Carrot Cake

By Tami Veldura

Anna’s hand tight­ened on the cell­phone she held to her ear. Her sis­ter’s voice elon­gat­ed and slowed as fear took ahold of Anna’s heart. She heard the creak of ten­dons under immense pres­sure, liable to snap–her wrist held under ten­sion as she fought with her­self. She des­per­ate­ly want­ed to throw the phone, to escape the slow-motion words before she could hear them bring her care­ful­ly craft­ed life crash­ing down around her ankles. She fought the impulse only because she was in pub­lic and might bean some poor passer­by with a pound and a half of elec­tron­ic car­ry­ing the full weight of a pan­ic attack.

The moment extend­ed, like it does in dra­mat­ic cin­e­ma for the best effect, giv­ing Anna plen­ty of time to mem­o­rize insignif­i­cant details of this moment. The cross­walk in front of her paint­ed rain­bow, the reck­less lemon-yel­low taxi tak­ing a left in front of pedes­tri­ans, how the cloud that cov­ered the sun seemed to suck all of the warmth and life out of the air. It was the breath before dis­as­ter, impend­ing and unstop­pable. Anna watched it come bar­rel­ing down the phone like a train in a tun­nel with nowhere to turn.

She man­aged to take her phone away from her ear in that unend­ing sec­ond. Only a breath of dis­tance, mere frac­tions of an atom of space, insignif­i­cant and yet momen­tous. Not far enough to miss dis­as­ter, but maybe just far enough to keep it from fatality.

With a snap time resumed its nor­mal pace and Anna’s sis­ter said, ”This is prob­a­bly Mom’s last birth­day. Don’t dis­ap­point her, Anna. Your choco­late car­rot cake is the only thing she remem­bers of us and I won’t let her pass away think­ing she’s alone…”

Jasmin’s voice fad­ed as the phone’s dis­tance from Anna’s ear final­ly reached sig­nif­i­cance. She watched the timer on the call tick up in con­tin­ued sec­onds, Jasmin orat­ing a well-craft­ed guilt-trip into the life­less air. Anna’s thumb moved over the screen, like the hand of some­one else, and she watched it press the red but­ton. Disconnect.

She hung up on her sister.

The ten­sion released with Anna’s breath, as if Jasmin had been in con­trol of her very heart­beat and now, with the phone silent, she was again free.

The cross­walk’s sig­nal shift­ed. Traffic moved. Pedestrians crossed the trans-flag cross­walk to Anna’s right. The cloud released what life and light it had sucked away, send­ing it back to the earth like rain­fall, each of the drops col­or­ing the peo­ple around her, but miss­ing Anna entire­ly. She was released, but not brought back to earth.

In this half-life she walked home, obliv­i­ous to every­thing but Jasmin’s words.

Don’t dis­ap­point her, Anna.


Anna had nev­er been a dis­ap­point­ment in her life. As a youth she excelled in school and sport, her col­lege years saw a dou­ble degree with hon­ors, her post-grad sea­son exposed her to busi­ness and account­ing which lead to the pin­na­cle of her achieve­ment to-date: a high­ly suc­cess­ful, Michelin-starred bak­ery and café in the heart of New York which this time tomor­row would no longer be hers. Sold for near­ly three mil­lion, mak­ing Anna all the most edu­cat­ed, most suc­cess­ful, and the most wealthy mem­ber of her small family.

A dis­ap­point­ment Anna was not.

Yet the words dug at her gut and squirmed into her chest mak­ing it hard to breathe and move. Swirling between anger and des­per­a­tion, Anna stormed into her small apart­ment and threw her purse to the couch. She marched into the lit­tle kitchen, hot with indig­na­tion, and grabbed a dusty grey binder that sat in a for­got­ten cor­ner of the counter. A cor­ner Anna had­n’t looked at in years.

She slapped the binder on the tile and flicked it open, burn­ing fury over­rid­ing any oth­er emo­tion that tried to spring up. Guilt, nerves, even fear were all plowed to the side in the face of her sim­mer­ing rage. Anna flicked through the book, old mus­cle mem­o­ry pulling her to the exact page she needed.

Salted Caramel & Belgian Chocolate Carrot Cake.

