of the kitchen.

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Verjuice

The land near our house always reminds me of graham cracker crust: it stays together long enough to do what it’s meant to, but the minute you apply any pressure it crumbles, sweet and forgiving. We’ve planted olives and raised grapes on that land, and Dad tends goats and sheep. The houses thin out in our neighborhood and there’s space to roam. Our closest neighbors, the Michel family, have two little boys and a messy orchard, neglected–the boys and the trees–more out of disinterest than of malice. From our back yard we can watch the trees blossom and bear ugly gnarled fruit that drop to the ground and return to the crust like some organic pie, the sharp odor of the verjuice hanging in the air. The land, the trees, the gardens, we all bake in the afternoon sun, and these days I’m glad I’m spending less time at home. When we were little we would help Dad with the animals, going out into hills in the evenings to fetch them and drive them back to their pens in the long barns a few miles from our house. Dad started keeping the animals out there instead of on our land because our mother sleeps poorly and the baying and pawing made her worry.