Contest #71 winner 🏆

132 comments

Drama Holiday Inspirational

cw: miscarriage 

This could not wait till morning. The craving came on so sudden and intense that resisting never even crossed her mind. For some reason Claudia needed fudge. Maybe it was hormones. Maybe it was the fact that she finally had an appetite. But she needed fudge. Not the kind she usually made this time of year, melting chocolate chips in the microwave. Claudia needed the heavy, silky fudge her grandma used to make—the kind you made in a saucepan with a candy thermometer.

Did you need a double broiler? Claudia wasn’t sure anymore. She closed her eyes and tried to picture it, her mom at the stove, swirling a big wooden spoon, round and round continuously like the second hand on a clock (can’t let it scorch) stirring and lifting with such deft motion.

But Claudia could only observe this memory from outside the pan, from where she’d sat at the counter with a coloring book, or later on, a workbook or laptop. She did not know whether the pan contained a double broiler.

It was too late to call—10pm in Los Angeles and midnight in Sugar Run. Mom went to bed reliably at nine. 

Google would know, Claudia consoled herself. She typed “fudge recipe” into the little white box and scrolled through too many microwaved chocolate chip recipes before typing “fudge that you make with a candy thermometer.” This was better. Condensed milk sounded familiar, but the more she read, the more Claudia doubted her own memory. Condensed milk or evaporated? Had it been sugar and cocoa powder, or some baker’s chocolate? There were a hundred variations.

She was pretty sure that there was vanilla extract (that, she knew, was her family’s power ingredient), and she was certain that all of these variables would matter when it came to getting the exact flavor and consistency she craved—something you could hold in your mouth savor as it slowly melted away. Like a good memory. The supple kind of fudge that wrinkled and cracked like leather. If she could lose herself in a mouthful, maybe it would smooth over the terrible week. 

She tried to concentrate: Grandma Nora’s kitchen. Yellow linoleum, dark brown cabinets with old brass knobs in the shapes of flowers. Claudia had usually been there when Grandma made her fudge. With the cousins, decorating felt ornaments  with puff paints, out of the way. Now she tried to reverse-engineer the smells. Butter. Vanilla.

By the time she was old enough to actually help, Claudia had found other interests—speech tournaments, volunteer projects, study groups. In the back of her mind, maybe Claudia had always thought there’d be more time. 

Grandma Nora had stopped cooking after the stroke. Mom tried the fudge for a while, but lost momentum after a few years, after the cousins stopped gathering together for Christmas. After it turned out that Grandma was the sugar or condensed milk or whatever it was that held everyone together.

Claudia tried to remember. It was a family recipe—the kind that should never need to be written down. It was written in their mitochondrial DNA, Claudia suspected—the pieces of molecular coding passed unaltered from mother to daughter every generation. Moms and grandmas and daughters had been making this fudge since at least the 1800s, probably on temperamental stoves fueled by wood or coal. 

“I remember when my Grandma Ira would make this fudge…” Grandma Nora would say sometimes, her brown eyes sucking up all of the light in the room and spinning it into something that sparkled in her mind. 

Claudia pictured them, a chain of women living close together, gathering in dowdy blue-checkered kitchens, around wood block counters and formica-topped bars to make fudge and rum cakes and fingerprint cookies. And here she was, two time zones away, Googling recipes. Asking a computer. 

Claudia had always considered herself a mold breaker, and had always considered that a good thing. Now, standing alone in her kitchen with cream-colored porcelain tile floor and sleek bar pulls on the cherry cabinets, she just felt broken. She was going to be the one to break this tradition. 

Mom would remember. She could call in the morning. But the craving was so deep and immediate that the thought of waiting barely passed through Claudia’s mind. That need consumed her as she rifled through her walk-in pantry. Sugar. Cocoa powder. Vanilla. 

She had learned to cook, but always new recipes, her own discoveries. Claudia recalled her dad’s perplexed eyebrows at Thanksgiving. “Why would you want to put apples in the stuffing?”

