A pale hand adjusted the rear-view mirror, angling its reflection from the familiar asphalt roads he knew like the back of his hand to the strange girl buckled up in the back seat. She seemed normal enough, sans her outfit. It looked like she had walked out of some manual labour field, with her white tank-top soiled with sweat stains and her jacket tied around her waist – an article of clothing seemingly unnecessary in the middle of spring. Her white snow boot-like shoes and the wire framing attached to them was also concerning, but by far her most foreign aspect of her attire was the cylindrical forearm-sized gun she was wielding. But it did not seem to shoot bullets, nor did she seem prone to fire it. He would think this woman was simply from out of the country and had much different ways than his own, but her shirt – which clearly labelled the logo for a local testing facility not fifty miles away – disproved this theory. With all hope that orange jumpsuit was not from a prison.
The man gave a few puffs of his pipe in deep thought. He didn’t have a clue where she had come from, nor did he know her name, but her actions had made it all too clear what her intentions were. It wasn’t half an hour ago when the man was making his rounds through the grocery store, browsing the aisles for a precise type of icing that would be the finishing touch to his new sugar cake recipe. He was suddenly torn from his dilemma of whether to pick out a stunning shade of Persian red or an exquisite white with a crashing sound on the front side of the store. Running out of the aisle to the source of the disruption, he could see an upturned table and a display of sweets scattered across the floor, and even further from that, a mesh of two people – one a worker of the supermarket and the other a relatively feisty looking female with a plastic container of cake in her hands.
It could have been his natural aptitude to assist fellow pastry enthusiasts or simple curiosity as to why one would put up such a desperate struggle to get away with the free meal, but after explaining to the good man that this woman was his mentally handicapped sister (she gave a harsh look at that one, yet an all too familiar roll of the eyes as if she had grown accustomed to being labelled as such?), he was sent off with a warning and a new guest to look after.
The speed of the car reduced as the man pulled into the driveway of a simple two-story house, the structure uniform to all others in the suburban housing complex, all except for a simple ghost-shaped pogo ride blemishing the middle of the lawn. As soon as he had parked, she jumped out of the car to survey the area. The man watched as she looked in all directions, as if she was searching for a specific object in the vicinity. He only collected the bags of groceries and let her be while unlocking the front door. She turned to him, finishing her visual sweep of the area with approval. He gestured her to come indoors and disappeared inside.
Once deemed acceptable, the woman hustled inside the house with enthusiasm to get out from the open, shutting the door behind her. The man noticed that as soon as she did, she paused. She took a look around the house, how its white floors and clean walls were neat and kept, in a nearly transfixed gaze to… a change in scenery, he would guess? It was recollection of something they both would not quite be sure of beginning to surface. It seemed the plain walls discomforted her. Her knotted eyebrows smoothed and her slow movements quickened, though, at the sight of one of the many decorations in the house. She approached a doll to take a closer look at it, her finger slowly approaching to jostle one of the many bells on the doll’s hat. For a moment, the man thought he saw the softest of smirks on her face, as if the inviting smile of his prized harlequin reflected on her. He puffed his chest in pride.
The woman was attracted to the kitchen a few moments later, when the metallic clank of different pans smashing together rang throughout the first story. The man picked his weapon, a basic circular oven pan twelve inches in diameter and six inched in depth, and set it on the counter to accompany ingredients splayed across the area, including flour, oil, milk, a carton of eggs, butter, and sugar. He set the oven to the exact heat and clapped his hands together when his guest entered the kitchen, assuming she would want to join him. It would be best learning first-hand how to bake in lieu of robbing local groceries.
He handed her a large bowl, a spoon and a couple of eggs to crack. He went back to his own business, measuring the right amount of flour when behind his back he heard a blast along the lines of ‘pew pew,’ then the sound of something falling. Yet it would not give the ‘thump’ or ‘splat’ like one would make once it reached the end of its destination, just the constant ‘whoosh’ of an object falling through the air. He turned to see the woman not with cracked eggs, but with a couple falling from one orange hole seemingly blasted through his ceiling into a blue one made into his floor, and coming back through the top to bottom in a constant cycle. This girl needed professional cooking assistance.