She’d found a sim­i­lar recipe in a cor­ner of the inter­net some­time in her ear­ly twen­ties and between stud­ies, read­ing, tests, and class­es she per­fect­ed her own ver­sion. She test­ed it on class­mates, room­mates, friends, and teach­ers. She tweaked it with care, record­ing each mod­i­fi­ca­tion and blind-test­ing her adjust­ments in the sci­en­tif­ic method. Baking was an art, but Anna had brought the results to a sci­ence in six short years.

Her car­rot cake had brought her lit­tle bak­ery from a quaint hole-in-the-wall on the edge of Nassau coun­ty to the beat­ing heart of Central Park. There were oth­er cre­ations: cook­ies, cus­tards, and creams, but the car­rot cake was queen.

Anna had­n’t stirred up a batch of bat­ter her­self in over sev­en years.

Not for lack of desire, not for lack of try­ing. It was­n’t even for lack of time, though that was in short sup­ply as the bak­ery rose to prominence.

It was fear.

Fear stayed her hand when she reached for a whisk. Fear clenched her heart when she set the oven. And now, as she stared at the famil­iar recipe she had­n’t opened in almost a decade, fear once again over­came her.

She could­n’t make this cake, even with her sis­ter’s insid­i­ous voice lay­ing in wait. The guilt weighed heav­i­ly, but the fear ran away with her first.

Anna spun away from the counter, gasp­ing like she was drown­ing. She leaned heav­i­ly on her small-enough-for-two table and gulped. She was too hot, then cold in an instant. Shakes start­ed in her legs and she had to sit down. She refused to look at the binder of recipes, even the counter itself. That entire half of the kitchen could­n’t exist–the oven, the microwave, the ele­gant set of neglect­ed knives–anything that spoke of prepa­ra­tion had to be forgotten.

The pan­ic only fad­ed with Anna put her hand against her tem­ple and blocked her periph­er­al vision. If the kitchen did­n’t exist there was­n’t any­thing to be afraid of.

Exhaustion sud­den­ly over­came her. She leaned over the table and breathed until the shake in her legs sub­sided and the ache in her heart eased a lit­tle. She was hun­gry, she real­ized, and it was near­ly time for bed. Where had her after­noon gone? Hadn’t she just got­ten home?

Anna decid­ed not to prod that dan­ger­ous line of thought. Something sin­is­ter lay buried there. Something bet­ter left for­got­ten. The line between san­i­ty and pan­ic was thin for some rea­son, a veil that breathed on either side, but obscured just enough that Anna could move past with­out nam­ing it.

She retrieved an apple from the fridge and a jar of peanut but­ter from the pantry. She fished a spoon out of the dry­ing rack. Her food was sim­ple, often raw, and healthy by neces­si­ty. One could­n’t run a busi­ness on pack­aged piz­zas. Anna kept to a strict diet, went to the gym three times a week, and the den­tist twice a year. All of these ele­ments of her life she had orga­nized and struc­tured, just like her work. Structure kept her on track.

Structure meant she did­n’t have to think about the parts of the kitchen she’d forgotten.


An anx­i­ety dream held Anna fast at night, worm­ing into her sub­con­scious, pulling things out that she’d buried years ago, expos­ing their rot­ting guts to the wan light of the moon.

She was baking.

With a steady hand, Anna whisked eggs into flour and sug­ar, the very basic ele­ments of a dough that would become her award-win­ning car­rot cake. The steel whisk was warm in her hand, the steel bowl, cool to the touch, and every cir­cle her arm made scraped the egg and flour togeth­er into some­thing more than the sum of its parts.

Beside her, the oven warmed. In this moment of begin­ning, noth­ing seemed out of the ordi­nary. Her ingre­di­ents were arrayed before her like a palette of col­ors before a painter, and she select­ed them with the care of a chemist. She was focused. Intent.

She did­n’t real­ize the oven was overheating.

The coun­ter­tops caught fire just as Anna test­ed the final bat­ter on the tip of her tongue. A lit­tle choco­late. A lit­tle car­rot. Just enough sweet.

