I once ate 13 sticky buns at an Easter brunch. I was young, and possessed the kind of metabolism that didn’t flinch at a deluge of Karo syrup. I can’t explain why I ate that many; I only recall that Mrs. Benson kept pushing glaze-coated nuggets off a hot tray, sending them tumbling onto a platter that my tongue was resting upon. I learned the meaning of cellulite that Easter, but I also vowed to become the sort of woman who could confidently bake fine holiday pastries.
Then I lost the recipe that Mrs. Benson had scrawled upon a piece of paper in the flowery cursive that young girls always admire. My will to spend any time in the kitchen followed.
Many years later, when my first child was born a couple of weeks before Easter, I lay awake one night, pondering just how bleak his childhood would be with a mom whose baking prowess self-actualized at Pop Tarts. I resolved to change my reputation in the kitchen. After all, it was my responsibility to love this child, protect this child, and make things that smell good for this child. I should own measuring cups. I should know what nutmeg is. I should use a glass pan for purposes other than to hold icy water to minimize my pores.
And I would effect my transformation in time for the Easter brunch we were invited to over the weekend.
Since my mother was still in town for the birth of the baby, I was able to escape to the grocery store to buy the items essential for cupcakes. I shuffled down each aisle, haphazardly acquiring bottles of familiar fixings. I could have worked through a Bucket List in the time I spent at the market. Unless, of course, baking three dozen cupcakes had been on the list.
As I set about assembling my ingredients, my brother, mother and husband, Greg, looked on in disbelief, each sure that I should be placed before a postpartum tribunal with Tom Cruise serving as magistrate. To an experienced cook, the task was a simple one using the most elemental items from a baker’s cabinet: flour, sugar, egg, and enough butter to sculpt a figure of John Candy.
I, however, struggled to whip frothy crests of buttercream while watching the cake rise and brown inside the oven. In the midst of spooning dollops of pink-hued cream to each cake, my brother Shaun and Greg traipsed through the kitchen to inform my mother and me that they were headed out to shoot pool. The alchemy of hops and billiards had never resulted in any good around my house as far as these two were concerned. My mind flooded with memories of them stumbling into the apartment, finally spewed from a closing bar, and rummaging noisily for leftovers. Vexed, I stared hard at my cupcakes which represented hours of toil and – at that moment – all of my self worth. My concern for their preservation bubbled over as I heard them making toward the front door. I rushed after the two men with a wooden spoon in hand, hollering frenzied pleas to keep their hands off my cupcakes.
“Hey!” I hissed as they turned to face me. “You idiots had better not stumble through these doors at three in the morning, looking for something to eat. Get a pizza, and don’t even think about touching one of those cupcakes in there.”
They raised their hands the way guilty people do when feigning innocence, and they set off, each grateful to have escaped the pastry shop from Hell and its demonic baker.
That was the last I heard from them until I awoke the following morning.
I padded down the hallway to investigate the crime scene that was bound to be my living room. Each was exactly as I predicted, sprawled across a sofa, fully dressed in his clothing and cradling a Playstation controller while scenes from a video game long neglected jerked across the television screen. I proceeded to the kitchen to start the coffee pot when I noticed something amiss in the periphery. I spun in the direction where my cupcakes had been left, packed tightly atop cooling racks on the counter.
All that remained were a couple of partially eaten cakes and a mess of crumbs on the countertop.
A scream so guttural and unbecoming erupted from my core. I rushed into the room and pounced upon Greg, like a lion driven wild by hunger on top of a gazelle. I grabbed his shirt collar and stared into his frightened eyes.
“Where are they?” I bellowed. “You two didn’t eat 33 cupcakes! I know this is a joke!”
Shaun, awakened by the outburst, attempted to sustain the gag by confessing a lapse in good judgment as the explanation for the missing cupcakes. My mother rushed into the room and was straining to piece together the cause of the uproar.
“Guys, it’s not funny anymore,” she interjected with a maternal lilt. “Please go get them.”
She pried my hands from around Greg’s jugular and guided my body, tense with adrenaline, back to the kitchen. She eased me into a chair and patted my hair reassuringly as we waited for the boys to materialize my baked goods. Shaun returned first, his face ashen. We stared at him expectantly when Greg wobbled into the room with two barren trays.
As the neurons fired in my brain, context clues jumping synapses, desperately trying to correlate the cause and effect of this scenario, the only words that could escape my lips were, “What is this?”
Greg jumped to answer first, “We thought it’d be funny to hide your cupcakes to appear like we ate them, but…”
My brain had still not ordered the sequence of events, which must have been evidenced by the confusion on my face and the methodical swiveling of my head. Greg looked down at the trays he’d placed in front of me and began with a contrite voice.
“We moved the cupcakes as a joke so you’d think they were eaten. But we moved them to the floor in the playroom.”
I waited for the final shoe to drop.
“The dog ate them.”
My recollection of the subsequent moments is foggy because my mother had to apply cardiac shock paddles to my chest, but hazy images of Mrs. Benson and her perfect sticky buns danced across my consciousness. I had failed her pastry-making legacy on the very holiday that she had inspired me many years before. On this holiest of days, the anniversary of the day when Jesus was resurrected, one thing was certain.
My cupcakes would not rise again.
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.