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Fiction Science Fiction Happy

I have always known about food nostalgia. Food has the power to take you back to a moment long ago that had almost fallen into the recesses of your memory for good. One bite and bang: you’re back in that moment, tasting the flavour you associate with something you weren’t even conscious of. For me, it evokes more than a feeling of wistfulness for bygone times. Clementine cakes are the taste of my childhood. My grandmother used to bake them for every family celebration we had. They were little cakes that contained a powerful flavour, like little edible bullets. They were a bit like the Proustian Madeleines, but less French. It was the British version – more marmalade and less crêpe suzette, I suppose.

I used to scoff far too many of those little cakes. They were small, so it was justifiable without my being accused of juvenile greed. There were lots of children in my family, but my granny made enough to go around an entire army. I could have as many as I pleased, and no one noticed the reduction in cakes.

Whenever my grandmother died, her cakes died with her. It wasn’t something we meant to forget, but it was just natural that whenever the baker stopped baking, the cakes stopped coming. I missed them, on an unconscious level. Whenever we had family meet ups for Christmas, it always felt like something was lacking. I suppose there were never any cakes as good as hers had been. Packaged chocolate rolls didn’t have the same effect. Whenever I ate one of my granny’s cakes, it felt like I was being cuddled by her from the inside. They slid down your throat, leaving a festive aftertaste, their airy crumb landing lightly on my tummy.

My grandmother was a formidable woman. That didn’t stop her being approachable though. She loved to bake, more than anything else she got caught up in doing. Her time had been taken up with household duties, child-rearing and homeschooling, but she had always had time for her eatable masterpieces. I thought she would have made an excellent bakery owner, but it was a dream that she never realised. I often wonder what happens to those unrealised dreams when we pass on. Where does the energy and passion go to if it hasn’t been used up? Maybe it goes into our offspring. I felt like I’d inherited hers. But mine was meant for other things. I’ve never been a baker, and I couldn’t have attempted to emulate her. I was a practical person, but I thought I was much better with computers and numbers than I was with cake batter.

Even though I was generally very logical in my thinking, I knew that some things couldn’t be explained away. I believed I still connected with my grandmother on some level. I could just sense her presence whenever I was going through difficult times. Adult life was fraught with problems, and I often wished I could return to the naivety of childhood. My childhood was as close to perfect as one can get in an imperfect life. Nothing untoward ever happened to our family. My siblings and I had a healthy dynamic with one another. My parents were well-meaning, even if they didn’t always get everything right. At least they were willing to admit when they didn’t, which was more than I could say for the most of the people with whom I had surrounded myself in later life.

As many adults are, I was dissatisfied with my station in life. I wanted more. It felt like I’d squandered so many years chasing things that didn’t bring me happiness. I’d been forced by the educational system to pursue a career I didn’t want, I’d had relationships that had crumbled apart whenever I’d given them my all, and the house I’d bought had merely become a noose around my neck. I wished I could shirk all my duties and skip off into childhood again. I spent so many hours fantasising about going back there. Whenever the memories of it became very clear, it felt like I could access them again, like they had returned to the present moment.

I fell into a phase of nostalgia that led me into the attic of my parents’ house. It had been sitting untouched for decades. It wasn’t easily accessible, and their age was gaining on them. They were receptive to my suggestion to search the attic. They didn’t have the mobility to do it themselves, and my mother thought some hidden treasures would be unearthed there. I didn’t know what I was hoping to find, but I just felt driven to do it, like some unknown force was guiding me upwards, out of my life and into the archives of the past.

The attic was astonishingly dusty. I only had the light of a torch to work with, there being no lighting installed up there. I balanced on the eaves, trying my best to stay steady with each step I took. It wasn’t a room designed for habitation; it was just an old-fashioned attic. There were hundreds of boxes, stacked and sealed. I took scissors to each of them, going through them one at a time, finding relics from my childhood. There were relics from my parents’ childhoods as well. I found an old plastic policeman figure my dad played with as a child and my mum’s first teddy bear – misshapen and coated in thick dust. I set them aside to share with my parents whenever I made my descent.

I had a feeling of restlessness, like I knew I’d still failed to find the item I was looking for. I didn’t know where that feeling stemmed from. What was it, I wondered, that was driving me to perform my search? It felt like I was hastily hunting for something I’d misplaced, but I didn’t even know what that thing was. Finally, I came upon a box, labelled with my granny’s name. I tore into it and her scent hit me: lavender and musk. It was as fresh as the last time she embraced me. I almost wished I could contain it in that box, keeping it accessible each and every time I lifted the flap. But it was diffusing into the atmosphere of 2023. She had passed away twenty years prior to that, and it felt impossible that her scent could have survived so long, but somehow, it had.

I dug through the contents of the box. There were some knitted pieces she had made, a handful of ornaments I recognised from her shelving. I’d assumed it had all been thrown out, but it was all there. Her bible sat near the bottom, and beneath it, a cookery book she had written herself. I flipped through the pages, planning on poring over them whenever I was back downstairs, in the comfort of a chair with the clarifying presence of daylight. A page fell from the opened book, and I grabbed it. It was like I was grabbing confetti falling through a fan, with the draught and the unexpectedness of it. But I clasped it in my hands: a treasure I couldn’t afford to lose.

I shone the torchlight upon it, and it illuminated the title: Clementine Cakes. There were blotches on the pages, where she had no doubt dropped cake batter on them as she worked her magic. I couldn’t wait to show it to my mum. I wondered if there were as potent a memory for her as they were for me.

A few hours later, we brought a tray of cakes fresh from the oven. The ingredients were simple, the recipe surprisingly easy to replicate, but we knew they would never be the same as Granny’s. I took a careful bite and the cake melted on my tongue, awakening my tastebuds, and then the unthinkable happened: I was transported. I regained awareness of my surroundings, but whenever I looked down at my hands, they had become dainty, like a little doll’s. I stood in front of the looking glass. I was back in my childhood body. I heard my mother’s voice calling me – crystal clear and lacking the rasp it had acquired with age. I didn’t know how long it would last for, but I hoped I could stay there forever. My life was better in those simple days And so, I kept ravenously eating. 

December 11, 2023 11:15

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6 comments

Michał Przywara
21:52 Dec 22, 2023

A very warm story :) And a perfect fit for the prompt. An iconic childhood food like that can absolutely define memories, especially if it's made by a loved one who's no longer around. But trying to recreate those meals is a way of connecting, isn't it? And it seems granny's recipe was expertly written :) She must have known it would come in handy. Thanks for sharing!

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Keelan LaForge
11:46 Dec 23, 2023

Aw thanks for taking the time to read it Michal! I’m glad you thought so! I don’t usually write warm stories but I thought I’d give myself a challenge lol.

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14:11 Dec 18, 2023

Aw this is really lovely Keelan! :) thank you!

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Keelan LaForge
18:42 Dec 18, 2023

Aw thank you so much Derrick! 😊

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Mary Bendickson
19:53 Dec 11, 2023

Felt like a hug from the inside. I liked that.

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Keelan LaForge
21:31 Dec 11, 2023

Aw thanks Mary 🥰

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