The walls were thin and she hoped her music wasn’t on too loud as she prepared the birthday cake. What was on now? Something by pianist Glenn Gould – The Inventions? – a darling eccentric who died of a stroke at fifty. She sipped on her iced lemonade – a regular Julia Child sans wine, she thought – as she prepared the ingredients. Boy, would they be surprised. They had no idea of her cooking prowess.
The Joy of Cooking, a marriage gift from her fellow teachers at Lovejoy Junior High – they had pre-deceased her, as the obituaries say - lay on the white counter. The book was as speckled as a roasted chicken, but she barely noticed. She, the queen of the kitchen. Her friends had no idea.
With surprising speed, she built her masterpiece: two vanilla layers with a custard filling in between and sticky chocolate frosting on top. Into the layers she had written tiny notes like the sayings in Chinese fortune cookies.
Would the girls ever be surprised!
Aunt Millie, as everyone called her, was a poor sleeper. She rose at dawn when the purple and orange streaks of light fell gently through the transparent lace curtains. As she always did upon awakening, she took a deep breath and concentrated on how she felt. Very little pain, but the swim later on downstairs would take care of that.
She hadn’t baked a cake since, let’s see, she thought, her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah several years ago. But her old brain worked just fine.
She set the timer for an hour. She was a “wash-and-go” woman. As she baked, she cleaned up.
She yawned, grabbed the timer, and lay back in bed. The white walls closed around her and she slept. When the timer rang, exquisite smells greeted her like a Jewish bakery.
The girls were gathered downstairs at the shimmering blue pool. Aunt Millie walked slowly and carefully, carrying the cake in a yellow plastic container.
“What on earth?” cried Elizabeth, who sat under the green-striped tent.
“Mind your manners,” laughed the former school teacher.
A white wicker table sat beneath the tent, filled with beach towels and summer pocketbooks.
Sharon stood up and cleared a space for the birthday cake. Like most of the other women, she had blond hair, a very American thing for women of a certain age.
“May I?” asked Harriet, hovering over the cake.
“Go ahead,” said Aunt Milly.
Oohs and aahs greeted the unmasking of the cake. Even the children came over. For several years now The Colonnade had changed their policy and the over-65 community accepted children. Even infants. The elders of course went wild for the little ones.
“What a coincidence,” said Lolly, whose blond hair swung at her shoulders. “Today happens to be my birthday.”
“That’s why you get the first bite,” said Aunt Milly, producing from her swim bag, paper plates and transparent forks, spoons and knives.
“Come here, you!” she said to a brown-haired boy. “Help yourself.”
published 19 September 2016