With great care he tutored her in the art of cake-making, giving hands-on guidance as to how to crack eggs, how much sugar to put in, how feverishly to stir all these things together, and (his favourite part) how to give the mixing spoon a taste before shoving the greasy pan filled with delicious sweet filling into the fiery oven. The brown-haired girl took a seat in front of the oven, licking her spoon as she sat in silence, her eyes fixated on the black window of it. The man sat next to her, adjusting his spotless fedora and propping himself up with the other arm. He would have to make sure she would not try to take a few tastes, especially not when there was a chance she may be burned. His assumption was right, for just a couple minutes in did he watch her grow fidgety, glancing over to him, the keeper of the sweets, and back to the oven, the locked safe that held an incomplete treasure from her, as if she knew that peeking the oven in to watch the cake’s progress was a sin. He watched her as she sat impatiently, every few moments changing position to shift her body. Restless, as anyone first baking would be.
The restlessness turned to boredom, shifting into drowsiness, and he watched as her shoulders slumped and she fell asleep, chin propped up in her hand.
She awoke with a jolt, not recognizing her surroundings and taking to standing up immediately and readying her gun. The kitchen was darker now, as the evening had fallen, with bits of sunlight left reaching through the window. Right, she was safe. Safe in here, safe with… She turned to see the fedora-capped smoker had disappeared from his spot next to her. How long had she been out?
Her attention was caught by a pale hand peeking from behind the kitchen door waving her over. In recognition she lowered her weapon, exiting the kitchen to meet the stranger again in the living room.
The room was darker with the shades pulled, but in the room there was one source of light illuminating the bright walls. She stepped closer to investigate what it was. The man standing next to it was easy to identify, with his recognizably cheesy white suit and that large nose casting a huge shadow over his face, but the light – lights, she saw – were actually twelve tiny candles neatly placed in a cake. The cake she had made together, now complete and standing tall, dressed in an immaculate white. She rushed towards it, her eyes growing twice as large at the sight of it. Sensing her excitement, the man quickly reached to the knife and cut a piece for her, transferring it a plate and offering it to her.
She looked at the offering, pausing and reaching slowly to take it. This was too close to getting cake, it nearly seemed like at any moment a large robotic hand would clamp over her prize to smash the delicacy and bash it into the pavement. But no, she took the plate with ease and was handed a fork, her hand shaking as she lifted the utensil to take a bite of her own.
Oh god was that delicious.
The man did not mind how she forgot all mannerisms and wolfed it down, nor did he mind how she rushed for another and another piece with him only snagging a single slice, nor did he mind the tears running down her face and onto his carpet. His guests came first.
After she finished all she could eat, he walked her to the door, a plastic container with the remainders of the cake sealed inside for her to take on during her journey. Their goodbye was short, a simple handshake and a nod of thanks. She gave him a smile, perhaps the first she had given the entire day, and he returned the gesture by removing his pipe to give a thankful nod. Her company had been one of his more enjoyable experiences, and also one of the most delightfully puzzling. Down the sidewalk she went as the sun went down, the metal of her boots clanking against the pavement. She then shot her gun somewhere in the distance, then to the ground, jumping into the hole and disappearing, the glowing blue hole dissipating soon after. Definitely delightfully puzzling.
“Dad?” a voice behind him piped up, followed by a mess of black hair peeking down from the second floor. He turned to see his son, and how his face brightened with a smile at his presence. “Great, you’re home! Did you happen to see a green package anywhere?”
He shrugged and shook his head, picking up his plate with the remainder of his cake on it. He lifted the plate up, as if offering it to the boy. The kid only grew disgusted at the sight. “Ugh, no thanks! Just, uh… tell me when you see a green box, okay?” he reminded, shuffling back into his room.
It would be lonely without his fellow pastry enthusiast.