Emma measured out the cups of flour, the teaspoons of yeast and salt and sugar and oil. She didn’t need the recipe, didn’t even need the correct measurements. She did it by feel, by instinct, her mind elsewhere while her hands created. She grabbed the wire whisk from its hook, and quickly mixed the dry ingredients, her movements jerky and unsteady, her eyes unfocused, blurred with tears.
When her arm began to feel like stone, the rapid whisking and her iron-like grip tightening her muscles, she let up. She ruthlessly wiped the tears from her eyes and left a smudge of white powder on her cheek. A rogue tear passed through it and left a trail of grainy doughdown her flushed cheek.
From the cabinet to her left, she grabbed a coffee mug, the brown one emblazoned with “I Heart Emma.” She flipped on the tap in the sink, then leaned against the counter, her shoulders drooping, her head bowed. She began to shake, to shudder, to release the sobs. The drum of water flowing out of the faucet masked the gasps of weeping. Emma let herself hang over the sink, allowed herself that moment of weakness, of complete surrender to the emotion washing through her.
She should have known, she thought. Harry had given her all the signs, the distance, the sullenness, the impatience and annoyance at her mere presence. He had checked out of their relationship a long time ago, and she, now thirty years old – thirty – had clung to denial, though she could feel the end coming. Every woman knows when the end begins.
Emma wiped her eyes, grabbed a paper towel and loudly blew her nose. The towel was rough, scratchy against her skin, but she didn’t notice. She tossed it towards the garbage can and turned before she saw it bounce off the edge and land on the newly-tiled floor. Bastard, she thought.
She thrust the mug under the tap, then dumped the water into her dry ingredients. Her sadness downshifted to anger, pulsing dully in her body, warming her face and ears and lips. She grasped a drawer handle with shaking fingers, pulled it open to pick out a large wooden spoon, and – with an impulsive wave of rage – slammed the drawer shut. The crack of wood hitting wood did little to relieve her mood.
With the spoon like a weapon in her hand, she stirred the sticky mixture until it began to thicken and imagined it as Harry’s face. Oh, she had liked, even loved, that face a few months ago. The brown eyes that could sparkle with humor, the charming stubble on his chin, the laugh that could fill a room. But now, when she pictured him, she saw only the back of his head as he’d left their home. She hadn’t been able to look at his face when he’d ended things; instead, she had traced the lines of their new wood table, the one they’d splurged on at a furniture fair. It would blend perfectly with the new backsplash in the kitchen, the fresh paint in the connecting dining room.
She reached into her mixing bowl and lifted the dough out to plop it on her floured countertop. With fury and grief and overwhelming disappointment churning inside her, Emma began to knead the dough, shaping it and pulling it and pressing it with the heels of her hands. And the dough, soft and pliable, accepted her resentment.
As her shoulders began to ache, Emma stood up straight, pressing her messy hands to the small of her back to stretch. She quickly cut the dough into twelve pieces and set them on a sheet of wax paper. For the next fifteen minutes, she promised herself, she would take care of all business Harry-related. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel then sat in front of her computer. With a few clicks, she removed her relationship status from Facebook, un-friended Harry, canceled the wedding website she had created the year before. She reached for a notebook, then flipped to a clean page to make a to-do list. A get-rid-of-Harry list.
She needed to contact everyone involved with the wedding. The caterer, the musicians, the manager of the venue, the florist, the photographer. She should send out a message to all the people they’d invited. Well, she’d contact everyone on her list. Screw Harry’s guests. And, oh God, she had to call her family. She put an asterisk next to that one, intending to save the most painful for last.
She should also really contact their bank, set up an appointment for a realtor. Call a lawyer. She’d sunk more money than he had in this place, and she’d be damned if they got equal shares of it. She was a scorned woman, but she was not stupid.
As the tasks ticked in her head, the phone rang. Reaching up, she answered with an absentminded hello. She listened to the person on the other end and explained that Harry wasn’t home, but she could pass along a message. The person on the other end related the message, which Emma dutifully noted on her pad.
Hanging up and checking the time, Emma returned to her counter and rolled each of her dough balls, forming them into snakes and connecting the ends. She put them back on the wax paper. The dough began to get rounder and puffier and softer.
Emma twisted the knob on her stainless-steel double oven – perfect for a baking enthusiast – to heat it to 425 degrees and grabbed a large pot from the open shelves. She filled it with water, then set it on the stove to boil. With a clap of her floury hands, she considered herself free for the next twenty minutes.
Her apron strings flying behind her, Emma scoured the townhouse, gathering any memento that reminded her of Harry. Pictures in beautiful frames, his glass ashtrays, CDs and DVDs, knick-knacks from here and there – what kind of man loved white ceramic animals, anyway? – and some lone shoes and shirts and shorts. She dumped them all into a pile in the kitchen doorway and took an enormous wicker basket standing in the corner of the living room. She folded the clothes, tied the shoes’ laces together, and placed them neatly in the basket. She arranged the remaining items on top, leaving room in the center.
Pleased with herself, Emma straightened and headed into the kitchen. She dropped her rounded puffs of dough into the boiling water, counted one minute, then flipped the dough and counted another minute. Using a spatula, she lifted them out of the water to place on a cookie sheet and slid them into the oven.
As they baked, their rich, yeasty smell filling the kitchen, she sat down at her computer once again, this time to type out a message. She hunched over the keyboard, eyes focused on the screen, fingers moving over the keys. She deleted a few words, rewrote the last sentence and sat back to read her draft. Perfect, she thought, and mentally rubbed her hands together in satisfaction.
She stood to take her tray out of the oven and flip the browning bagels to bake the other side. While she waited – the last step nearly complete – she printed her file and walked to the printer to pick it up. A thought floated into her mind, and with a small smile gracing her weary face, she made a detour to the bathroom to paint her lips with deep red lipstick. She puckered her lips in front of the mirror, sending herself a kiss. With a certain smugness twisting her features, she laid her flaming lips on the paper. A kiss goodbye.
Walking with purpose now, she strode towards the kitchen, took her freshly baked bagels out of the oven. She placed the steaming rolls in the basket, tucked among Harry’s junk, and laid the letter on top.
Emma, now riding high with satisfaction and self-righteousness, opened the front door and put the basket down. She slammed the door shut, determined to treat herself right.
Outside, the basket warmed the brick stoop and a spring breeze ruffled the note on top. The folded paper flipped open to reveal Emma’s message:
I remembered how much you liked my bagels, so I baked a nice batch for you. Maybe you can share them with your new girlfriend. Maybe she’ll enjoy all your crap more than I did.
P.S. I forgot to tell you, your boss called. You’re fired.