Why not? To be different. To take things up a notch. Back last month, when being different didn’t quite mean being separate. Now the stakes had changed, and all Claudia wanted was a family recipe.

She had learned to cook, but never fudge. How many Christmases had she not even missed it, distracted by office parties and ski trips and neighborhood cookie exchanges in other people’s European-inspired kitchens, where bakers showcased neatly flooded royal icing and sugar crystals that sparkled like snow on festive platters from Target and Michael's, while sipping Cabernet from wide-brimmed glasses? 

She decided to go with milk and butter, and no double broiler, recklessly mixing and matching from online recipes, guided by flashes of light and scent memory. 

In a large and heavy saucepan, stir together the first three ingredients, then stir in milk, her phone screen instructed in frigid Helvetica. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a full rolling boil. Boil to 234 degrees F or until syrup, when dropped in very cold water, forms a soft ball which flattens when removed from water.

Why had she not remembered before, her grandma keeping a glass of ice water by the stove? The way she’d watch the fudge mixture (what was the sign she was looking for?), dropping just a bit of mixture in the glass, reaching in for it with her hand. The memory hit Claudia like a wave. That had been the shocking part—Grandma Nora sticking her hand in the water, after all of her admonishments at the dinner table. Keep your hands out of your water…

“It’s okay; it’s different,” Grandma had said. Was it with an actual wink? Or had that wink only been in her voice? “Table rules don’t apply in the kitchen.” And she had pressed the ball of fudge in her fingers and given it to Claudia to sample. Claudia, out of all the cousins, because she was the one who wandered into the kitchen.

Why had it taken an internet recipe to jog this memory? Maybe because Mom used a candy thermometer. She didn’t have Grandma’s eyeballing abilities. She relied on science, not art, Claudia thought as she pulled a long bar handle and searched the gadget drawer for her own candy thermometer. It had been a wedding gift, and she couldn’t remember using it. 

For most things, boiling was boiling. You looked for the bubbles. Not here. Somehow it made a difference. She could remember mom throwing out a batch of fudge once, slinging it with the wooden spoon from the pan into the trash can with a vehemence that had kept Claudia from asking what’s the matter.

Claudia watched her ingredients pool and melt into a sticky liquid. The scent of warm sugar and cream melted something inside of her, and her stream of consciousness swelled with a glut of melted memory run-off. It ran wild and overflowed the banks of Claudia’s self-control as images flooded her mind unbidden: Grandma Nora, her right hand withered and hanging useless at her side; Mom flinging grainy fudge into the trash; the doctor’s office, the empty black screen.

She felt tears well in her eyes and ooze like blood. I’m leaking, Claudia thought, but still she stirred, consistent like the second hand on a clock. She blinked her eyes, clearing the opaque wall of tears that obscured the numbers on the candy thermometer. 157. 

It would thicken, Claudia assured herself. She had a Viking range. If her foremothers could do this on a wood-burning stove, she could do it on a Viking range. Or had it not been the fire at all—the secret to their success? Maybe it was the consistency of the hands. Maybe it was having someone there to stir for you while you greased the pan or grabbed the butter.

Empty kitchen notwithstanding, Claudia would master the fudge and join her foremothers, creators of fudge. She would extend her wooden spoon across space and time and they would grab on and welcome her, tell her never mind, you’re one of us. All of those women, all those years, different personalities joined by fudge. Imagine! Fudge and daughters.

No. They would not welcome Claudia. She was not a good daughter. She had no daughter of her own. 

Sometimes you could follow all the directions and things still didn’t turn out. Claudia had choked down lentils, kale, eggs, fighting the nausea that formed a tight lump in her throat. She needed something sweet. So she stirred, letting tears leak like blood.

The thermometer climbed, the red mercury stretching and blooming. 210, 217. Then what? Why hadn’t she read ahead? And from which recipe? Claudia didn’t want to stop stirring for long enough to check. She didn’t want the fudge to burn and crumble. She was already leaking; she couldn’t afford to crumble.

