My bowl of butter and I attempted an air of mystery on our walk. The deli counter guys gave us a stare as they wrapped up for the day. Cellophane wrap flashed between their hands. The taller of the three men undid four buttons on his butcher’s coat and it flapped open on a diagonal. It didn’t seem to help with ventilation or comfort, but it did expose a maroon t-shirt with a picture of a tongue.
“You boys better cool it with that wrap before Brad sees yous,” said a voice directly behind my right shoulder. I glanced carefully to see a small woman stocking limes in the produce bin across from the deli counter. Her words scolded, but she giggled and reddened at the top of her cheeks, straight into her hairline, back into her ponytail pulled tight at the middle-back of her head. Her bronzed skin spoke of years past mine, but likely we were about the same age. In another life we might have met in a high school hallway, but we were there now anyway.
The taller deli guy winked at me. I raised my butter bowl as some kind of response and quickly tapped my way to the bakery pen. Awkward suits me better than mystery.
The butter swirled into something else, and all the elses swelled into something mores. We powdered them, primped them, plated them. I washed our dishes as Paige re-packed the baking tools back into the box. The power washer in the industrial sink made washing a lot faster than at home, but it also splashed me with an uncomfortable amount of spray. If only my terrible roommate could get soaked while doing chores as well. Per the typed chore chart on the refrigerator, it was my turn to clean the unused guest bathroom for the second week in a row and I had already plotted how to get out of it.
The roommates, sisters, hadn’t yet shown just how terrible they would get. There would be the fallout from all my chore revolts. There would be the time I would forget to drop off the rent at the appointed hour and would wake up to a screaming phone call. There would also, separately, be my financial downfall of teaching yoga full time. Three months later, I would be living on CVS brand, sale-price, trail mix, taking three buses to pick up my car from the impound lot. But this was October and it wasn’t quite bleak yet.
We had a packed house of 17 people squirming in their metal folding chairs. Brad had secured an amp and a microphone for me, and now stood at the end of our folding table poking at the display products.
“So, how long have you been doing these,” Brad asked. He meant it to me, but he spoke to the plastic bottle of ground cinnamon.
“Uh, I think this is my eighth,” I said, smoothing the white tablecloth over the opposite end. I feigned uncertainty, as if by being sure I would be found out of my financial status. I knew exactly how many we had done because I knew exactly when and how much I should be paid.
“Oh, so you’re a pro now, huh,” Brad chuckled. He set the cinnamon down on top of the nutmeg, built a tower.
“Oh, something like that,” I said. I re-tied my white apron over my white, sleeved, cotton top and black tailored pants that I had almost definitely pulled off of the floor that morning. There was nothing left to set up or do before we began, but I found it hard to stay still with Brad hovering in our performance space. My job, in all seriousness, was to connect with the people sitting in the metal chairs. This wasn’t an uppity cooking show, this was a demonstration of how to take products most suburban moms would buy for the holidays anyway, and turn it into something the neighborhood families would talk about.
“Did you try those cookies with the piped frosting? Can you believe Sheryl has three kids under five and she whipped that up?”
To get Sheryl to believe she could do this, and to get her to believe I didn’t think it was totally disgusting to spray frosting out of a can like Easy Cheese, I had to suspend my actual self. I could have been Sheryl. I was headed for Sheryl. And then I had freaked out and I had run away for a different life. The life of hiding in my room from my terrible roommates, where I picked out a city to move to on a map and budgeted how many Zone bars I could eat that week. Not only did I have to gain Sheryl’s trust while also not wanting her life, but I so badly didn’t want it that I had become a human wrecking ball to bust up any path that led there.
And it was difficult to be all those things while standing next to Brad and his spice tower.
“Alright, well Paige and…” Brad paused. “Katie? I’ll let you get to it.”
I sighed. Baby steps.
“How are you all doing tonight, are you ready for the holidays?” I asked. Out of the amp echoed a singsong that belonged to an adult I had heard once.