Secret Cake

With the rest of the family at the gym after downing their pre-workout plant protein smoothies, the coast was clear. She couldn’t cook her favourite treat in the house. As soon as they got back in they’d pick up the delicious scents that had wafted from the oven. Instead, she grabbed a set of house keys from the dresser drawer. They were house-sitting for the Khan family, who were away on a twenty-eight day Caribbean cruise.

It was there in the Khan’s freezer that her secret stash resided. Letting herself in through the side door, she turned the oven on before giving the place a cursory check. Everything was where it should be, including the cardboard box she had hidden in their fridge-freezer.

After ten minutes of preheating, and twenty of baking, the smell had her licking her lips as she took the cake out to serve on a plate. Firm, golden-brown and moist. The first bite was heaven, full of rich flavour. Try as she might to savour it, the morsel melted away in her mouth. She lingered over each delicately seasoned mouthful. Each comforting, zesty, meaty mouthful.

Her husband and the kids had stuck with the Atkins diet for a month. As she whittled away at the fishcake with her fork, she could only hope their vegan vitality plan would be abandoned before the Khans returned.

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Coupon Queen

Her scissors snipped away at the latest magazine to come through the door, clipping out the various promotional and manufacturers coupons contained within. Like all good clippers, she had a system. Like all coupon enthusiasts, she researched constantly to get the best deals. It had become a game to get the most for the least, her social media and forum accounts used to report her hauls to other clippers.

Each store in her vicinity had a folder. She would check the coupons she had against store offers and deals, then assign it to the folder. Her car had a cool box in the back, and in the space of a morning she could knock out at least three stores before coming home to stock the cupboards up. She didn’t need all that she bought, so some went to the church, and some went to the shelter. Pet food always went to the local veterinary office. They’d been so good to her when Boxer died.

The cupboards were always full. Stock was rotated in and out from there, her pantry, and the storage shelves she set up in the garage. She was always ready to receive, always had something to bring to local cook-outs and pot lucks. And there was always stuff for them in, ready for when they popped around. His favourite jar of jelly. Her preferred shower gel. The cookies he always liked. That cereal they always badgered her to get.

She’d box some of the stuff up to send out to them, handwritten notes in each one sending word from home and all the neighbourhood news. It had been a while since they visited, but there was always the chance they’d pop over and she’d be mortified if the shelves were bare and the fridge under-stocked!

There was no music blaring out from the rooms as she got in from the mega mart. No games consoles filling the house with explosions or football on the TV. She had coupons for everything, except for what she really wanted.

Clopping

Clop clop clop one way.

Clop clop clop closer.

The gait was irregular, unsure.

Each strike of the foot clicked against the laminate floor and echoed about the room, through the open plan layout and to their ears.

“Is there a horse in there helping out?” He wondered aloud.

A rapid flurry of clopping followed, a head poking out from around the corner. “IT’S NOT FUNNY, DAD!”

She clopped back into the kitchen, leaving him with a glare from his wife. Her mouth’s barely suppressed mirth twitching at the corners of her lips dulled the usual impact her looks had on him.

“She needs to practice for her new job.” She chided.

“Oh shit, the pasta!” Came from the one-girl stampede in the kitchen.

“I get that, but while cooking?”

“Aw sod, the veg!” Their daughter was at a gallop now.

“She was quieter in those old clod stompers she used to wear!”

His wife sighed. “The goth days are gone now, it’s going to be all business and heels.”

“Fuck, the fish!” Their daughter swore amidst the clanging of pans and pots.

Her husband chuckled. “She’s still got the mouth of a sailor though.”

Home Cooking

A fierce craving for Mom’s (not really)patented chicken casserole drove her towards the kitchen. She stumbled a little with the weight of a night’s drinking making her strides anything but steady. Reaching the vast fridge that occupied one corner of the kitchen, she flung the massive doors open to begin browsing the shelves and racks.

Some fuzzy part of her mind knew that she’d brought some casserole home in one of the many Tupperware boxes that her parents dolled leftovers out in. Was it the red topped one? No, no, Mom had a system. Red was for beef dishes, chicken was…

Yellow! A flash of yellow caught her eye as she moved some assorted jars out of the way. Grasping the box with both hands she pulled it out and took it to the counter. Peeling the lid off to take a deep sniff of that rich, heady sauce.

A gag, a shudder, a lurch of her stomach! Putrid stenches assailed her nostrils. Retching, she clamped the lid back on the box and ran to the back door to gulp down fresh air. As the sobering and crisp night atmosphere settled her stomach and purged her nose of the violent attack, her mind focused. The last time she’d visited home to have chicken casserole… was two months ago.