Her bag of flour explod­ed into flames, fol­lowed by the sug­ar, salt, and pow­dered cacao. Anna picked up her mix­ing bowl just as the counter melt­ed out from under it and ran like warm frost­ing down the face of the cabinets.

She opened the oven. Wild flames greet­ed her, but despite this she slid the bak­ing pan–full of batter–into the oven and closed the door.

Anna walked out of the kitchen as the flames roared high­er, con­sum­ing the mix­ing bowl, whisk, and her doughy offer­ing. Like an over­done cook­ie, noth­ing would come of this bak­ing but ash.


There were near­ly thir­ty pages of small-font, dense legalese that com­prised the con­tract before her. Anna sat in a chair in an office sit­u­at­ed above her bak­ery across from the buy­er and his attor­ney on the couch. She paged through the doc­u­ment slow­ly, even­ly, one para­graph at a time, com­par­ing the words before her with the agree­ment they’d ham­mered out over the last year through email and snail mail drafts.

There were no surprises.

The bak­ery, its web­site and social accounts, its finan­cial records and his­to­ries, its entire exis­tence as an enti­ty inde­pen­dent of its cre­ator was to be turned over in full to one Julian Penning at the time of sign­ing. In return, Anna was to receive a very large sum of mon­ey in a few time­ly pay­ments, every detail of which had been fine­ly honed to a knife edge.

Anna ini­tialled sev­er­al sub­para­graphs, then with a flo­ri­oush she had prac­ticed in col­lege, she signed the final page.

Julian smiled at her, but she did­n’t return it.

He signed his name beside hers.

Anna moved a small box from her lap to the table between them. Inside con­tained keys, pass­words, and all man­ner of sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion crit­i­cal to run­ning the bakery.

In exchange, the attor­ney hand­ed Anna a check with more zeros on it than she had years of school. She slipped the paper into her clutch and stood.

Julian want­ed to shake her hand. Anna resist­ed the urge to run. She shook hands, shook the attor­ney’s hand, tol­er­at­ed a few pleas­antries. When she was released, it was only into the wait­ing jaws of the staff down­stairs, who had come togeth­er despite the busy hour to applaud and celebrate.

Their cheers sound­ed to Anna like the crack­ling of fire, and their applause, the crash­ing of a kitchen burned to ash.

It had­n’t been this kitchen. It had­n’t even been this staff, but the anx­i­ety dream had pulled the for­got­ten day out from the oth­er side of the veil and it blend­ed now with the crush of emo­tion and bodies.

She could­n’t breathe.

Signing that paper was sup­posed to free her from this night­mare, from the per­pet­u­al reminder every time she walked into the kitchen doors. And yet here she remained, burn­ing, no fur­ther from that day than she was from the doors marked in neon green EXIT.

Fire con­sumed her the way she’d always wished it had, but no one saw the rush of flames eat­ing her from the inside out. Hands pat­ted her back. Arms hugged her close. Tears stained her shoul­der. Cries of joy and sad­ness com­min­gled with Anna’s liv­ing mem­o­ry of fear. There had been cry­ing that day too.

Somehow she found her­self out­side, walk­ing across the famil­iar rain­bow cross­walk, dodg­ing the lemon-yel­low cab­bie mak­ing a left before the pedes­tri­ans. The fire burned, but she’d left some of it behind, fueled in the bak­ery where it had been born. Anna smol­dered. A fire in waiting.

There was no fire wait­ing for her in the apart­ment, and in that chilly two-bed­room place her glow­ing embers were quenched. She shook. Her teeth rat­tled. She sat on the couch and final­ly cried. There was noth­ing left to hold her up–no fire, no fury–and she lay on the couch sob­bing fat tears that still weren’t big enough to beat the flames of her fear away. She wilt­ed, less­ened by her ter­ror. Not bol­stered with it.

When the cry­ing stopped, more for lack of water than lack of grief, there was only empti­ness left. No fire, no tears, no bak­ery, no fear. Just a hol­low echo before the inevitable down­fall to come.

She had peaked.

Perhaps Jasmin was right. Perhaps she was a dis­ap­point­ment, now.


The whisk in her hand and the ingre­di­ents arrayed before her were famil­iar in the way the mem­o­ry of a child­hood home is famil­iar. In the way com­ing back to a place is much like cathar­sis, as nos­tal­gia con­flicts with the new.

