Editor’s Note: This short story received second place in the Center for Writing Excellence’s February Fiction in Five Short Story Competition. It will be published in the Center’s Anthology later this summer, and this will be my second edition!
I can still remember watching her as she stood at the old window washing dishes. Her red apron gently distorted by the glare of the sun shining through the glass. The faded pink lace hearts hand sewn on the bib hanging by pure love and thread dare not fall from their precious perch.
She would cast a watchful eye in my direction each afternoon, paying as much attention to my silly antics in the garden as the wilting bubbles in her sink. With a cheerful wave of her hand, I could see the thick lather ooze down her forearm and drip from her elbow.
At that moment, there were only two people in the world: my Granny and me.
We would often hold entire conversations through those old panes of glass, many times without saying a single word. We always understood what the other was trying to say. Ours was a special relationship and always had been.
But, watching my grandmother through the old window as she conducted the symphony that was her kitchen was a remarkable treat.
She would begin her symphony by gathering all the orchestra players together. Stockpots on the back burners, followed by a saucepan and fryer on the front burners. Each vessel had its own pitch and part in the chorus of my grandmother’s kitchen. The stockpot’s low base roll was accented by the hum of the fryer’s sizzle. The melodious zing of the whisk whirring the broken sauce into a frenzy and then a decadent gravy was the crescendo of Granny’s masterpiece.
And, I would watch the action from the window as my grandmother waived a wooden spoon and a damp dishrag over her players, keeping everything in tune. The maestro of the meal.
Even when afternoon clouds filled the dull luster of the window, I could still hear each spoon, each whisk, each lid, clanking in perfect harmony as she prepared a new opera for our dinnertime enjoyment.
The stove was old and plenty worn, and my grandfather incessantly offered to buy her a new one, but my grandmother always turned him down, even after the evil thing burned her chocolate heart brownies she baked one Sunday for the church afternoon social. Instead she took the ruined confection as a sign from above that she should bring a fruit dessert instead of a chocolate one. She reasoned that fruit was a healthier choice for the little ones who would be in attendance.
Before leaving her kitchen, after every pot was carefully put away, after all the counters were cleaned and dried, she would wash her hands one last time and pump her lotion bottle twice to dispense the most luscious rose scented balm I had ever smelled. It made me wonder whether a rose itself wasn’t stuffed inside the small jar. She would rub the ointment gently over her hands, remove her apron, and retire to the living room.
I spent so many lazy summer days watching my grandmother through the kitchen window that when I was old enough I joined her eager to learn all of her secrets. Those wonderful lyrics weren’t written on any music sheets, though. All her recipes were deeply ingrained in her memories, and she was happy to share them with me. Cobblers, preserves, dumplings, fried chicken, cakes, pies, lasagna, stews, soups…her entire repertoire was laid out for my benefit, and I was determined to soak up every moment of it. She was the master, and I her student. I gained more weight that summer learning all my grandmother’s secret recipes than I had planned to, but I didn’t care.
Years later and the weight from that summer long gone, my grandmother was gone as well. The house was cold and dark, even though it was in late spring. It was months before I could set foot in my grandmother’s kitchen again. I was terrified I wouldn’t feel her there. Instead, I stood outside and looked through the window wishing I could see her smiling face staring back at me. Waiving. Creating such amazing music in her kitchen just a few feet from me.
Eventually I was drawn to the small space, to stand where she stood, to look out of the window over the sink. I saw what I know she saw all those years ago. My grandparent’s garden and my blackberry vines. I could see the plump blackberries shining in the late morning sun still wet with dew. I reached under the sink and fetched a bright yellow bowl. I suddenly had the urge to bake.
I was never very good at baking. My grandmother could bake a blue ribbon cobbler in her sleep, but mine never tasted quite right. When I returned from the garden, it was my turn to make music in my grandmother’s kitchen. Pots and pans, spoons and whisks. I remembered her recipe by heart, and I poured each ingredient with as much love as she did.
When I placed the pan in the stove to bake, I didn’t dare leave it. The stove had a habit of running a bit hot, but not today. Granny was in the kitchen with me, and we were going to finish this blackberry cobbler together. When the clock ticked down the final seconds, I reached in and pulled out my first successful cobbler, and I had to smile.