Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Valley (08/10/06)
TITLE: THIS WAY OUT
By Marita Vandertogt
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Sometimes people stay in the valley too long.
Arlene can’t remember exactly when she got there, and she really isn’t all that sure how to get out.
So she bakes Orange Ruffies and Lemon Snow Torpedos, anything she likes the name of. Arlene’s not a good cook, but she does it anyway, and when they don’t turn out, she just blames the recipe. But cooking helps, she says. Helps keep her mind off the fact, and she stresses the word fact when she tells people, that she’s stuck in the valley of her life right now. Of the fact that she’s alone, and in her fifties, and doesn’t know how else to fill the time.
Arlene blames her descent into the valley on a lot of things, but mostly on Ryan for leaving home to go to university when there was a perfectly good one right here in the city. But he said he needed to get away and do his own thing. Arlene wasn’t sure what his own thing meant, only that ever since he left, she stays in bed longer in the morning, and goes to bed earlier at night, and leaves the tv on for company. Sometimes she yells from the bedroom for Ryan to turn it down, though she knows he isn’t there. The only days she makes short jaunts out of the valley are when Ryan emails her between studies, and asks her how she’s doing, and she answers that part right away without reading the rest, because she knows what he really wants. Sometimes Arlene bakes him butter tarts and cookies with nuts and raisins, packs them in a box and sends them express, and then goes home and climbs into bed again. Or pulls the recipe book down from the shelf and searches for another obscure type dainty to tackle.
Arlene leaves her windows open when she bakes. So one particular grey afternoon, when she was pulling a Butter Pecan pielette out of the oven, the aroma wafted its way through the open window, into Albert’s back yard. Albert took trips to the valley too, gardening his way through, and on this particular day, while pulling weeds from the flower beds out back, took a deep breath, drawing in the butter pecan aroma. This time he put down his trowel and made his way over to the fence.
“Hey,” he called to Arlene through the open window. “You gonna share any of that, or what?”
Arlene stepped to the window, looked at Albert, and pulled the glass down in front of his face. Then she took the pie from the counter, slipped on her sandals, and went over to Albert’s backyard. “Here,” she said, and walked away again. “Just return the plate when you’re done.”
Albert smiled and took the pielette into his kitchen. He savoured each bite. Then took the deep dish plate, filled it with flowers from his back yard and placed it at her front door. Arlene didn’t see them till the next morning when she went to leave the house to buy more flour for her culinary creations. She almost stepped on the plate, on the soft pink rose petals. Arlene picked up the plate and brought it into the house, the soft pink glow of the flowers reminding her of days gone by, before she took the slow steady descent into the valley. For just a second, she felt the warmth of baby Ryan in her arms, and the even warmer feel of her husband’s arms, though long passed away, around her again. They were a family once, and now there was just her. But maybe it didn’t have to be just her.
Arlene took the pink rose petals and placed them in a crystal bowl in the centre of the dining room table. Then went out into the kitchen and pulled flour down from the cupboard, butter from the fridge, and chocolate chunks from a canister on the counter. Maybe Albert would like some of her special chocolate chip cookies, the one thing she could bake well. And maybe she could postpone her early evening nap a few hours and invite him over for dinner. After all, they were neighbours, and that was the neighbourly thing to do.
And maybe, just maybe, this was her way out of the valley.
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