By Anne Elliott.
Mom’s friend Eleanor took us to a Dutch patisserie in Ballard. It was Christmas time. I was four. Tiny evergreens adorned the tables; tiny lights twinkled on the eaves outside; tiny bells jingled on the frequently opening door. Everywhere, tiny, shiny things called to me, reminded me of the day of plenty just around the bend.
Eleanor said I could order anything I wanted from the bright refrigerated case.
“Just one thing,” Mom interjected.
“Any one thing,” Eleanor echoed.
I scanned the neat rows of red-sugared cookies, the gingerbread boys and girls, the icy petits fours and custardy tarts. Bright yellow banana crème pie; snowy slices of coconut cake. Eleanor watched my eyes and smiled. My eyes arrived on the item.
On one end of the case was a community of pink piglets with blushing cheeks and curlicue tails. “The pig,” I say. “That one.”
“That’s marzipan,” Mom said. “You won’t like that.”
Like she even knew. “I want it.” It looked scrumptious, the way a real piglet looks scrumptious – you just want to hug it and kiss its curly ears.
“If you don’t like it, you can’t order something else,” Mom said. Eleanor nodded, solemnly, confirming Mom’s edict.
“I know I’ll like it.”
So, Eleanor ordered me the pig.
I bit into the pink confection and exploded open a horrid surprise. Something so beautiful could not possibly taste so ugly. The inside was bland in color but not in flavor. The sugar seeped into my sinuses and the bitter almond oil curled its cyanide into my bloodstream. The texture was worse than a bucket of school paste. Even pride could not make me finish chewing one bite.
I bawled. I couldn’t help it. Doubled-over, on-the-floor type bawling. Mom thought I was jockeying for a second chance. I wasn’t. “I told you, only one,” she said.
“Jane,” Eleanor said. “She knows. She’s just disappointed.”
That was before sweets were fraught with struggle and willpower and guilt. Before Eleanor left her husband Charles, then later hung herself; before Charles became a quiet well of heartbreak. Before I broke my mother’s heart by moving 2000 miles away; before she broke mine by dying 30 years too young. Before my shoulders fixed in a hunch, braced against the ubiquity of disappointment.
Age 40, I wandered the streets of Amsterdam. It was Christmas time. Windows were full of marzipan masterpieces: realistic pears and pork chops, smiling Santa and his chocolate sidekick, and pigs. Lots of pink pigs. I bought three. One for my father, one for my brother and one for me. A family icon, my mother’s pet story, The Marzipan Pig, the pig who taught me the big lesson.
I couldn’t wait. Too curious, I bit into mine on the sidewalk. Rich almond paste, white confectioners’ sugar. It wasn’t horrid at all. I needed to unlearn the lesson. I ate it quickly. My head filled with sweet. My teeth rang. My pulse quickened. I didn’t cry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Elliott’s stories have appeared in Hobart, Pindeldyboz, FRiGG, Ars Medica, Smokelong Quarterly, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, and blogs here on projaholism and feral cat management.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, May 29th, 2009.