The Icing on the Cake

The cakes were lacking, in Eliza’s opinion, but she grudgingly accepted the compliments which were most forthcoming.

Her baked items were arranged according to flavours, similar colours grouped together. Smallest sizes on the left, largest on the right leading to the glorious spectacle of a giant, four tier cake that had sugarpaste lillies cascading down its smooth, white face.

Her stall was visually stunning. Flowers, beads and bows accentuated the soft curves of the piped icing, polished silver serving plates allowed the cakes to be reflected back, giving the impression of abundance. 

Eliza was grateful for the indoor market on a day of torrential rain. She hardly expected any attendees, but she was pleased to see the opppsite occur and she had sold enough to cover her pitch fee and her costs. Anything from here on was profit.

She was sitting quietly during a five minute lull, remembering how she truly detested baking for her boss. Everything trendy and popular at the moment, was vintage and quirky and kitsch.

Keeping the bakery so singular was boring but it wasn’t like she could go anywhere else. Her contract had her locked in for another six months excepting some form of gross misconduct. 

As an artist by trade, her work and sugarcraft was beyond the normal realms of fondant coverings and Wilton icing pens. Her showstopper last Christmas was a glittering, white peacock that topped a large rum and fruit cake.  The attention to detail, the display of the peacocks tail and the delicate twist of its neck earned her several awards. 

Yet here she was at the church fete selling pretentious cupcakes with names like ‘I Lychee Lemons’ (aka Lychee and Lemon) and ‘Sloe Gin and Speedy c-Anteloupe’ (aka Gin and Melon). Frankly it was awful but she was under orders.

And her ‘uniform’ was beyond cringeworthy.Her red hair in tight pin curls against her scalp, her tea dress protected with her home made, pink polka dot apron, clashing with the brown paisley pattern on her clothes.

She watched carefully from her perch. The Father had taken a red velvet and raspberry cupcake and was greedily chomping away while speaking with the Mother Superior. There were about twenty nuns in a group eating a tray of cakes especially for them. 

They had been demure and polite at the start of the day, several hours later they were getting a bit more vocal. They giggled, whispered and Eliza swore she heard a rude joke at one point. The Mother Superior looked down her nose disdainfully at the younger ones, unaware of their inebriation.

Eliza’s grinned as she watched one of the girls stumble over her own feet and fall into the Father, cackling. Yes, the cakes were very special. Her orders were quite specific-keep one batch simple for the organisers and best to avoid aolcohol. 

She would argue that the stress of her workload caused a momentary lapse and that her red velvet and raspberry cupcakes were actually hiding a full measure of Chambord and berry vodka. Needless to say, the boss would be livid.

Eliza sat back smiling to herself, inhaling the sweet smell of freedom hidden in her creations.
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/layers/

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Revelations

It is so hot in the confessional, the collar around my throat is tight, and I find my breathing is more laboured. I detest this little tomb, full of the sins of the people who would seek to be excused.

They say forgiveness is divine and that forgiving yourself is most difficult of all. In my experience, few who seek forgiveness rarely seek it for themselves; but rather for a selfish desire to feel justified in their actions.

My evening is spent here in this stuffy, claustrophobic closet. It smells like sweat and vaguely of incense from the censer. It is far too hot. The white hot collar; I have a great urge to rip it off and throw it to the floor. Locked away from view, a screen separates me from the flock. Who would know, aside from me? I pass hours in this tomb, I scratch at my dry throat, trying to loosen the noose around my neck.

I hear her slide into the empty vessel next to mine. I recognise the scent of her; a cross between expensive perfume and alcohol. I know who this is, before she speaks a word. I can picture her clearly in my mind. She sniffles and speaks in a shaky voice.

“Bless me Father for I have sinned…it has been three days…”

I realise now she is crying; sobbing I imagine, into the greying-white handkerchief she carries with her. She must be holding it to her face, her sobs are muffled. I know her story well yet I sit in silence; I wait for her to speak. I cannot leave this stuffy coffin of a confessional until she seeks forgiveness.

“I have sinned. I betrayed my husband you see? Well you would see. You must see everything. It is an old story isn’t it?” I heard her sigh. “I imagine God hears that a lot but I have a chance to make things right.”

She pauses this time and makes no sound. I wonder if she will continue. The words are difficult…her thoughts aren’t going in one direction, they are jumping. The tight feeling in my throat continues. A glass of water, anything would help. I will her to finish so I can leave.

