Sunday, September 21, 2008

Christmas Cake by Victoria Blisse

“I’ll have half a dozen of your mince pies as well, please, Emily.”

“Sure, Mrs. Tanner. You’re starting early this Christmas.”

“Oh, well it’s not that far off now, is it? I’ve got the family coming on Saturday and I’m doing a bit of a spread. Karen wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t put out some of your mince pies.”

I blush, picking out the rest of the order and putting them into a stiff, white paper box.

“Well here we are, Mrs. Tanner.” I look down on the mince pies, the small brown loaf, and the half a dozen oven bottoms. “That’ll be four pound eleven.”

“Thanks, Emily, see you next week.” Mrs. Tanner passes me the cautiously counted out coins and I drop them into the till.

“Goodbye, Mrs. Tanner.” I call then, rearrange the display of mince pies. Looking out of the glass front door, I can see the twinkling lights and tinsel in the window of the fashion shop opposite. I shake my head, it’s only just crept into December, the air has still got the mellow crispness of autumn lingering on it, yet the Christmas display has been out for a month across the road already.

I start selling mince pies on the first of December now, simply because of demand. The fruitcake doesn’t come out until at least a week before Christmas Eve and the gingerbread trees and Santas will be baked for the first day of the children’s Christmas holidays when I will put up my decorations.

When I was a little girl Christmas didn’t start till Christmas Eve and my family were bakers even then, but as the years have passed it’s gotten earlier and earlier, with the big shops starting to sell Christmas gifts as early as October these days. I know I sound like a grumpy old woman, but that’s because I am a grumpy old woman and Christmas doesn’t mean anything to me now.

When Greg was alive Christmas was the most magical time of the year. He loved Christmas. We’d sing Christmas carols as we baked, we’d have this massive meal, inviting all those who would otherwise be alone at Christmas, and it was always a full house. But Greg died ten years ago and I’ve become one of those alone at Christmas.

We never got to have kids. We had plans, but it just seemed that Mother Nature wasn’t keen on helping us along. It wasn’t a burning desire for either of us, but now I’m completely alone and I physically ache with want for a child, someone to remember Greg with. I keep the bakery on my own, I bake what people want for Christmas, but I don’t even put up a tree in my flat above the shop.

The door bell tinkles and I look up.

“Wow, it smells delicious in here.” His rumbling voice suits the tall, imposing body it is attached to.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Oh, call me Jim, please.”

“Okay, Jim.” It is unusual to find yourself on first name terms with a brand new customer, but his open smile and easy manner make me feel as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

“I’m new ‘round here,” he states, his bright blue eyes scanning the shelves before him as he talks. “I just moved in over the road.”

“Well, welcome.” I smile and his gaze flicks from the display of cream cakes and fixes on me.

“Well, thank you, oh, what is your name?”

“Emily,” I reply.

“Thank you, Emily.” He holds out his hand above the high counter top and I reach mine over. He takes it in his strong grip and shakes it, my stomach shakes in time.

“So, have you moved here with family?” I ask, as he continues to visually devour my cake display. “Oh no, it’s just me. I’ve got a new job here, and at my age you got to go where you’re needed.”

“Oh yes. I just hope I can keep this place going, I am far too old to be searching for jobs now.”

His eyes meet mine again and I feel my cheeks pinking on their own accord.

“Oh, no, that can’t be true. A vibrant young lady like you is just in her prime of life, surely.”

“Why, thank you.” I flush more and look down at the cakes in the display before me. “But I am definitely over that hill these days.”

“Well, as long as we’re both on the same side of the hill, I’m happy.”

He grins and I laugh. “Right, I think I’ve finally decided. I’ll have a mince pie, please, and one of those delicious looking vanilla slices.”

“Certainly, anything else?” I ask as I take a breath and try to keep my hand steady as I handle the delicate pastries.

“Oh, and a small tin, please.”

“Would you like that sliced?”

“Oh no, I prefer to cut my own, you know. I’m old fashioned like that.”

“Oh, I’m the same.” I pull a small white loaf from the shelf behind me and wrap it in stiff paper.

“That will be one pound seventy eight please, Jim.”

He passes me the exact change and takes his goods with a wink.

“I’ll see you again soon, Emily. I’ll not be able to stay away from such sweet treats.”

“Goodbye,” I call after him, wondering exactly which treats he was talking about.