The mercury drifted up to 225 and Claudia gripped her wooden spoon. She didn’t want to do this, but she had a wooden spoon and the craving was strong. She needed this fudge, needed to taste the thick, buttery chocolate, but mostly she needed it to turn out. She needed a win. She needed that connection.

She had a wooden spoon. She picked up her phone and extended her spoon across space and time. Would anyone grab the other end? It was 10:58 in Los Angeles and 12:58 in Sugar Run.

Claudia stirred as she listened to the hollow dial tone. One ring, two, three.

“Hello,” a heavy voice answered.

“Mom, what do I do when the fudge gets to 234 degrees?” Claudia asked in a rush.

She heard a cough in response, then silence. Finally, “You stop. You take it off the heat. Add your butter and vanilla and let it cool without touching it.” It was a monotone recitation, a steady stream. Mom could do this in her sleep. Literally.

“Okay, thanks,” Claudia said with a sniff that she hoped was not audible on the other end of her call. “Sorry. You can go back to sleep now.”

“No, I can’t.” Mom’s voice was coming to life now, with more highs and lows animating her words. “It’s late. Are you okay?”

The thermometer drooped, wilting down from its peak. Claudia could feel her stomach sinking, almost like the nausea that had dissipated days ago. Sometimes she could hold it in; sometimes she could not.

This time she could not. The words spilled out, bitter and acidic like bile. “I lost the baby.”

Silence, and then, “That hurts. I’m sorry, Honey.”

“Yeah,” Claudia sighed. “Sorry. I know you were looking forward to being a grandma—”

“No, it’s not about that,” Mom interrupted. “I just mean… I remember.”

The realization dawned on Claudia slowly as the thermometer drooped down to 225. “You?”

“Three.” Mom said. “It happens. If you only knew.”

Claudia wondered how many invisible links there were in the chain of her foremothers. She wondered at the invisible link that clipped her into this chain. Kitchens and fudge and daughters, and the daughters and sons that might have been. Crowded kitchens, nonetheless—people to share the bitter and sweet family recipes.

It was 11:28 in Los Angeles and 1:28 in Sugar Run, but Claudia kept Mom on the phone until the candy thermometer dropped to 110 degrees. Then she picked up the wooden spoon and started to stir again.

December 11, 2020 22:52

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132 comments

Zilla Babbitt
15:13 Dec 18, 2020

Usually I hate it when stories have very little dialogue. Here, it works. Here, it's magnificent and plays into the almost tortured inner monologue. This was a wonderful story. Deserved win!

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A.Dot Ram
19:24 Dec 18, 2020

Thanks. Yes, this story is heavy on interior monologue. I couldn't think of another way to emphasize the isolation and disconnectedness she was feeling besides all of questions inside her head. The dialog came at the end as a resolution. It was also about all of the things that go unsaid inside of families--the bubbles roiling beneath the surface.

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Zilla Babbitt
16:57 Dec 20, 2020

A very subtle showing, not telling. And random question, what does cw, at the very beginning of the story, mean?

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A.Dot Ram
17:29 Dec 20, 2020

Reedsy actually added the cw. I'm assuming it stands for "content warning"?

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Zilla Babbitt
19:52 Dec 20, 2020

Yeah, I assumed it was a trigger warning of some kind.

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Lucia :)
19:56 Feb 01, 2021

omg I agree! Great story!!

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Lucia :)
19:58 Feb 01, 2021

My mom had 4 miscarriages and 7 surviving, healthy kids so I 100% know how May feels!

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Scout Tahoe
15:19 Dec 18, 2020

I was just about to read this and--it won! Wow, congrats Anne! Totally deserved. Fudge is very hard to make. You wrote this beautifully. So, so sad.

