Abyss & Apex : Fourth Quarter 2009: A Recipe For Broke-Heart Bread

A Recipe For Broke-Heart Bread

by K. Bird Lincoln


Émilie loses her grip on the apothecary jar of flour and it bangs down on the countertop. She flinches, tense for a moment. There is no sound from upstairs; Belle is still asleep.

Her knives, usually set aside on baking day, are positioned prominently just outside the flour-strewn area where she will knead. She doesn’t look as she reaches out one hand and closes her palm around the fillet knife. The handle is warm and comfortable in her palm.

She slices a red line across the pad of her ring finger. It takes just a little squeeze to get two drops of blood to slide into the little pool of olive oil nestled in the mound of flour.

Her eyes scan the cramped curlicues of Grandmère’s diary, pages weighed open with a bowl of salt and the phone. Émilie just barely can make out the Geechee words, though when she was small she’d spoken so fluently she’d been mistaken for a beanyeah, a local, by Grandmère’s customers.

She feels like that little wild girl today, the same breathless feeling in her chest she’d had running past the shrimp shacks on the creek after dinnertime.

Now her finger runs past the drawings of fresh fruit and powdered sugar offerings for Papa Legba, past Grandmère’s risqué lyrics for “Allons dancer Colinda.” There. Émilie smiles. A recipe for broke-heart bread. Yes, she can do this.

Through the kitchen window she sees the stark, leafless branches of the dogwood. It makes her think of how thin her twin Belle is now, how she hardly eats anything other than toast and broth since that day in the woodshed.

When they were younger, people could only tell them apart by the way Émilie tagged along after Belle, hanging on to her every word, grateful for any crumb of attention. She looks at the dimpled flesh of her hands and lets her shoulders slump. When she met Jean-Luc that all changed. She followed Belle less, and ate more. It isn’t hard to tell them apart now.

The next ingredient will take more than a knife-cut. Her first thought is to look at the photo album stashed between Joy of Cooking and Sundays at the Moosewood in the breakfast nook bookcase. Prickles run up her spine. No, the past week has ingrained a harsh discipline into her.

Don’t think of him sleeping cold and alone on Shem’s couch, don’t remember, don’t cry. She looks down at her yeast in a bath of warm sugar-water. No bubbles rise to the surface, the yeast is dead.

Just like Jean-Luc and all the promise of their life together.

No maudlinning over photographs. She tears open another package of quick-rise yeast and drops it into a new sugar bath. This time it bubbles up, just like Belle’s throaty, fertile laughter when she helped Jean-Luc in his workshop, louder even than the droning buzz of the band saw.

Belle had come to live with them “just until she got back on her feet” last spring. Émilie had been happy to have the two people she loved best in the world under one roof.

Émilie reaches into the wire basket hanging next to the refrigerator and pulls out a Spanish onion. She would make French onion soup for dinner. Belle always begged for this soup, never even considering how Émilie hates the greasy broth and worm-like onions.

Belle never notices what Émilie likes, only what Émilie has.

Five minutes into mincing, her eyes stinging with something more than onion fumes, a tear overflows the corner of her eye, dribbles down her nose and falls onto the cutting board.

With oniony hands, Émilie pulls the proofed yeast over and squeezes her eyes tight, forcing more salty rivulets from her eyes into the dough. Good.

Émilie shivers, feeling a loose cloak of naughty wrap around her shoulders. Like when Belle used to switch classes with her suddenly in the afternoon in primary school, and Émilie would suffer a punishment for something Belle did in the morning.

She can hear Grandm ère’s humid croak in her mind. What binnah done to ma biddy? U hep’, u nutten nevah hurt u sistah Belle! When Grandm ère was angry, she would brandish a straw broom and swear at them.

She isn’t going to hurt Belle…just make her understand what it feels like to have the one precious you got in your life for your very ownsome be stolt away.

She remembers a shrimper’s wife in Grandm ère’s shop, complaining of her husband drinking away all the food money. Dem man binnuh nyam all we money. Grandm ère, nodding wisely, giving the girl a special bread recipe, a recipe that would fill up that shrimper with all his wife’s grief, and workworn bone-aches, and worry, worry about the children.

The sunshine warming the windowsill is a perfect place for Émilie’s dough to rise. She wishes that fall sunshine could thaw her own body. One of Belle’s shawls, crocheted by Émilie, hangs from a chair Jean-Luc carved with wheatsheeves, but Émilie would rather freeze than touch it. What if Jean-Luc’s cinnamon-and-wood-shavings smell lingered on it?

Discipline. The bread. She imagines the honey-sweet smell of breakfast rolls straight from the oven, and saliva gathers over her tongue. It is important not to let anger foul this baking, so she doesn’t spit, just lets a dribble of saliva fall into the yeast.

She pours the proofed yeast into the mounded flour over the oil and flexes her fingers. Her hands sinking into the moist dough undoes her. All her discipline sloughs away, leaving a smoky feeling covering her skin, weighing down her bustle, her cheer, coalescing into the sight of Belle’s slender hand around the softness of Jean-Luc’s neck two weeks ago. Émilie walked into the woodshop with a plate of cinnamon buns, the band saw buzzing drowning out the clatter of the door and her footsteps. Jean-Luc, turned away, did not see her.

Belle’s eyes bored into hers as she kissed Jean-Luc. When Émilie froze, her sister pulled back, smiling, and gave Jean-Luc a teasing, light push on the chest.

Just bad luck the band saw was on. Just malchance, as her mother would have said, that Jean-Luc stumbled back, one hand outstretched for balance.

Both women stayed frozen as his blood spilled out onto the concrete floor along with two fingers.

Émilie gasps, once, and closes her eyes. A new warmth, not homey at all, rises from her belly as she pounds the dough against her counter, anger burning new paths through her like steam opening pockets of emptiness in the bread.

Grandmère’s special diary went to Émilie when mother died. Only she was worthy of what it contained. You are the strong one, ma fille. Mother’s jewels went to Belle, of course.

The fragrant smell is filling every nook and cranny of the house. It will find Belle shut-up in her room; drag her downstairs for the luncheon. When Belle uses a freshly cut slice to sop up the broth of the onion soup, Émilie knows she will cram it into her starving mouth, chewing Émilie’s essence along with the meal, swallowing it all down.

Grandmère’s broke-heart bread will change every cell in Belle’s body that feeds upon it.

And then her sister will know exactly how Émilie feels.


K. Bird Lincoln spent 4 years in Japan precariously perched on a bicycle with 2 girls under the age of 5. Now she resides in Portland, Oregon and guiltily drives a car. Her other work has been published hither and thither in places such as Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and Flytrap. Most recently a story featuring a Nikkei boy in Oregon on the eve of World War II can be read in Lethe Press’ anthology Japanese Dreams. If you’re insanely curious, visit geocities.com/kblincon for more information about life in a bicultural marriage and other stories.



Story © 2009 K. Bird Lincoln. All other content copyright © 2009 Abyss & Apex Publishing. 

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