The whisk was famil­iar. The kitchen: famil­iar. The oven… new.

Anna real­ized as she set the oven to pre­heat and posi­tioned the rack that she’d nev­er baked with this oven before. How long had she lived here? Five years? Six? Ah, yes, after the fire when she’d stopped bak­ing, and then stopped cook­ing entire­ly. If she did­n’t have to use the tools, she nev­er had to address that day.

But now she whisked with a firm grip, she chopped with a con­fi­dent knife, her mus­cles moved in per­fect mem­o­ry to batch, stir, mix, and knead. Her fire remained quenched, her mind: blank. If she was a dis­ap­point­ment there was no need to fear what was about to come next.

Anna sac­ri­ficed a loaf of bread to test her untest­ed oven. A lit­tle hot in the back, light in the front. She would have to turn the cake halfway to ensure an even bake. A minor detail for a per­fect cake.

Nothing caught fire between the sec­ond she turned on the oven and the moment she left the apart­ment, cake in hand, des­tined for her moth­er’s final birth­day. She sus­tained no injuries. The bak­ing pro­duced no ash.

The fear had been quenched and now there was only expec­ta­tion. What could a dis­ap­point­ment bring to the par­ty except a per­fect cake?

Anna let her­self in to her moth­er’s house. Aunts and uncles were arrayed in the liv­ing room, get­ting on in years. Cousins wran­gled nieces and nephews to the din­ner table. Mom sat at its head among the Martinellies and the roast beef as much a ghost there as Anna felt, the two of them haunt­ing a house that had­n’t moved on.

The oven in this house was famil­iar, a sharp and fes­ter­ing reminder of things not settled.

The fam­i­ly sat to dinner.

Anna pro­vid­ed dessert.

It was clear Mom did­n’t have much time. Her lucid moments were brief now, she large­ly stared into the mid­dle-dis­tance with a half-con­fused tilt to her head, as if she felt she almost under­stood some­thing but had­n’t quite caught it yet.

Jasmin prompt­ed her to take each bite. To sip each sip. Mom obeyed when she noticed enough to do so. When she did­n’t, Jasmin fed her by hand. Jasmin had done Mom’s hair in the style she liked, pulled up at the back and drap­ing down over shoul­ders. It had been fresh­ly cut.

Seeing her sis­ter occu­pied, Anna took it upon her­self to cut and dis­trib­ute the cake. One slice to Mom, half slices for each nib­bling who could­n’t wait any longer, a slice for each aunt, uncle, and cousin.

Mom took a bite of her cake an sud­den­ly blinked. The taste had brought some­thing of her­self back. Her eyes focused on Jasmin, then the table spread before her. She smiled broad­ly as she spot­ted Anna at the oppo­site end.

Then Mom’s head crashed to the table and dis­rupt­ed her cake as she died.

Jasmin dropped her first bite. The nib­blings all laughed, think­ing a game was afoot. Some smashed their faces into their cake. Some did­n’t come back up.

Aunts slumped to the side.

Uncles rose to their feet only to col­lapse with their next breath.

Jasmin froze, half stood at Mom’s side, as the din­ner table became the final rest­ing place for each of their small fam­i­ly. All of them except Jasmin at one end, and Anna at the oth­er, who sedate­ly fin­ished the last of her slice.

”Are you dis­ap­point­ed now, sister?”

”What…?” Jasmin was stuck, stooped, wide-eyed. Lost.

Anna lift­ed her emp­ty plate like a toast. ”You should have a slice of cake.”


This sto­ry is avail­able from October 5th — 12th. If you’d like to be noti­fied of free fic­tion when it goes live, please join the newslet­ter! This sto­ry is exclu­sive to the blog and unavail­able any­where else. Special thanks to my Patrons who made this short sto­ry possible.

This sto­ry was avail­able from October 5th — 12th. If you’d like to be noti­fied of free fic­tion when it goes live, please join the newslet­ter! This sto­ry was exclu­sive to the blog and unavail­able any­where else. Special thanks to my Patrons who made this short sto­ry pos­si­ble.