Pulling a face, she steadied herself with the doorframe. Her craving had been crushed, her appetite abated. Come morning, she would clear the fridge out and write a big post-it note for herself: If she really wanted home cooking, she should really go home for it.

 

Author’s Note: Today’s 3 Word Wednesday words were Crave, Putrid, Shudder.

The Sound of Secrets

I had no idea where the Christmas presents were kept. To my pre-teen mind, they may well have been kept in storage in Santa’s workshop, ready for reindeer-powered delivery in the early hours of Christmas morning.

But birthday presents? I knew where some of those were kept. And so, with Mum out down the shops and the house to myself, I watched children’s TV on the big Goldstar in the corner of the lounge, occasionally switching to Teletext for Digitiser and other blocky marvels. At least until curiosity got the better of me.

By the back window looking over the long stretch of garden there was a sideboard. And behind the left cupboard door was a box wrapped in colourful paper. With the TV muted to hear for the return of Mum’s car, I shook the box and experienced the muffled jingle of plastic parts and flimsy bags.

It was definitely LEGO. Turning the box over in my small hands, I mentally sized it up versus other boxes I had seen in stores, sets that I had asked for. Was it the Shark Submarine? A Space Police ship? Or even Space Explorers?

I gave the box another tentative shake. Would there be orange plasma chainsaws inside, or loudspeakers re-purposed as guns with the application of a single transparent rounded brick?

Every day when I could, I’d shake the box and try to divine the sound of the secret within. Then I’d hear the wheels of the car on the gravel, and put the box where I found it before taking the TV off mute.

I found out what it was towards the end of that Easter half-term break. My main guess was right, but it was mostly luck as opposed to decoding the rattle of bricks in a cardboard box.

What was it?

Lines

With hands resting on the bathroom sink, he peered into the mirror and saw the lines on his face. Years of studying scripts and going over lines had given him the slightest of squints, and crow’s feet had emerged around each eye. His skin was no longer as smooth as marble, and his crop of blonde hair was becoming silvery from the expanding numbers of grey hair coming through.

Glancing down, he was reminded how age had not just affected his face. A slight paunch resided on his stomach, little hint of the muscle he was known for in his early acting years still visible. It had been harder and harder to shift what he put on in recent years, but it had the upside of driving him to eat better, focus on his health.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the handsomest of them all?” A voice came from behind as his wife slipped inside the room, draping an arm over his shoulders. She was younger than him, and very pretty. She was barely in her mid teens when he first met her on the set of one of his biggest movies, and on their reconnection later in life… well, the rings on their fingers showed how that reunion had gone.

“I don’t think I’m Hollywood’s Most Handsome any more, love.” He said, self-depreciating trying to hide the worry that had been gripping him.

Her arm slipped down to lock around one of his biceps, pulling herself in close. “Is this because of that screen test?” His lack of response and a quick glance back to the mirror made that clear. “You dodged a bullet there, anyway. I’ve no idea how that director got that gig, but based on his past stuff, it’s not looking promising.”

“It’s not just that. Or the other auditions.” He said with a heavy sigh, his body slumping as he bared his feelings. “I’ve seen what they say on gossip sites about me, about how much I’ve changed, and-”

She stamped her foot down on the tiled floor. “You stop that right now.” Her voice was so firm, resolute about the matter. “You’ve gotten older. Everyone does. It doesn’t mean you’ve changed from being the funny, gentle, kind man who inspired me so much all those years ago. Or the man who I fell for when I was older, so passionate and giving.”

A smile touched his lips from her words, his posture straightening.

“So they didn’t want you for some action films? Find something else. You’re a fantastic actor, you bring so much to any role you take from big to small. Take some time to work in smaller productions, bring all that experience there. You’ve still got that energy, that charisma, and so much more now. Wisdom, knowledge…” She rose up on tiptoes to plant a soft kiss on his lips. “Distinguished appeal.”

“Distinguished?” He chuckled, an eyebrow raised.

“Statesman-like. The kind of man who makes an intern weak at the knees.” She said, before nibbling on his shoulder. “Also, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“Yes?” He said, a little wary.

“I’ve been thinking about coming off of the Pill,” She whispered, looking into his eyes, “and I wanted to know what you-”

He easily lifted her up, letting her legs wrap around his waist as he carried her towards the bedroom. “I’m not off it yet!” She laughed, slipping her arms around his neck.

