The Writing Thing

Submitted into Contest #100 in response to: Write about a character preparing a meal for somebody else.... view prompt


Fiction American Contemporary

After coffee, my dog and I walk, and I think, which is probably my first mistake of the day.

I live with my husband in a cottage, snug in a clearing of a woods with a long, winding driveway. Half of my walk with the dog is hot, the Georgia summer sun glaring on my head, heat singeing my shoulders, demanding I move, move, move. The rest of my walk is through the woods, where the trees canopy my anxiety and whisper peaceful nothings through my hot ears, honeying my brain. Back and forth I go, up through the peaceful woods and down through the searing sunshine. And again and again, until my dog decides I’ve been walked enough.

Sometimes I call my mother during my walk, thinking I’m being efficient, because I’m capable of walking and talking at the same time. Today, this is my second mistake.

Today, when she answers, there’s a tone in her hello.

“Hey mom. How are you doing?”

Her voice is gruff, impatience zipping through the phone line, “I’m making bread.”

“Ah,” I say, knowing to tread lightly. ‘Making bread’ in our family is code for ‘don’t mess with me, I’m in catharsis’. I envision her dust-floured hands slapping the bread dough. “So … what’s going on?” I ask.

She exhales sharply. “It’s just your sister and that idiot she married. I could just…” she hesitates and pivots. “But you didn’t call me to listen to my complaints or talk about your sister. So, let’s talk about you.”

I stop walking and cringe, my jaw dropping to my chest, my eyes close. The bread-making fire-power is now aimed at me, instead of my sister. My shoulders roll and my chest caves, anticipating the blistering to come. My dog tugs on her leash, disapproving.

“How long,” she asks in a too-sweet voice, “are you going to sit around doing nothing? This new life of yours is not healthy!” In my mind, I see her batting her lashes too quickly, a floured hand pinned to a cocked hip.

I look up and silently beg the sun to bake my skin into leather, I will patience to rise from my gut and into my tongue. “Mom, we’ve been over this. I am not doing nothing, I’m writing.”

“Which is ridiculous. You had a great job, a beautiful home… and you gave it all up for a girl’s pipe-dream. I mean what are you going to do when this writing-thing doesn’t work? Why don’t you just come home? I’m sure your boss will give you your job back.”

I suck in oxygen like its courage, and blow it out hoping the refined nugget of remaining breath is real.

“Mom, I’m 55 years old. I have done the ‘right’ things, the practical things all my life, always wishing, always hoping that I could someday do this writing-thing. If I don’t do it now, I never will. I’ve planned for this little sojourn – I won’t starve, I promise. You have got to accept that this is my life and this is what I’m doing.”

“Uh,” she huffs, “So what have you written today?”

She waits, and my mind slams shut like a clam.

“Uh-huh,” she says, “My bread needs punched.” Click, the call goes dead.

“She hung up on me,” I tell the dog. She looks up at me and then towards the woods, as if shrugging.

When I declared my writing intentions in high school, my mother told me writing was all well and good as a hobby, but she raised me to be smarter than a starving artist. When I began to write again, as my newborn slept, she reminded me that she raised me to provide my children with a clean home. When my teenagers discovered I was a wannabe writer, she reminded me of the effort I should be dedicating to prepping them for their futures, and not filling their heads with silly ideas. When my babies went off to college, she reprimanded me for moping, after all she raised me to be strong and independent.

My legs strain harder, as if I can walk out of the cement shoes of my mother’s disappointment.

The dog is ready to call it quits, but I tell her to buck up, I need another lap.

Am I being silly? Can a person really start over at my age? What are you going to do when this writing-thing doesn’t work? Her words are like a scratched record, the question loops through my brain over and over and over again.

I walk in the kitchen and see a heel of bread peaking at me through its packaging. My husband saved it for the dog, so I hand it over.

Doubt is like sandbags on my shoulders, and I roll them trying to shake it off. The dog licks her chops, hoping I have more bread, and I suddenly feel inspired. Cupboard doors fly open and shut with efficiency and purpose, flour and sugar, yeast, eggs and butter. Everything I need to make bread.

I dissolve the yeast and ready my dry ingredients. When this bread is done, I tell myself, I will march in my office and write. Even if its pages and pages of dribble, I’ll write. I need to.

Flour dusts my kitchen like new-found determination as I knead dough. I flip it over and knead some more. I can do this. I can totally do this. I need this.

I clean up, while my bread is raising. But what if my mother is right? What if I can’t do this writing-thing? A memory bubbles up: a promotion was available at work, I wanted the job, but that what-if question was like sour milk. What if I can’t do this? My mother rolled her eyes at me, and told me to not be dumb and apply for the job. The logic was clear but the promotion still surprised me. I hate it when she’s right and I’m wrong. I don’t even know how things like that happen, but my chest burns with the memory. My timer goes off: time to punch the dough. Good thing there is more than one loaf. I punch again.

Here’s the thing about bread-making: it’s work but there’ s a process. You dissolve your yeast, you mix the dry stuff then the wet stuff, then you knead until everything is elastic. Magical ingredients are not part of the process. You mix everyday things like flour and sugar and if your process is right, you get this amazing bread, that melts butter in mouth and your tongue feels like first love every single time. Bakers and writers share this common trait: everyday things can dance together with just the right moves, to awe us, move us, make us close our eyes and hum.

As I shape my loaves, I think about going back outside pounding through the heat, rolling through the woods, while I wait, ever so patiently for my loaves to rise again.

The phone rings, it’s Mom. “I raised you to be smarter than a starving artist.”

“That’s right, you did,” I reply, gritting my teeth. “You also raised me be to be strong and independent person, and I am.”

“You’ve talked about this writing-thing for 40 years, I guess it’s not going away.”

I gingerly pull my loaves from the oven, the yeasty smell wafts around me, the warmth pinking my cheeks. My husband walks in the door, his eyes lift to the heavens and he mouths a prayer of Thanksgiving.

“It’s not going away, Mom.”

“Ah,” she says. “Procrastination has always been your weakness.” The truth of this coils around me, freezing my hands. “By the way,” she asks “Did you bake bread today?”

My mouth drops. Her words are a sucker-punch, and I momentarily lose the ability to breathe. Her voice chuckles across the phone. “You should go to your office now, you might get something done today after all.” Click.

My husband belly-laughs as he tears a piece of bread from my beautiful loaves. He looks at the dog, tosses her a portion of my handiwork. “When mother and daughter have words, we are the benefactors.”

I go to my office, adrenaline-fueled and the dog follows. My husband quietly delivers a plate of buttered bread, still warm, for me.

July 03, 2021 00:29

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Alex Sultan
16:40 Jul 11, 2021

I like the message you're getting across with this story, and I think your similies are great(Doubt is like sandbags on my shoulders, is my favorite). There are a few grammar mistakes, which is alright - happens to everyone, and I'd recommend a reread once or twice for the next story. I enjoyed reading this story. Nice work :)


Rie Sanders
19:55 Jul 28, 2021

Thank you, I appreciate the feedback!


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Rustys Logic
04:14 Jul 10, 2021

Hello there, I love the imagery of the dust floured hands and doubt having the weight of sandbags. Great.


Rie Sanders
19:54 Jul 10, 2021

Thank you! I appreciate your feedback!


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