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A.Dot Ram
21:01 Dec 18, 2020

Thank you! I did make myself teary as I wrote the last few paragraphs, but I meant for it to be bitter-sweet. We're all just as connected by our losses as by our triumphs.

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Scout Tahoe
23:11 Dec 18, 2020

Indeed. Thank you for writing this.

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K. Antonio
17:45 Dec 12, 2020

Such a deep story. I adored the pacing. How the tale starts with this initial and innocent struggle brought on by just a simple and basic craving (I actually thought the craving was because of a pregnancy). Then as the story continues you reveal a bit more, then a bit more and then a bit more. I loved how the recipe was a familial catalyst, something that brought the family together, something connected to the main character's memory and emotions, it was a great trigger. The descriptions were great (especially the ones with the t...

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A.Dot Ram
00:08 Dec 19, 2020

Thank you for all of these observations! It makes me so happy to see people engaging with my stories at this level.

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Rayhan Hidayat
15:42 Dec 18, 2020

WOOOO SECOND WIN! I never thought fudge could be the essence of such a beautiful, poignant dive into the human psyche, but at this point I’m not surprised you can pull it off. Congrats 🥳 If this is by any chance based on personal experience, you have my condolences.

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A.Dot Ram
16:40 Dec 18, 2020

Woooo! Thank you. I've watched my mom make this kind of fudge, but have never braved it myself. The story is based on some actual experience, but an old wound. I have two great daughters now.

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:01 Dec 18, 2020

I’m thrilled you channeled that energy and turned it into this amazing piece. Kudos 😙

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:01 Dec 18, 2020

I’m thrilled you channeled that energy and turned it into this amazing piece. Kudos 😙

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Rayhan Hidayat
17:01 Dec 18, 2020

I’m thrilled you channeled that energy and turned it into this amazing piece. Kudos 😙

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Ijeoma Okoli
07:58 Feb 02, 2021

Hi...please comment on my stories..their just two submission

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Julie Ward
16:48 Dec 13, 2020

What a fantastic Story, Anne. I really love how layered it is, how each step hints at sadness, loneliness, desperation, and how you slowly turn up the heat with each of those emotions along the way. Happy memories can be so powerful - a lifeline. As Claudia struggles to recreate the recipe, I can almost see her holding onto the rope, hands gripping one length at a time to pull herself out of the mud. I really liked the descriptions of Claudia's own home, her fun life, her desire to pull away and be different...and how all of that feels s...

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A.Dot Ram
19:01 Dec 13, 2020

Thank you so! I pulled details from kitchens I've known, but mine is not quite as cool as claudia's. No walk in pantry here. I think there's a special fudge my great grandma made. My mom was craving it. I feel bad i don't even know.

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Julie Ward
21:11 Dec 13, 2020

Don't feel bad - it inspired a great story!! : )

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Julie Ward
15:48 Dec 19, 2020

AND A WIN!! Congratulations! This story stayed with me this week-I was so happy to see that it won. Very, very well deserved.

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Ijeoma Okoli
07:59 Feb 02, 2021

You have great inspiration.

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Karen Kitchel
17:04 Dec 18, 2020

Thanks so much for writing this. I needed to read it today as I've been thinking about the fudge my Mom has made for our family each year for 70+ years. This is the first year we won't have her fudge because she's in a transitional care center. I included the recipe in a gift of several old recipes for my daughter and happy to think it will hopefully be made for future generations.

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A.Dot Ram
17:18 Dec 18, 2020

I'm so glad this could help with a difficult time. I think i did quite it out of a feeling of being disconnected from tradition as we prepare for a long-distance holiday season. Thank goodness for little things that bind us. Your recipe idea sounds perfect. Perhaps, since you're a writer, accompanied by an account of some of your memories?

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June Rogers
17:13 Dec 15, 2020

Beautifully rendered story. Fudge is very difficult to make! And it is a poignant metaphor for how difficult it is to talk about miscarriage.

