The once-lined page was now a near-uniform pale blue, threads blurring so that they no longer guided the generations-old script that danced across its coffee-stained surface. Ink had spread in patches, dispersed by droplets of a liquid long-since dried, disfiguring letters and disguising words.
The paper was stuck within a transparent sleeve that Mally’s mother had used to protect it. Now the disintegrating polypropylene only acted to hide the ancient procedure further, layering ink imprint upon imprint, a plastic palimpsest.
In the fluorescence, Mally tilted the page, thinking the perfect angle might make the translation easier, but it was clear some words were unsalvageable; even those that were distinguishable suggested little. Mally decoded the cursive, which resembled kanji more closely than characters from the Latin alphabet.
Ingredients: Five hundred grams of attraction, sifted; one and a half cups of lukewarm trust; seven grams of dried shared interests; a pinch of difference; and a sprinkle of inexplicable love.
Beneath this was another scrawled paragraph, almost entirely disintegrated by tears created as creases were folded firmly each Friday by each Montgomery matriarch. The only word Mally Montgomery could recover from the wreckage of smudges and slashes was remember. She contemplated the syllables, but her heart remained heavy with growing concern; she would never be able to understand this recipe, the tradition would die with her.
This Friday, the house desperately needed the scent of baking to chase the fingers of damp and petrichor that had crept beneath the door and around the shaking window frames. She gripped the brittle page tighter, convinced the warmth of a glowing oven would rescue her from the pull of the storm as it smothered her, reminding her of the silence, the emptiness. She stared at the indecipherable method and indeterminate ingredients and wondered how to create loaves as seemingly perfect as those that had forever filled the fables of her family.
Mally searched for the first ingredient, but no bottle was marked attraction and the patterned liners of the pantry shelves offered no clues. She recalled afternoons sitting on a barstool across the wide expanse of marble in her mother’s kitchen and reached for a bag of powdered snow. She sifted five hundred grams into the bowl, a buried memory of her mother reminding her that all good loaves start with flour.
Though the pipes did not contain trust, Mally inundated a cup with the lukewarm liquid that flowed from the faucet. She dug a deep well in the piles of powder that half-filled the smooth ceramic and flooded the space with the binding agent.
Many years had passed since Mally sat in the kitchen of her grandmother, but it was the advice of this woman with blue-tinted curls and a floral, hand-sewn apron that came to her next, reminding her that for a loaf to endure, it requires something that will make it rise when enveloped by the warmth of the oven. Mally reached for a shiny packet of dried yeast and added its contents to the water-filled well, hoping it would be the shared interests that the recipe suggested.
While waiting for the yeast to froth and foam, Mally perused the recipe once more. Her mind remained in the kitchens of her mother and grandmother, sitting across benches and on barstools, discussing the weather and offering to lick the bowl. She vaguely recollected her grandmother using a pinch of salt when baking, but she was certain her mother had always added a sprinkle of sugar; Mally wasn’t sure if these were the difference and inexplicable love the recipe listed, but added both and hoped her loaf would be exceptional.
Mally folded the mixture gently with a wooden spoon that her mother had given her last festive season. She filled a pan with the thick mixture and wished it luck as she thrust it into the warm memory of that Christmas afternoon with her distant family, huddled around the breakfast bar in the kitchen, as was tradition.
She tried not to think of the evening that had followed, the first fearful sign: tearing into a loaf with their bare hands to find it raw in the centre, not quite baked. As Mally sat on the tiles before the welcome glow of the oven, she tried not to remember the looks of confusion and worry that had passed between them or the sudden cold that struck her mother’s always-warm kitchen, mimicking the icy hospital room they would later grow so familiar with.
She watched the loaf bake, thinking of her mother and how they had never spoken of relationships. Now, crumpled against the glass window of the oven door and feeling utterly alone, Mally wished her mother had left her with a hint, some piece of advice, but all she had was this recipe.