“I don’t know why I went to him. I don’t remember. I don’t suppose it matters now. My husband isn’t the romantic type…he is fond of the drink too you know. But it’s my fault he gets angry. I really shouldn’t push him.” Another sniffle. “Dear Lord, help me!” she moans in a low voice, the chair creaks as she leans back against it.

I know too well the love she has for the drink; this woman was a wanton creature. Young and Junoesque, she took advantage of many men, the clergy were well aware of her and her husband. Without them we would scarcely have confession.

“If I’d known my husband would find out…if I’d known what he would do…I would never, ever, have let it go that far. But it is my fault you see? I begged him to. I wanted him even though I knew I shouldn’t, so it really was my fault.”

I nodded mutely, knowing full well she cannot see. It wouldn’t matter. If she didn’t hurry, I was certain I would pass out from the heat in this place. The woman rushed on.

“My husband was furious! I’d never seen him in such a rage; my neighbours gave me looks for days. I couldn’t hide the bruises on my face at all. My eye…it shone, like in the cartoons?” She giggled and it caught in her throat turning quickly into a sob. This poor creature, she really had no control. “My fault though. He told me so. And he killed that poor man with his bare hands! My husband actually took the breath out of him”.

I sat rigidly. This was a confession to murder? I know full well I can do nothing, this is meant to be sacred; I was only the channel for them to receive God’s Grace. Whatever this woman said was between her and God. I could see her silhouette through the screen, rocking back and forth. She repeated her words like a mantra that would save her soul. “My fault! He told me it was my fault; he killed that man for touching me”. She suddenly stopped, her hands flew up to the screen that separated us, desperately hoping to cling to something, anything.

“But you see; I can undo the betrayal. He told me I can undo it all if I protect him. All I have to do is protect him. I don’t tell anyone you see? If I keep his secret, then I’m safe. You must see that?” Her hands slid down and she took a deep breath.

I sit rooted to my chair, my legs cannot move. Still so hot; she has to hurry. This collar had to come off…it’s starting to chafe my skin; I can feel it like a burning brand on my flesh. Please…please finish. Ask for your penance and I can take my leave.

“You see I called him, I asked him to meet me. He was meant to meet me here, this is such a lovely place, and it was safe. What’s safer than a church? I did it for my marriage you see.” Another pause. “Yes. My Marriage.  Divorce can’t be forgiven can it? Oh I suppose murder can’t either but that blood is on my husband’s hands you see? He did the killing, my hands are clean, my only sin was the adultery and I paid my penance already. Yes, much better this way. Now my marriage is safe.”

She adjusted herself in the chair again; I heard the rubbing of fabric and the wood creaking. “Yes, that is how it is I’m afraid. I don’t need forgiveness. I know he’ll understand, I told him my husband would always come first. I committed a sin of the flesh with him and nothing more”.

It sounds like she has finished. But she doesn’t want forgiveness…I don’t understand. She needs to be forgiven or I cannot leave…

“Silly though isn’t it?” she said quietly “Confessing to an empty box?”

The door to the sinner’s freedom opened. She stepped out from the confessional. The church is empty; it’s late outside though. She must have crossed the police tape to get in there. The police line blocks my own exit in a large coloured cross – fitting for a priest I suppose. I watch through the slats in my door, I see her shape move away. I remember her curves and her flesh burning under my hands. I remember her calling me, begging to meet me here. Now I burn in my pyre.

She was not the only one who had committed sin.

Too hot…the collar is choking me like his hands were choking me, pushing my collar into my throat until my breath has gone.

But I can’t leave until she asks for forgiveness.

Reflections

It began as any other day, sitting myself at the kitchen table in quiet contemplation over a cup of tea. I was staring at the cup, wholly disappointed in its lack of character. A plain, white cup with no decoration, no cracks and no saucer. No character at all. This irritated me.

I knew of course, that it was an irrational feeling.  I was frustrated at the mundane day to day existence my husband and I had become accustomed to in recent months. He had returned to education; I had just given birth and was still on maternity leave. Adjusting with a new baby was more difficult than I thought it would be…

In recent weeks, my husband and I sat in the evenings. He worked on course material and I would sit emailing my extended family dotted around the world.  My husband and I rarely seemed to speak. I knew it was boredom. I knew it was tiredness. I knew it was stress. Lack of intimacy has made us snippy with one another.

I also knew that it was partly me – I hadn’t felt particularly beautiful since giving birth. The idea of my husband seeing me at any stage of disrobe filled me with such terror that I refused to change in front of him. If I were to ever be in the room with him and needed to undress, I’d turn the light out. It didn’t matter that he thought I was beautiful, that our daughter was beautiful and that he said he loved me twenty times a day, I didn’t believe it any more than I believed in Santa Claus.

