After the trees drop their leaves, and we drift back into our houses, the space heater comes out. It is Japanese, and from the ’80s.
Heralding the winter, this warm angel fills the house with an electric churning sound. It bares its grated face to the living room. The flame trapped inside it rises and falls like a licking tongue.
At four or five I would lay down in front of it. Close to the noise and warmth, I felt the mechanical curiosity that Victorians had for steam engines – an awe of electric lights and of the science of assembly.
About this time, my mother and I made croissants, not realizing it takes a full 24-hours. We got impatient, microwaved the butter (a horrible mistake) and mixed it in with all of the other ingredients. We made buttery rocks. And at the end, we both confessed to being entirely nonplussed as to why our failure to follow the recipe led us astray. Everything was measured correctly, anyways.
After one or two attempts to eat what we made, I took the rest of our creations outside to the backyard, and a stretch of forest beyond. I was feeding the animals, my mother said. I took care in arranging the pastries, thinking about where the birds or foxes might find them.
Christmas came and went and towards the beginning of February, when the snow melted and re-froze, my mother decided to make gingerbread. Spices and molasses, butter and flour became brown sheets.
When she was finished my mother brought out cookie cutters of cupids and angels. “These cookies are for your father for Valentine’s Day,” Mom said. “Ok,” I said. And we cut cupids out of the brown sheets, and my mom cut small circles in their heads. We strung red ribbons through their heads and hung a chain of cookies from the ceiling. A few times we had to reinforce the tape sticking the ribbon to the ceiling.
She made so many cookies we had to put them in the Tupperware with the tan lids – the big ones used for holidays.
When my Dad came that weekend, he laughed at the string of cookies. “What’s this?” he asked. “Mom made them,” I said. “They’re cookies. They’re for you!”
“Why did you make gingerbread?” he asked Mom. She showed him the recipe book, with the photographs – “Yes, but why gingerbread?” he continued, “Have I ever told you that I like gingerbread?”
“I like gingerbread,” I said.
My Dad grabbed three cookies and moved to the couch. He had at least one cupid and at least one angel – a good variety. He stopped mid-mouthful. “Elch,” he said. “These are horrible! They taste like cardboard. Just get rid of them now.”
Mom looked at me. “But we had some earlier…” “Yes Daddy,” I said, “I had milk too.”
“You crazy?” he said. “I bet even the birds wouldn’t eat these things. They’ll be in the backyard for ages.” I thought of our angels all over the snow. It made me sad.
A few days later Mom told me to take the cookies out to the backyard. Dad wouldn’t eat them and sometimes on the phone he would say things like, “Fucking Martha Stewart – what man wants to come home to a chain of cardboard angels!” The people on the other end would laugh, usually.
I put our angels on the snow. For the first time I thought about how dark we would all look against the clouds of heaven. I was pinkish, but everyone is tan compared with white.
It did not make me happy to think about the animals, but I made sure the angels were faced up and not touching one another, in case it was a sin to do otherwise.