The cake was spectacular. Everyone had said so at the time. Frosted in forty subtle shades of blue, with mermaids reclining magnificently on rocks which shimmered and stuck out amongst the frothing and passionate waves. She seems to remember that was made from individual tiny sugar crystals, each one a sparkling snowflake of perfection, but she couldn’t be sure. And the mermaids themselves…their tails glistening with gold and silver, bronze and burnished metals hewn from mines at the edge of imagination, were so lifelike their hair appeared to float and flutter in an unseen wind, their tails twitching with eagerness to dip and dive, to submerge themselves into the cerulean sea and swim, and swim and swim.

This masterpiece had been made, of course, by Baba (as she was known). She had taken this name for so long that no-one could remember her original appellation and anyway, it seemed to suit her. Baba was a legendary figure in the village. One step away from being a recluse, she emerged, as if from a chrysalis, at every baby shower, bearing her unique gift for the newborn infant.

Hunched from the nuisances of her advanced age, she moved slowly, shuffling along the path from garden to gate, hobbling across the warren of tightly woven streets that formed the rural community she served, carrying a masterpiece. No-one ever knew what the creation would be, but for generations now, in fact as far back as anyone’s mothers and grandmothers could remember, Baba would appear without fail to celebrate the birth of a new neighbour with a sculpture of sugar and sponge.

Each cake was unique, no theme ever revisited in icing. From a dreamlike cave black with bats, to the forest thick with oak and pine, a path carefully marked in chocolate shavings, its opening heralded by a tiny sugar-coated sign warning travellers not to stray from the path. Each monument of confectionary was more story than pudding, more of a message than perhaps we dared to admit.

These were the thoughts running through Alana’s mind as she stood at the edge of the shore. Gazing intently at the softly rippling waves, and flicking her eyes surreptitiously back to the whisper of girls behind her, standing, moth-like, camouflaged, urging her on, daring her to fail. The tide breaking rocks did not seem so far, and Alana had practically been born to water, gasping her first breath of air into her lungs after breaking the surface of the water in her mother’s birthing pool. She was no stranger to a sea swim; on this, the laziest of Sunday afternoons, it would be no trouble at all.

Later, she would repeat those words to herself, a silent prayer as she succumbed to the power of the waves, “No trouble at all.” The incantation died on her lips, and she was back, recalling a moment she had no means of remembering, as candles were blown out on a cake of shimmering rocks and vehement waves. As she allowed herself to feel the drag and pull, as she yielded to the almighty power of the sea, she felt the arms of the mermaids envelop her, glistening with gold and silver in the dying rays of the sunset-smothered sky.

© 2019  Abigail Hennig

Photo Credit: Chris Crumley

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