“What did I tell you during rehearsals for that shooting scene you were having trouble with on our first film?” He asked, gently lowering her to the bed.

“Practice, practice, practice?”

His head ducked in to nibble at her neck, his eyes bright and his voice full of energy. “Exactly.”

At The Beach

In spite of having to squint from the bright afternoon sun, Carol was glad to finally be able to sit down. It had been a hectic morning, herding three excitable children around town while dealing with their complaints, requests and the occasional squabble.

Sitting on a low wall, she stretched her legs out, happy to get the pressure off her sore feet. The three kids were running around on the beach. From chasing the tide to being chased by a small, scuttling crab, they were well on the way to burning off the ice creams they had wolfed down.

Taking a lick from her own ice cream, a 99 with Flake, she soon realised her mistake. Like sharp-eyed hawks, they had spotted their prey and descended on her rapidly.

“Carol! Can I have your flake?” Dan, the eldest asked with hopeful eyes.

“I want the flake, Carol, pleaaaaaaaaase?!” Lucy, the middle child, pleaded.

“Flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!” Rebecca, the youngest, drawled out, eyeing the crumbly chocolate treat eagerly.

Their looked to each other, and Carol knew a good old-fashioned sibling argue bout was coming.

She was cunning, though. Wedging the wafer cone between her thighs, she pulled the Flake out and quickly snapped it into three even pieces. Then she wiped the excess ice cream off on the cone, and presented them with three pieces. She fixed them a look.

“You can take one each, okay? No being greedy.”

In one moment, three pieces of chocolate sat on the palm of her hand. The next, they were gone and the kids were running off around the beach again. The crab soon resumed its chase of Rebecca, too.

A quiet snap could just be heard from behind, and half a Flake was placed in the vacant hole in her soft-serve ice cream.

“You’re good with the kids, Carol.” Martin smiled, taking a seat next to her with his own 99, and a bag of assorted groceries to take back to the caravan.

“Thanks… I did worry about how we’d all get on, our first holiday away together.” She admitted, letting her tongue catch a trail of melting ice cream that had been trickling towards her hand.

Martin slipped an arm around her shoulder, the pair sitting to watch his -no, their- kids charging about on the beach.

“You do know that this won’t tire them out at all for the evening, right?” Martin chuckled. “They’ll still be pestering us for change for the arcade machines, snacks and drinks.”

Smiling, Carol nodded. “I know,” she said before a pause to eat some ice cream, “I think I’d miss it if they weren’t.”

 

Author’s Note: Today’s Three Word Wednesday words were: squint, argue, lick. A 99 is a type of ice cream in the UK, a wafer cone with soft-serve vanilla ice cream. Often comes with a Flake, a type of chocolate bar, sticking out of it.

Eggs and Bunnies

The village hall was full of children, all seated at tables with an egg of their own, and pots of various water colour paints to decorate it with. The Atkinson‚Äôs had just dropped their daughter off there with Mrs Bilk, a kindly old woman who was (with the help of some of the younger adults) running the village’s Easter celebrations.

“We’ll be back in time for lunch,” Tricia Atkinson said to her daughter, giving her a big hug and a kiss on the forehead. “And I look forwards to seeing how you paint your egg.”

“I’m gonna paint daffodils on it!” Georgina declared proudly, before giggling as her father hugged her from behind, easily lifting her up to set in the chair Mrs Bilk had lead her to.

“Daffodils are good, maybe a bunny or two, too?” Greg smiled, before looking up to Mrs Bilk. “Thanks again for organizing this.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble.” She smiled, carefully placing an egg in front of Georgina. “The old ways have to be passed on, after all. Speaking of…” Mrs Bilk crooked a slightly bushy eyebrow at the couple, a knowing smile on her face.

Continue reading

Tiger Wash

The Thompson family’s week long holiday had come to an end. From their Saturday arrival to their Saturday departure, it had been a hectic, chaotic, stressful and exhausting romp around Devon. But it had also been fun. Still, as they returned to familiar roads the sense of belonging was a comfort to the travel-fatigued parents and their two kids in the back seats.

“Hey, look!” Sandra, the mother, said with a turned head. “It’s the garage we stop for fuel at on our way home from your grandparents.” She said, pointing to the roadside stop.

Felicity and Rupert, seven and nine respectively, both turned to peer out at the forecourt. They had seen the ‘Tiger Wash’ sign nearby many a time. It was only now that they brought it up though.

“I wonder what a Tiger Wash is like…” Rupert wondered aloud.

Felicity was quick to answer. “I bet it’s kind of like this!”