This particular morning, he had left for University giving me a kiss, I dealt with our child, and she was now napping. For some reason, the irritation spilled over and I felt very, irrationally angry at the teacup. In a burst of frustration I stood, almost knocking the dining chair over.

What was the point of this boring teacup? Why did I ever think this was a nice look? It had to change. I stormed to the sink and threw the cup, and its contents in. It crashed into the stainless steel, splintering into several shards of white porcelain that brought me some sense of satisfaction. The semi-violent act made me feel better, so I continued, smashing the other white cups from the cupboard until there was a pile of broken pieces swimming in white dust and miniscule fragments in my sink.

I returned to the cabinet, and pulled out the Royal Albert hiding behind all the everyday use items. Lovely, dainty cups, thin china with matching saucers and decorated with poinsettias. There were tiny little cracks in the glaze; the gold rim was faded and slightly blotchy in places. The matching serving plates and side plates were in similar worn condition but were still elegant looking. Yes, they were much better.

I took out two settings and sat them on my heavy wooden kitchen table. I moved the flowers from the windowsill over.
I sat two placemats. Followed by two wine glasses. I made a grand fuss over this dinner set, making it look as appealing as I could.

My mind was working faster than was necessary. It was only 9.30am, no need to prepare for dinner. But I could put that pork in the oven. He did enjoy the slow cooked pulled pork I made. I could make roast potatoes to go with it. He wouldn’t be home until five…I had time.

I mixed the ingredients for the sauce and left it to rest over a low heat on the hob then flew to our bedroom, careful not to wake the baby. I threw open the wardrobe, the mirror on the inside of the door showing the reflection of a young woman, still wrapped in her robe after showering, her cheeks flushed from her frenzy in the kitchen. Taking a breath, I stripped down. I stared at my changed body and the little dimples that weren’t there before .The stretch marks on my belly were still angry and red, and parts wobbled that hadn’t wobbled previously. But that was okay with me today.  After all, cracks and wear showed character.

I put on a pair of jeans that I hadn’t worn in months, surprised to find that they fastened. So did the denim blouse I hadn’t worn in almost a year.  I giggled at myself in “double denim” before I heard the baby begin to stir.
I checked the time again. 10am…I had time to go to the supermarket; I had time to ask my sister to babysit tonight. She had offered enough times, desperate to get hold of her niece for an evening. I could be out to the shop, get all I needed, drop the baby off, get back home and ready for him coming in.

We could really make a nice evening of it.

I was woken up by my husband at around 5pm.I was wearing the red dress he liked, the food was almost ready, the baby was gone and I had fallen asleep on the sofa after my frantic attempt at making the perfect evening.  He had seen everything sitting in the kitchen waiting and he came into the living room with a drink. I woke up purring happily as he rubbed the soles of my feet.

After a while just chatting and catching up on days that we seemed to have missed, we sat at the table, drinking from the fancy glasses and the fancy mugs, eating from polished forks. He squeezed my hand and I smiled.

The food really didn’t taste any different from the dressed-up crockery. Maybe if I’d thought of that sooner I wouldn’t have put this off for so long.

The Truth – A Commentary

© 2015 Caroline Raggett

The truth is that there was no truth. No real truth. Every word exchanged between us, though we believed them to be absolute truths, was based on that first little lie that snowballed into something bigger. Eventually it was an avalanche of lies.

But we truly believed that they were our universal and undeniable truths.

We were so comfortable within that blanket of lies that we fought hard to preserve it. The narrative of our relationship was consistent albeit destructive; it often began with a disagreement, escalating in stages to verbal abuse, poisonous words, violence and then the break up. The shocking climax repeated itself, as after the final escalation we would soon find ourselves reconciling.

It was a never ending cycle of abuse – self-abuse as well as being abused. This exhausting assault course took its toll on me and my emotions. My personality, my confidence, my core beliefs were shaken. After a year or so I came to expect the tsunami of uncertainty and anger that would come in vicious bursts and, I am still ashamed to say, I deserved it.

That was another one of my truths.

I deserved it.

I came to expect it, and I blamed myself. Maybe if I had behaved a certain way in the beginning I wouldn’t be treated this way. If I carried myself with more self-respect, maybe I would be respected. I hardly recognised who I was anymore and I was certainly convinced that I deserved no better.

I was resolute in the knowledge that I would remain this weak little girl who only had herself to blame for her current situation.

