The Maternal Bungee Cord

(by Nicola MacCallum)



Lockdown


What's lockdown


When you feel like your life has been one long one


It’s depression


It was


It is


But I'm out. My emptiness has been replaced by a warmth and security


My relationships are better, I guess, particularly one. Well, you know, girls. You try your whole life running in the opposite direction so as not to be like her, but the bungee strap keeps pulling you back


“Please love me as I am,” I say, but she's already leaving for weight control class.


I cut mine.


I feel myself wretch as my fingers fill my throat


I flush away the emotional distress caused by her for the fifteen millionth time


“Mmmm, they're nice,” I remark as my partner chews lightly on the poussin with (a little bit too gracefully), “Please, help yourself.”


My mother kisses me on the left cheek, her hand reassuringly tapping on mine twice


He reaches out his arm, raising his right hand. All three flutes chink


How were your meals? Would you like to see the dessert menus?


“Yes, I'm too old to calorie-count,” exclaims my mother. “I will take the Black Forest gâteau


A slight kick from my tummy reminds me of the life now growing inside there


This wasn’t supposed to happen


I can’t do this


I can’t


The midwife hands me a baby, a newborn


Feels alien to hold him. I allow my heart to briefly elevate to new levels


Lockdown measures to be relaxed


I hear the dulcet undertones from the BBC as I cradle Josh before my partner and mother ask for “cuddles please”


“She needs to rest now,” I hear the midwife say as my eyes close and I drift into a long rest


“Why, why can’t you understand I’m not yours? I must be adopted”


“Oh, don’t be so ridiculous”


Door slams behind me as I make my way into the almost blinding daylight, head spinning, walking slightly away from the hub of my anxiety, he pulls me into the side street


“Hey! I thought it was you!”


The low chatter from others in the bar hums in my ears and sends me into a quiet space. His words bring me back


“So… so, what now?”


“Eileen, I’m here. You do know that, don’t you?”


The toilet flushes again and I head out to him, watching me intently as I sit back down opposite him


“Can we get the bill?”


“What about your coffee?”


I shoot a look, my patience gone


“Okay, sorry,” he remarks, a slight twang of sarcasm in his tone. I say, “Thanks, let’s go. I will be in the car.”


“Will you be okay ? Call me,” he says as I carefully slam shut the car door of his Nissan 300zx and he shoots off, his dump valves sounding like thunder in a storm, and then he is gone


“We didn’t need our masks tonight, Mum,” I say as she heads to bed


“Night, love. Don’t forget to let Izzy in.”


Our cat may be oblivious to “lockdown.” She curls up on my belly, purring, using her paws to push back and forth


They say felines can sense pregnancy, periods, even anxiety


Izzy, my only friend in this whole wide world, now asleep on my lap. She doesn’t need reassurance or an explanation


I pet her small head


“Wish I could be you, little one,” I say


I wish, I wish

---

Nicola MacCallum lives in Bedfordshire, England.

Black Forest Gâteau

(adapted from Sainsbury's Magazine)


6 medium eggs

1 t. vanilla extract

1 1/4 c. golden caster, demerara, or turbinado sugar

1/3 c. cocoa powder

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

5 oz. (10 T.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for greasing

5 oz. block dark chocolate


For the syrup:

3/4 c. golden caster, demerara, or turbinado sugar

2 T. kirsch


For the kirsch cream:

3 c. heavy cream

1/3 c. golden caster, demerara, or turbinado sugar

2 t. vanilla extract

3 T. kirsch


3 T. raspberry preserves

40 pitted black cherries, fresh or tinned


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease 3 round 9-in. cake pans and line the bases with parchment paper.

In bowl of electric mixer, whisk eggs, vanilla, and sugar until thick and the whisk leaves a trail (about 10 minutes).

Sift cocoa powder and flour together, then fold in.

Stir in melted butter.

Divide batter evenly between pans and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until springy to the touch.

Cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Shave the block of chocolate using a potato peeler and chill the shavings.

To make the syrup, combine 3/4 c. water and 3/4 c. sugar in a pan.

Bring to a boil for 5 minutes, let cool, and stir in the kirsch.

To make the cream, whip cream and sugar to firm peaks, then fold in vanilla and kirsch.

To assemble: Level the tops of the cake layers with a sharp knife, if necessary.

Brush one layer with some of the syrup and some of the raspberry preserves.

Add a second layer, brushing with the syrup.

Spread a layer of the kirsch cream, about 1/2 in. deep.

Cover with the cherries, reserving 8.

Spread a little more cream over the cherries, then top with the final cake layer, upside down. Brush with syrup.

Spoon 1/4 of remaining cream into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle, and set aside.

Using a palette knife, cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining cream.

Press chocolate shavings onto sides of the cake.

Pipe swirls of cream on top and decorate with remaining cherries.