It was the last feather on the horse’s back. The final straw. The icing on the cake. The “One More Thing” that collapsed her, broke her heart, blew out her soul. The fact that everyone-everyone!-turned their back on her. Even Dale and the twins. Dismissing her and all she stood for.
Forever and a day, all due an unwatched process.
No matter what she was doing first aide on Adele while her twin, Gale, stood off to the side. No matter that Dale ignored the accident, turning around and going into the garage. No matter the blood that was slithering down their daughter’s face from the head gash from tumbling off of her bike, or, she suspected, from Gale pushing her off the bike. The blood blotted out Adele’s eyes, filled her mouth, ran onto her clothes.
No matter for any of it. She took her eyes off of her entry, and no one would forgive her this lapse. Burnt cake. Burnt frosting. The timing of the accident left no time for redos. She had no time to remake any of it. She was already late.
Then she was judged, and harshly. Her neighbors and friends, co-workers, friends, and finally family, judged her end result and issued it Insufficient. As they turned away from her, the Adjudicator yelled the word. Insufficient. Her entry.
As was the law, she stood where she was. The late afternoon turned into night, and, finally, the dawn summoned the new day. She was free to leave, but to where? Without seeing it done, she knew Dale had burnt all of her things and changed the locks on all the doors. Her parents and sister as well. It was what was done. Any gift that she had made, kept by family and friends, would be heaped in a pile in the middle of town. By the end of this new day, it would all be broken to dust, the rest turned to ashes.
The walk out of town took her northeast. No town that surrounded her once home would take her in. The news spread too fast. She drank spring water, ate fruit, and raw fish when she could find it. She hid when wagons and solitary riders passed. Sleeping outdoors fitfully, whether it rained or grew cold. Nothing was safe. Not until the journey took her far away.
Time passed, and her clothing got ragged, as did she. Dead inside, she did not heed her weakening from lack of sleep, lack of adequate food, and the constant travel. She gave up. Falling to her knees, and then prone, her eyes closed with her wish for death.
She found out later that the family was traveling, having visited kin up north. The three girls needed to relieve themselves desperately. Their parents argued how close they were to home, how dark it was getting, how tired they all were. It was their younger brother that sealed the deal, his pants and shoes soaked, leaving him crying. The wagon stopped and the girls jumped out, heading to the tree line.
Waking in their house, snuggled beneath a heavy quilt, cleaned and changed into nightwear, she first thought that this was a hallucination. The oldest girl, Mara, cried out “She’s awake!” That sent all the children rushing to the bed she was lying in, followed by Roman and Anne, their parents. All was explained, even though all the questions of the children.
“You were almost dead,” Sarah piped up amidst the telling. The youngest girl, Tara, and their brother, Zara (shortened, she later found out, from Zacharia) just stood and stared at her.
She feigned not knowing her name at first, but the children persisted. She could not tell them that she was Insufficient. They would toss her out. It was lying, but she created a truncated version of that horrible branding.
“Eena. My name is Eena.”
Once Eena was strong enough, she repaid their generosity, at first helping in the cooking, finally taking it over when she proved how adept she was in the kitchen. Everyone enjoyed what she brought to their table, even the picky little ones. It took a short while before she baked again, but she had been healing inside bit by bit. The adults would know something was off if she continued to refuse to bake.
Her first try was met with a smattering of lips and peals of “more, more” from all the children. Their parents joined in that chorus on the third evening’s treat. They praised the frosting, the moistness of the cake. The cupcakes. The frosted tarts. Everything she brought to the table was met with praise and full mouths.
Word got around, and by the end of Eena’s first season in her new town, she had requests, then orders, from all the households. Others seemed to visit the town for errands that never happened, but resulted in their leaving with baked goods of all types.
Eena had been paying for all her baking needs by the end of her second month, with enough left to repay her family for all that she used.
The first season led to the next season, and by the time the third season rolled around, Eena had moved out and into town, opening up her own bakery and living in the back room. She experimented with icing and cake flavors, types of cookies and other baked goods. One and all, she frosted, iced, and created happy tummies.
A year turned to the next, finally admitting she needed help to produce all the orders. She took on Mara, being of age to apprentice, and the two of them baked and created and laughed throughout the day. By the time Mara was proficient she had met a love, that became her spouse.
Moving on left room for Sarah, then eventually Tara. Zara went by Zach now, and he helped with any hefty lifting or fixing when needed. Tara stayed on the longest, making new confections one after the other. Eena had expanded the space with Zach’s help, adding two more living spaces in the back: a bedroom for Tara and a visiting room for them all. The bakery doubled in size and in output.
Zach finally married but still found the time to help around the bakery. The girls came to help, usually two at a time, leaving their children with Grandma Anne and whichever’s sister’s turn it was to mind the little ones. Roman helped with what he could, playing with his grandkids until they tired him out.
Everyone had retreated for the day, and Eena was finishing up one last cake order. She was making an orange frosting, sugared and mixed with orange zest, when the door opened. She humphed a bit, more for herself not making sure the door was locked.
“I’m sold out of everything, and just about done for the…” She couldn’t continue. She dropped the bowel of frosting, the mixing spoon flying up and ladeling the sticky mess onto her face and shirt.
The girl’s-young woman’s-eyes filled with tears. She nodded her head vigorously, her cheeks turning a burning red. Eena was coming around the counter just as Adele flung herself into an embrace that Eena had never experienced.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Adele repeated over and over.
“Shhh, shhh, you’re here now. That’s enough.”
They both cried, laughed, and tried to unstick themselves from the frosting that was hardening them together.
Eena wanted them to never again unstick from each other.