On the sixteenth day of December

Their little one giving no indication of an early arrival, the young wife and her husband continued to find solace in keeping up their advent traditions. Today was set apart for baking, as a day was every year, around this time.

Despite the husband's valiant attempts to defy the impossible, the string of the young wife's apron did not stretch sufficiently to be tied behind, and the donning of it was abandoned. But the husband had put upon his, and was working with the dough.

Sultanas, currants, orange peel, lime peel, and cranberries were organised into patterned bowls by the young wife, and placed upon the kitchen bench. The husband would take a handful from one of them, slip the dried fruit through his fingers, and then mix it in, until the glutinous dough teemed from innermost to outermost.

Then, rolling the dough out into a long, thick log, he chopped it into several equal-length parts with the practised hand of one used to splitting firewood to starter-pieces, forming them then with his hands so that they became round. The young wife placed a tea-towel over each, and in the warm air of the cottage — the stove had been chuntering away contentedly all day — they rose to prodigious mounds.

And now they were placed in the oven, one at a time... and a transcendental smell pervaded the house, a subtly, lightly sweet, ever-so-slightly spiced mellowness; a heralding of a taste that would be divine! A smell which drifted out of the cottage, moreover, and into the forest around.

It reached the nose of the little girl, at play in the forest, who tracked it hopefully back to the cottage, all the way to the door. The young wife opened up; and the little girl looked up at her with an ardent compassion in her eyes, as though to silently ask, "How are you?"

Just as silently, the young wife rested a gentle hand for a couple of seconds upon the little girl's arm; in that gesture was at once gratefulness, an acknowledgement that worry still weighted upon her, and a reassurance she was holding up. And the little girl was a given a thick, piping slice, every mouthful of which combined the homely crunch of fresh bread with the soft delight of the fruit.

The duft travelled on the breeze to the treecreeper too, as if summoning it to the cottage. The treecreeper came; and the young wife strewed for it the crumbs of a delicious slice around the wooden pole upon which the sheaf of wheat stalks was hoisted.

And in the air that the dough rose in, the heat that it baked in, the soil in which its ingredients began, and the hands which prepared it and gifted it — notwithstanding the husband and wife's ever-present disquietude occasioned by the impending birth — was more of the essence of happiness, of fulfilment, than in any erudition which language can express.

This is the sixteenth part of an episodic tale written in November and December 2022. Previous part. Next part.

Last updated: 22:09 (GMT+1), 17th December 2022