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A.Dot Ram
17:24 Dec 15, 2020

I liked the potential for the rising and falling heat to mirror the story arc, too. And I learned a lot about fudge making in the process!

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Yolanda Wu
01:25 Dec 29, 2020

This was a realistic and bittersweet story. The way the making of the fudge strung the story together was really effective. The language and descriptions just flow from each other so effortlessly. I really don't know what else to say because this story is so good. The way she told her mother about the miscarriage was so heartbreaking to read. Congratulations on your second win, Anne! Truly amazing work!

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A.Dot Ram
07:27 Dec 29, 2020

Thank you! Glad to see you're back with another story.

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Yellow Lemon
05:29 Dec 19, 2020

This is an incredible work. Your words totally took control of my emotions, and I know it's a good piece of writing when that happens. 🎉So, Congrats!!🎉

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Kristin Neubauer
18:40 Dec 14, 2020

This is an incredible story Anne. I thought so long before the reveal about the miscarriage. I loved how you kept weaving together the past with the present and turning this simple act of fudge making (or not so simple as we see) into a suspenseful story - would she make a successful pan of fudge or not??? I was not ready for the twist and that made an already excellent story superb.

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Kristin Neubauer
16:24 Dec 18, 2020

Congrats Anne! This felt like a winner to me when I read it, but I didn't want to jinx it. I'm so happy it rose to the top!

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A.Dot Ram
21:01 Dec 18, 2020

🥳🥳

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A.R. Eakle
02:24 Dec 14, 2020

I love it. I loved every word! Let me know if you would like a full review!

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Shea West
00:12 Dec 12, 2020

Anne! I am so mesmerized by your writing. I know to expect something different along the way, and I found that here. My takeaway-If only people shared their losses the way they share their family recipes, we'd be fed among company and not starved for compassion of our losses. My grandma always made sugared walnuts, and she taught me how to test the boiled sugar in water....and it always left me fascinated. Beautiful story!

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A.Dot Ram
00:15 Dec 12, 2020

I love your take on this-- if people shared their losses the way they shared family recipes! I agree. Thanks. And yum on the walnuts.

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Shea West
17:29 Dec 18, 2020

Anne!!!! You won!!!! You really deserved this one, I keep thinking about how great this story is that you created <3

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Vibes Blossom
10:32 Feb 12, 2021

A polished voice and a mouth-watering piece. Like the fudge, you delivered to us the story, with the perfect consistency required.

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Mango Chutney
18:56 Feb 09, 2021

Such a beautiful bittersweet story.. Loved reading..! Congratulations on your win :)

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Aman Fatima
15:33 Feb 06, 2021

Loved it!!! An amazing story.

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Ijeoma Okoli
07:56 Feb 02, 2021

Wowwww... I love it. please like and comment on mine. i only have two submission so far thanks

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08:04 Jan 28, 2021

Congrats !!!!!1

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Allison M
03:57 Jan 28, 2021

I know I'm a few weeks late to this but I'm brand new to Reedsy and reading through previous winners out of curiosity. And my goodness what a fantastic story! This is heartbreaking but so beautifully written - excellent job! :)

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A.Dot Ram
04:05 Jan 28, 2021

Thanks so much, and welcome to Reedsy!

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Allison M
04:16 Jan 28, 2021

Thank you! :)

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Allison M
04:17 Jan 28, 2021

(((Also just read your other winning story -- it was wonderful as well!)))

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Rahnyah Stormyst
00:16 Jan 25, 2021

I loved it. It brought tears to my eyes. I tend to bake cookies when I loose a pregnancy and was interesting to see through the eyes of another and how they dealt with their pain. It was comforting and evoked those feelings of trying to find a clear moment in one's thought. Good job.

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A.Dot Ram
00:29 Jan 25, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad you could relate to it-- at least the part where the character's feelings rang true.

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18:37 Jan 23, 2021

Excellent fusion of plot tension and theme! Expert work.

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A.Dot Ram
19:22 Jan 23, 2021

Thanks!

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