Opening the back doors of the car, Felicity carefully led Terrance, her tiger, out by his leash. Licking at his chops, the tiger padded sedately alongside her as she lead him to the washing facilities. What followed was a mix of washing, shampooing, rinsing and then a blow dry that left Terrance’s fur puffed up and sticking out wildly. It was with some quick persuasion that she got him back in the car. Mostly involving the promise of a bacon sandwich when they got home.

Felicity had barely finished when Rupert shook his head violently. “Nuh-uh! I bet this is what a Tiger Wash is like!”

Making sure that their windows were closed, the car rolled into the Tiger Wash area. Peeking out of the window, Rupert grinned excitedly as the tigers came out with wash cloths on their paws and buckets carried in between their teeth. The car sunk down on its suspension as they rested on it, washing, waxing and polishing without even trying to eat them. He made sure to wave to them all as they drove out, but he didn’t wind the window down to do so. If they ate one of his arms, how would he play video games?

“It wouldn’t be like that at all!” Felicity huffed, pulling herself forwards to tap on her mother’s shoulders. “Muuuuuuuum, tell him what a Tiger Wash is really like.”

Peering back to smile at them, Sandra gave it some thought before speaking. “Well…”

Padding over to the Tiger Wash, the mother held two cubs by the scruff of their necks between her teeth. They squirmed about, of course. They weren’t silly and they knew what was coming. Their protests didn’t do much to deter their mother’s wishes though, and she easily placed them both in the shallow pool before starting to splash water over them with her large paws.

“That’s just silly, Mum!” Rupert sighed. “And Tigers wash by licking, just like house cats do.”

“Yeah Mum, everyone knows that.” Felicity nodded in agreement.

“Maybe so,” Sandra concurred. “But both of you are still going to have a bath tonight.”

“Dad, what do you think happens at a Tiger Wash?” Rupert asked.

“Yeah, James. What happens at a Tiger Wash?” Sandra smiled.

James didn’t take his eyes off the road as they drove along. “I’ll tell you what happens. It goes a little something like this…”

Pulling into the service station, James grumbled some very naughty words as he drove into the Tiger Wash. Big, mean lorries had splashed his car with muddy surface water, so it definitely needed a wash. What he wasn’t expecting though, were the tigers. Even as the car proceeded through the rotors scrubbing the car down, they struck! Slashing and swiping away with bestial ferocity, leaving hefty claw marks all along the paintwork.

“And that’s why your Dad had to pay out for a repaint of the car, and why we went to Devon instead of Spain this year on holiday.” James concluded.

The kids both spoke as one at that revelation. “Coooooooooooooool!”

Author’s Note: Tiger Wash is the name given to some car washes at Esso petrol stations.

Kisses

Her daughter had control of the car radio. It was a common place occurrence really, though to say it was the radio would be an oversimplification. She’d gone and plugged her music player into one of the ports on the dashboard, and was flicking through the shuffle playlist. As Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ started up, she tutted disapprovingly. “I do wish you wouldn’t listen to this song, it’s not very appropriate.”

The sigh her daughter gave was an impressive one, working in the slouch of the shoulders and the hanging of her head. “You’re so old fashioned at times, Mum, it’s just a song.”

“It’s pandering, that’s what it is. If you listen to the lyrics and analyse the meaning, you’d see what I mean.” She sniffed, getting a little annoyed that the song was still on.

“Not this again,” the daughter whined. “We’re off to Lakeside for some shopping, not Desert Island Discs.”

Sighing softly, she glanced over. “All right, I won’t, but just promise me that if you do kiss any girls, it will be for the right reasons. Not for being drunk, for trying to impress boys, or without any committal.” Taking her hand off the gearstick, she patted her shoulder. “Just ask mum, she’s been on the receiving end of someone leading her on, just to score points with someone. It really hurt her.”

“Okay, I promise I won’t do any of that if I kiss any girls.” Her daughter said with a flash of a smile, changing the track to Muse’s ‘Supermassive Black Hole’. “Better?”

“Much better.”

There was silence between them for a few minutes, before her daughter piped up with a question. “How long did it hurt for? Being lead on, that is.”

“A little while… but I saw what happened, got up the courage to talk to her, and sixteen years later we’re married with a daughter with a somewhat questionable taste in music.” She laughed warmly, heading for the junction off the motorway.

“Hey! Don’t make me point out your Pat Benatar albums!”

The music was soon ignored for a vigorous and spirited (and very fun) debate on the pros and cons of artists from various genres and eras.