I’d never find someone like him. It wasn’t his fault if I got upset, he said.

“If you were strong willed you wouldn’t be upset with me about anything. But you are. That makes you weak and so what you feel is your own problem”.

I remember THAT one specifically.

I was fractured into I don’t know how many pieces. I was pulled in so many different directions by that man, and I could see my family and my friends willing me the opposite way. But I couldn’t fight it. I was too weak. He said so.

I didn’t think I would ever fully heal. I wouldn’t ever evolve from the base instincts he drew out of me for his own pleasure. The other aspects of my personality were consumed by it until I really did not recognise myself. He had moulded me into this THING and I had allowed it.

Therefore it had to be as much my fault as it was his, didn’t it?

Even after I finally re-arranged the broken pieces of myself into some kind of coherent shape, and I ended it once and for all, he behaved as though he owned me. His truth was that he believed he had his own caveman claim on my flesh, my thoughts and my heart. I was made to feel ashamed of things I’d said and done, even if they didn’t involve him. It was his way of trying to control the situation; to manipulate me into doing his will in a cruel attempt to separate me from the friends and family I had already foolishly pushed away (believe me; it took a long time to rebuild some of those relationships. I think I always will be to some degree).

The arguing continued beyond the end of the relationship. It was still exhausting. I didn’t feel like I had achieved anything, he still had a power that made me feel worthless. I was still the empty husk of some girl, trying to make myself whole.

And then…He was there.

Wonderful, perfect Him.

Everything I had ever wanted had I known to ever ask for it. I didn’t believe I deserved Him. In any way. To this day, I still don’t, but there is a ring on my finger; a little girl lies sleeping in the room next door. She is so much like Him that every inch of me glows just thinking of her beautiful brown eyes – His eyes- staring at me like I am the centre of her universe.

There is a kick of acknowledgement in my belly as my thoughts travel, this movement from our darling little boy who we have yet to meet.

There is a bed in the other room where He and I lay. He holds me tight, tickling my skin, telling me I am gorgeous, telling me He loves me. This was the kind of love I’d dreamed of. Finally, an equal devoted partnership and He was so unreal. I really believed I had dreamed Him into existence as no one could possibly want someone as damaged as I.

After all, my soul was splintered. I was in such a dark place and He saved me. Not by acting like the shining knight or the superhero, but by giving me the things I didn’t believe I would ever truly deserve.

Even from the first meeting I knew something had changed. I had changed and I dared to dream that He might feel the same glittering spark in His own chest.

The truth is that my past truths are meaningless.

All of them are. No amount of truth or lie from before exists anymore. He washed me clean of all the pain and loathing and shame that I felt for myself. Meeting Him, falling for Him, marrying Him – it was like a baptism renewing me. He opened my eyes to what it should be like; He allowed me to love myself again and gave me the greatest gift of His heart.

This is my truth:

As You have cleansed me I will worship You as a wife should. As You have given me Your heart, I swear I will give You mine. As you love me I will love myself.

And as You have gifted me Your fragile but perfect, glittering love I will carry it next to my own ugly heart; the one with the scars, held together by Your own shining light.

This way I know it will never break.

A Mans Treasure

 © 2015 Caroline Raggett

It began with a sincere request from her brother after her father’s passing. They hadn’t seen each other in ten years but even now as they whispered a prayer over the wooden box that cradled their father; it felt like little had changed.

Johnathan had lived a life of freedom and fancy. Leaving home at 17 to travel and indulge his childish imagination with equally childish behaviour. The last time they had spoken was over a year prior when he had called from someone’s mobile phone amidst a street party in some faraway Asian country.

Marie was glad he had his comforts. He wasn’t just alive but living. Also she secretly envied him a small amount. She had never really gone off anywhere or explored anything further than Spain. But Marie did not think she would change it. She was happy with her plain and simple life, with her plain home and her plain job and her simple ambition. Her parents were pleased to have her still so near and she had felt a degree of responsibility to them at the time.

On hearing of his father’s death, he had dashed back home to be with his mother. Time was a relative thing. So the 36 hour journey was comparable to a drop of rain in an ocean of water.

He sat with his mother for days, and when the time came to visit the funeral home, he assured her she needn’t worry. That he could make all the arrangements and mother wouldn’t need to do it if she couldn’t face it.

And so this was how they came to be sitting, holding hands, praying over the coffin.

