'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Audrey's Cakes

Birds, animals and trees are getting ready for winter. My great-grandfather kept a journal to record his observations of these preparations for winter. Every year he'd see squirrels collecting feathers to build a set of wings. They were hoping to fly south, but they never got far.

My cousin Ronan loves eating cake. His girlfriend, Audrey, loves baking cake. This should be one of those coincidences that works out well for both of them, the icing on the cake of their relationship, but Ronan doesn't like most of the cakes she bakes. He likes simple cakes with thick layers of icing or chocolate, cakes that are obviously bad for him. She started making the cakes unnecessarily complex, experimenting with strange ingredients, and doing her best to make something that would be healthy to eat. Ronan believes that it's wrong to make a cake that's good for you. You have all the time when you aren't eating cake to devote to being healthy and depressed. Eating cake is meant to be a way of taking a break from that.

She created a cake that had honey, cream and icing. He hated it. The taste wasn't all that bad, but a cake with honey, cream and icing should have tasted great. The other ingredients were fighting the honey, cream and icing, punishing them for tasting so good, even if they had some health benefits. Being bland and healthy was better than being interesting and healthy, and much better than being interesting and unhealthy. Many of Audrey's friends clearly believed this. She told him that some of her friends loved her latest cake. He noticed that it was the mad ones who said they loved it. He suggested that she should market it as a cake that mad people would love. She ignored this advice and she chose to market it as a cake made by grandmothers (the label had a drawing of an old woman who had a grandmotherly look). A local shop agreed to sell some of these cakes, and they proved to be hugely popular. She started selling them from a stall at a market held every Saturday morning. She sold all of her cakes on the first morning. On the following week she had sold them all within twenty minutes. This confirmed Ronan's belief that most people were mad.

A man called Gerry sold cakes from another stall in the market. He offered Audrey a thousand euros for the recipe to her cake. She politely declined the offer. This didn't surprise Ronan because he already knew that she was mad. A monk told her that they were organising a fete in the monastery on the following Saturday to raise money for charity, and they wanted to order some of her cakes for that. It was no surprise when Audrey insisted that she'd make the cakes for free, but Ronan was annoyed when she said that herself and Ronan would be glad to help at the fete. If he had to do it, he'd rather they knew that he wasn't doing it gladly. The monks told her she could use the ovens in their kitchen on the morning of the fete. She'd be able to make many more cakes in these, with Ronan's assistance.

They started baking at eight o' clock in the morning. They put the final batch into the ovens at ten, and then they went outside to help set up some of the tables. They met Lucy and Hilda, two of Audrey's friends who had also volunteered to help at the fete. They were glad to let it be known that they were doing it gladly, but they were mad. When they went back to the kitchen to take the cakes out of the ovens it didn't take long for Audrey to notice that something was wrong. Her recipe book was gone. At first the others thought she must have misplaced it, but then Lucy remembered seeing Gerry outside and he was looking furtive. He must have stolen the book. Lucy and Hilda regarded it as a crime against the poor defenceless cakes, and they couldn't comprehend how anyone would do such a thing in a monastery.

They went out to look for Gerry. They saw him on the lawn, and he saw them seeing him. He ran in through the nearest open door and they followed him. They chased him down stone corridors under vaulted ceilings, up and down steps and through prayer rooms, their echoing footsteps shattering the silence. He went into the church through the front door. They followed him shortly afterwards, but Gerry was nowhere to be seen. "He must have gone out through the side door," Audrey said.

Gerry heard Audrey's voice from the safety of a confession box. He heard the footsteps on the floor as his pursuers made their way to the side door, and then silence after they'd gone. He smiled. He liked it in there, and he was looking forward to staying there for a few hours while they were looking for him outside. But his plan went awry when a monk came into the other side of the confession box. Gerry blessed himself and said, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."

He didn't know what to say after this. The monk broke the silence when he said, "Is there anything in particular you'd like to tell me?" Gerry remained silent. "Some act you've committed that you now regret?" the monk said. "Something you might have done a long time ago?... Or very recently?... A crime, perhaps?"

Gerry cracked. "I didn't mean to do it," he said. "But I found myself in a position where I could do it and somehow I couldn't resist doing it."

"You need to tell me what it is before I can grant you absolution."

"When I was ten I ruined my aunt's wedding cake. My mother was icing the cake, and when she went to answer the phone I came across it in the kitchen with a bowl of icing. I couldn't resist trying it out, and I really enjoyed it. I found that I had a flair for it. I wrote words all over it, words that a ten-year-old would find funny, but no one else would. My brother ended up getting the blame for it. I've always felt guilty about that. You might well ask how I ended up making cakes for a living..."

Gerry spent the next ten minutes talking about the psychology of making cakes, but he stopped talking when he heard the monk leave the confession box. The door at his side was opened and the 'monk' standing there was actually Ronan.

"Shut up about the cakes," Ronan said "Just give me the recipe book."

"I will not," Gerry said. "I mean, I don't have it. Pretending to be a monk to hear someone's confession is about as low as you can go in my book."

"I don't think monks even hear confession. Did that not cross your mind? Being stupid enough to fall for a trick like that is about as low as you can go in my book. Of course, not everyone would agree with me on that. A lot of people would say that you can't sink much lower than ruining your aunt's wedding cake and blaming your brother. I might have to ask the opinion of a lot of people just to be sure. Unless you return the book."

Gerry took the recipe book from inside his jacket and he gave it to Ronan.

"Thanks," Ronan said. "I couldn't care less about the book myself. I might need something I care about to stop me talking. Something resembling a monetary contribution, maybe? Something in the region of a hundred euros?"

Ronan heard a cough behind him. He turned around and he saw a monk standing there, looking disappointed. Ronan couldn't look him in the eye. "I got the book back," he said. "And I was just, ah... having a chat about... things like..."

Audrey, Lucy and Hilda arrived in the church. Audrey was delighted when she saw her recipe book. She kissed Ronan and thanked him for getting it back. Ronan was glad to see her because he thought she'd rescued him from having to explain himself to the monk, but it didn't work out like that. "You were saying something about a chat?" the monk said.

"Yes," Ronan said. "We were having a chat. As I was saying, I thought it might be best if, y' know... I made a sort of a... what you might call a 'monetary contribution' to this charity thing. Something in the region of a hundred euros."

"How wonderful," the monk said. "God never ceases to surprise me with the mysterious ways in which he works."

The moose's head over the fireplace appreciates the aesthetic quality of the cakes made by the wife's aunt. They could easily pass as pieces of sculpture. She bakes cakes to use up all the butter she buys. When she leaves the butter out overnight it begins to take on the form of a tiny person, and it looks as if that person is trying to get away. This is why she talks to butter. There's no particular reason why she talks to jam or to cupboards. She thinks the butter people enjoy their afterlife in one of her cakes, but she doesn't know how they feel about the life after that. They certainly taste good.