Birthday

If you think about it, the concept of birthdays is a strange one. We commemorate the day we were born – a day which we can’t remember and which we didn’t have much physical participation in. Wouldn’t it make sense to remember the day we said our first words? Or the day we took our first steps? Maybe the date of our earliest memories? But no, we celebrate this day of all days in the year as something special.

When I was a kid, birthdays just didn’t feel like regular days. They felt magical, full of special occurrences, little traditions and big wrapped gifts. My mother would read me The Birthday Bird book by Dr. Seuss every birthday morning, and then the whole family would go out to a hidden picnic table in my favorite park to eat cupcakes, play Frisbee, talk and watch the sunset through the distant skyscrapers.

Today felt like a pretty normal day, despite being my nineteenth birthday. But then, that’s what happens as you get older. Birthdays stop being magical and become just… nothing much. There are still presents and there’s still some fuss made with friends and loved ones, but the magic is gone from the day. It’s bittersweet, really, because although I miss the special fuzzy feeling that I got on my birthdays, I also appreciate that I’m wiser now and more willing to find magic in my daily routines and simple pleasures instead of putting all my excitement about life into one day of the year.

Spam [Part III]

Part I

Part II

A few hours later, Ladonna was bending down and sticking her head in the oven. The cake wasn’t ready yet, so she pulled her head out of the hot space and breathed deeply. She loved the smell of food being made – especially when she was the one who was preparing it and it was coming out so well. She also knew that most days she hated to cook, but she was conveniently suppressing that fact because today it was fun and because she had to do it for her friends and because it was distracting her from the strange events of the day.

She wiped the perspiration from her face and turned to the stove to stir one of the many pots that were bubbling away. The radio perched above the sink was tuned to one of the many random stations that she was still discovering. It was a good station, and the music was a nice mix of silly 80s pop songs and silly but enjoyable modern rock music. Ladonna registered the song that was just starting, and smiled to herself. She’d always loved “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and she sang along as the opening lyrics blared fuzzily out of the not-so-good speakers. She needed a new radio.

A strange buzzing sounded somewhere around the kitchen, followed by piercing electronic noises that were supposed to form some sort of tune. Ladonna searched frantically for her cell phone, the thing that was making that obnoxious racket, and found it lying under “Baking Miracle Cakes! A Guide for Amateurs.” She looked at the screen, saw the name “KATE” flashing on it, and flipped the phone open.

“Katie!” she squealed.

“Hey, Babes, why aren’t you answering us?” Kate’s voice was drowned out by others yelling behind her. “Shut up, guys! I can’t here her. Ladonna?”

“Wait, you’re downstairs already? I didn’t hear the buzzer!” Ladonna dashed to the front door to her apartment, lifted the intercom phone and pushed the button marked with a little key symbol. “I’m on the second floor!”

“Thanks, Babes!” Kate hung up.

Ladonna ran to her bathroom to check that her hair wasn’t too disorganized and that she didn’t have anything stuck in her teeth. Having ascertained that she looked passable, she marched back to the door and flung it open just as Kate had lifted her fist to knock. Ladonna was bombarded with shouts of “Happy birthday!”, hugs, kisses, bags that crinkled pleasantly with the hint of gifts and all-around love and friendship.

There, she thought to herself as she smiled at everyone and motioned to the rack beside the doorway so they could throw their coats over it. Everything’s normal, my friends are here, and nothing weird whatsoever will happen tonight.

Ladonna relaxed then, and prepared herself for an evening of fun, laughter, food and drink, not suspecting at all that her strange day wasn’t quite over yet.

The Baker

The Baker had been known for years as just that: the Baker. Some knew his name, of course, but most didn’t. He didn’t mind. Being a baker was his pride, his profession and the thing he loved most, and he was pleased to be so well known amongst the others of his trade so as to be the only man called The Baker in the whole market. He knew he was a good baker. Little girls begged their papas to buy his cinnamon rolls, boys filched their mama’s coins so as to get a raisin filled treat, youths brought their blushing young ladies to his stall for a warm apple turnover to share on wintry days, and the poor, eyes wide with hunger and bellies swollen, came to his back door for the many loaves of stale bread that he would have leftover at the end of each week. The Baker was a warm-hearted man, and always made too much bread – accidentally, of course.

He awoke every day of the week before the sun had even risen. He liked to work that early, because the mornings were cool enough so that the sweltering hot oven didn’t make him sweat too much at first as he began to heat it up for the long day. He had different assistants over the years – some stayed and some left. They all left in the end, though, to marry, to have children, to open their own stall or to change trades entirely. The Baker stayed constant, and could never envision doing aught different.

When he had been a child, he’d been rail-thin. He had been the kind of boy who had arms as thin as sticks, a belly-button that puckered out because his stomach was so flat, and ribs that seemed to almost poke out. As he grew, his thin arms developed muscle and his belly rounded a little, all while helping his uncle in kitchens of the big house they lived in. His uncle taught him to bake. Not to cook, no, the Baker never enjoyed cooking meals, but he loved working with any and all kinds of dough, and he became good at it. When his uncle died and the rich family they worked for kicked him out, he’d found work at a smith, as an assistant. It was his strong arms, muscled with constant kneading of dough, that had gotten him that job. He worked, and worked and worked some more, hating the smell of burnt metal and hot coal and the mixed, unpleasant scent of sweat-soaked leather aprons and smoke. But the Baker worked, and when he’d saved enough coin, he opened his bakery stall in the market, as far from the smithy as possible.

He stayed, and his stall grew, and his rolls and pastries and cakes became known, and he became a real baker, The Baker. He never knew aught else – for even as a servant boy and later an assistant smith, he was always thinking of the way clean flour looked on a wooden board and the way dough felt in his hands and the the way a freshly baked loaf would be just that perfect shade of golden-brown. He never knew aught else, and he would never do aught different, not if it were up to him.