In the preceding days, they had talked. Quite a lot actually, catching up, worrying about their mother and discussing all to do with the funeral. Her brother had asked what would happen to their mother and the house. He was worried that she wouldn’t be cared for, or that mum would lose the house. Practical things that Marie hadn’t even considered, which spoke volumes to her about how much he had matured in his absence. Marie resigned herself to defer thinking until after the funeral.

This came sooner than she thought.

It passed in a tear filled haze, and after the funeral her brother had one request. To see a pocket watch that father had been gifted from his father. Johnathan had described to her the wooden box it was kept in, and insisted that he merely wanted to look at it and remember.

Marie was charged with helping her mother sort through his things which was a long, heart breaking task but after a time they soon came upon the little wooden box, stuffed in a larger shoebox, with many little pieces of broken jewellery and trinkets. Marie held it in her hands, feeling the smoothness of the wood and inhaling the scent of musk and tobacco. Gingerly she opened the box, un-fastening the small latch and lifting the lid. There nestled in a soft bed of crushed velvet was the silver pocket watch. The long chain was tucked underneath untidily, and the watch face shone in the centre of its filigree casing. The silver had lost some of its lustre but it was heavy and beautifully decorated.

Marie closed the box and went downstairs to her brother. Johnathan sat at the dining table with a small pile of paperwork, trying to figure out how much the insurance would take care of. Marie was still surprised to see her hitchhiking, free-spirited brother sitting with a pair of glasses perched on his nose and a cup of tea next to him. He looked so much like father. She said nothing, but handed the box to him.

He opened it and lifted the watch out, wrapping the chain around his fingers and staring at it. The memory of it seemed pale in comparison to holding it and seeing it in its unfortunate splendour. Johnathan turned it over, saying to Marie that he remembered there was an engraving on the back of the casing, which was smooth and untouched.

Marie watched as he read. He read for a long time. Reading it over and over before placing it back in the box, handing it back and asking Marie to ensure it did not get lost or sold. He stood and left the kitchen.

Marie’s curiosity was piqued. She picked up the watch to read what Johnathan had so intensely studied. On the back of the case, read the inscription in very small curved letters

“A mans

treasure is not

measured by

his trinkets,

Love always,

Mum and Dad”

1978

Ueno Toshogu Shrine

This piece was used as a first assignment in the creative writing class I started in April 2015. We were to write a piece on a place we had personally experienced. We are told to consider a lot of what we write in the class as raw material, but I was proud and received some decent feedback on this. Please treat it for what it is – a retelling of a life experience….and raw material 🙂

 © 2006 Caroline Raggett

The Ueno Toshogu Shrine of Ueno Park towered over the four of us as we wandered towards it. My three companions and I separated and began photographing different areas.

I was trying to absorb every standing stone lantern, every tree, every edge, cut and curve of the building. So much so, I almost ignored the memorial to my right. In fact I had walked back and forth three or four times before I really paid attention.

It wasn’t anything spectacular. It was a modern cut, smooth granite with shiny plaques in front. It was decorated with rows and rows of multi-coloured ribbons and feathers hanging from the stone. The colours caught my eye and I wondered why, in a small garden of flattened greenery and ancient statues there stood a giant, grey, granite block that seemed so out-of-place.

With my camera in hand I approached. Carved into the stone was a small bird which had a hollow recess where its belly should be. A glass window protected the contents of the birds’ belly – a single burning orange ember.

The ember was glowing so brightly I thought it had to be a fake, a special effect of some kind. It was a kind of toxic orange, like the colour you’d find in the eye of a volcano. I snapped a photo then turned to the plaque that stood in front of the structure.

It told the story of the Hiroshima bomb; of a man searching for his uncle in the aftermath. He found only a razed city and his uncles’ house reduced to a pile of burning timber and ash. The nephew carried a piece of the burning wood back to his own city, and kept the flame alive. At first this represented his resentment. But it soon became a symbol for peace. The flame of the atomic bomb had been kept burning since 1945, and in later years had been merged with a flame from the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. It was this merged living flame that was kept in the Ueno Park temple. Kept living and breathing in the belly of a dove as a reminder of the bombings but also as a protest against the futility of war.

I read this story three times standing there. The realisation of where I was, what these people and this country had experienced, and the truth of their history washed over me. I was overcome with feelings of sadness and of insignificance. I stared at the flame as though it reflected my own mortality burning. A tear escaped as I stood trying to understand this great loss of life, yet this culture could find hope in a poisonous flame.

No understanding came to me. No serendipitous moment. No sudden epiphanies that comforted me or helped me justify my own feelings to myself. So I simply cried. I shed my tears in silence and kept re-reading what was written to commit it to memory.